THE philanthropy of one man was celebrated in St Paul’s Cathedral last week. As the lights dimmed, the 1200-strong congregation listened to the story of the man’s first meeting with Jim Jarvis, a destitute street-child.
That first encounter between comfortable middle-class Victorian life and a parallel world, in which neglected children slept in gutters and roof-spaces, gave birth to a children’s home. Today, the charity is still in the same work, employing 8500 staff and using 20,000 volunteers. The quarter-of-a-million children whom the charity helps each year know it by the name of its founder: Barnardo’s.
An hour-long service to mark the charity’s 150th anniversary was long enough only to touch on the variety of help and support that Barnardo’s continues to offer destitute and vulnerable children. And this was no history lesson or corporate presentation. Thanksgiving was offered in the form of prayers, hymns, and songs.
Dr David Barnardo compared the complacency about the suffering of vulnerable young people in his great-great-uncle’s time with the mood of the present day. Borders still needed to be pushed back, he said; the concept of the “undeserving poor” still needed to be challenged; the slogan of Thomas Barnardo — “No destitute child ever refused admission” — remained the charity’s boast (and its challenge to the rest of society).
We heard from Ian, an adopting parent (”our house is a bit crazy . . . a lot crazy. . . We have embraced the crazy”), and Eleni, a former resident, now on the Barnardo’s National Council: “When I was taken into care, I felt like I had been reborn. . . Barnardo’s and my faith saved me.”
It was a reminder that, for too many children, the norms of family life are non-existent. The most moving contribution of the evening came from Emily, who described briefly and in a matter-of-fact way how, when her older siblings moved away, her mother stopped buying food for her, the youngest child. When she ate, it was at friends’ houses. Then her mother moved to Canada, leaving her behind.
Moving into residential care was not the end of her problems: she suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts; she self-harmed. But she had been nursed through it by her Barnardo’s Futures worker, Amanda, and was now at university.
”Whenever I feel low, Barnardo’s are there to pick me up.”
The sentiment was expressed in the “Barnardo’s Song” by Douglas Coombes, sung by a joint children’s choir: “Barnardo’s helps a child to a life, so sing that name loud and clear: Barnardo’s.”
Other speakers included the Deputy Mayor of London, Joanne McCartney, and representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities.
The last speaker was the charity’s chief executive, Javed Khan, who listed some of the barriers that Barnardo’s had broken down: they had accepted their first black child in 1882, and created their first skills programme for disabled children in 1888. They were currently working actively with children from the Jungle camp in Calais. “We don’t do the easy stuff,” he said.