Pembroke House was founded over 130 years ago by students who were convinced that growing inequality and deprivation in inner cities demanded a radical response.
They took a big problem and started small: taking up residency in Walworth, South London, in a house with space for social and educational activities and a small chapel for public worship.
Joining others in a movement of “settlement houses” across London and further afield—from Toynbee Hall in East London to Hull House in Chicago—they searched for practical solutions that brought people together across traditional divides.
The settlement houses provided space for the whole community to use and shape—where new friendships and bonds of solidarity could lead to bold attempts to build a better neighbourhood.
In this common endeavour everyone had as much to learn, and gain, as to give.
Settlements like Pembroke House have had a profound impact, inspiring the architects of the modern welfare state in the UK, such as Clement Attlee and William Beveridge. Further afield, settlements became important sites for political co-operation in the US, where leaders like Jane Addams, the “mother of social work”, brought together immigrants, trade unionists and women’s groups to agitate for political reform.