Business Blog – The Letchworth Settlement 1920 to 2018

Settlement chair, Pam Burn, shares her thoughts about the past and present times of Letchworth Settlement in her latest blog for the Heritage Foundation.

Tell us something of the history of Letchworth Settlement?

When people ask me why is Letchworth so special I am quick to respond. It’s because of its unique combination of special buildings and rich social history.

We are fortunate not only to live in the world’s first garden city but to have places like Letchworth Settlement which first saw the light of day in 1920.

It was one of a number of Settlement Houses established around the country from the 1880s onward. The original idea for their formation began in the 1860s when a group of reformers sought to bring the poor working class into contact with other classes and bridge what they saw as the worsening social divide in Britain.

The first Settlement workers were Oxbridge graduates who ‘lived in’ and tried to bring the culture of university life to those who had no such experiences. The first purpose-built Settlement House was Toynbee Hall in London, which is still active today and indeed is where Graham Fisher was CEO before taking the helm of the Heritage Foundation. I love the way the links with social history and equality continue to the present day.

In 1925 the Letchworth Settlement moved into what had been The Skittles Inn (more famously known as ‘the pub with no beer’). The building was designed by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin and is now a Grade II listed property. It was purchased by the Letchworth Adult Educational Settlement and owned by them until 1995 when financial difficulties forced the Trustees to take the difficult decision to gift the building to the Letchworth Heritage Foundation in return for a peppercorn rent.

The first Settlement Warden in Letchworth in the early 1920s was James Dudley whose portrait can be seen over the fireplace in the Brunt Room of the Settlement.

James lived in a small flat on the second floor, as did his successors until the last Warden, Roy Evans, who raised his young family there from his arrival in 1963 until he moved to a house he bought directly opposite the Settlement in 1976. The upstairs was then converted to classrooms, office, loo and storage for the Settlement Players costumes and props.

Ebenezer Howard reopened the Settlement in 1925 with a speech delivered in Esperanto which those of us of a certain age will recall was touted as the future international language, but few people under the age of 60 has heard of today! Howard and George Cadbury were Trustees on the first Board of the Settlement.

In the early 1950s, William Wallace Kincaid, Director of the Spirella Company left money to the Settlement to enlarge the Main Hall to allow a proper stage and behind the scenes facilities to be constructed and this opened in 1956. In 1975 a purpose built Craft building was added to the rear of the main building, paid for by the Letchworth Garden City Corporation. Today, Letchworth Settlement is one of the very last of its kind still in operation as it was almost 100 years ago. Our aim is to keep it that way!

So how are you planning to do that?

Well, we have expanded our horizons quite a bit in the past three years. We have always run lots of long courses – languages, arts and crafts, academic courses of all kinds and these remain the core of our work. But over the past three years we have embarked on a number of short courses and workshops which recognise the needs of modern families with limited time availability. So we now do silver jewellery making, ikebana, glass fusion, party baking for children’s parties, flower arranging of all kinds, encaustic wax painting, creative writing workshops and more!

We have also developed a new programme which we call our ‘Twilight Talks’ where we invite someone from an interesting and unusual background to come along and give a talk on their specific subject area. So far we have had, among others, the former Director of MI6, the great granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and a leading heart surgeon from Papworth who also happens to be a world authority on the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, oh and a former member of the Royal Household who discreetly leaked a few interesting titbits! In the year ahead we shall have one of the original Concorde pilots, Bridget Kendall (the former BBC Moscow Correspondent and well known R4 voice), Helen Pankhurst launching her new book at the Settlement, to name just a few.

We receive absolutely no grants from anywhere and we are on a full Repair and Maintenance lease with the Foundation so we have to ensure we put funds away to meet all the requirements of our lease which are significant for a Grade II listed property. Plus of course we have to constantly upgrade and improve facilities so as to continue to be able to offer new and exciting ideas to would be students. We have always sought to keep our fees at reasonable levels so that our courses and activities are as accessible as we can possibly make them.

We also run a range of fundraising activities during the course of the year which help us with improvements – Quiz Night, Fair, Christmas Raffle, Open Gardens occasionally and so on. One of the other ways we manage to live within our means is through the willingness and enthusiasm of our volunteer Trustees and other supporters who carry a lot of responsibility and are very hands on. We have a brilliant paid staff of some 3.5 full time equivalents and between us we do all that is needed to keep the show on the road.

All our courses are listed on our website pages and you can find out more about us via our Face book pages please take time and have a look at what we do, who knows we may something to tempt you.

Do you have any concerns for the future?

Just the ones which all charities have really – shortage of volunteers and future students – today’s world is not an easy one and people struggle to make a living, raise families and do voluntary work or non vocational studies.

But I remain confident that we will see our second century off to a good start and if anyone is intrigued about what we do and wants to get involved please contact the office on 01462 682828.


Honorary Fellowships Awarded at The Settlement

In recognition of their unstinting support and dedication, The Settlement’s Management Committee has awarded its first ever Honorary Fellowships to eight members who, the Committee felt, had exceeded all normal expectations in the performance of their roles.

Those recognised include the last person to hold the post of Warden of the Settlement who continued to work prodigiously for the organisation following his retirement, two former Management Committee Chairs, a retired Manager, a retired tutor and three former Committee Members, two of whom were still volunteering right up to this year despite standing down several years ago!

Our current President has completed 10 years as Treasurer and three as President and though he has kindly agreed to stay on for another three years, the Committee felt it appropriate to award him the Honorary Fellowship now to acknowledge his long and dedicated service.

The Fellowship comes with a special certificate and includes Life Membership and free attendance at any Settlement evening or lunchtime lecture.
Pam Burn, current Chair of the Management Committee explained: “The Settlement has relied heavily on the generosity and support of key individuals who, over the years, have consistently gone above and beyond to ensure our success.

“The award of Honorary Fellowship goes some way to recognise and celebrate the efforts of these big hearted Settlement supporters who have made such a difference.”
Recipients this year are Roy Evans, John Bird, Pat Ellis, Carola Garvie, Pat Large, Val Aitken, Sarah Carrick, and Ken Woodruff.

Pam added: “The Settlement owes a huge debt of gratitude to these people and in several cases, we owe our very survival to their hard work during in some very difficult times. Such commitment is rare but I feel sure there will be others who, in time, will also qualify for what we intend will be a truly meritorious award.”

Festive Fun at The Settlement

Festive fun continues at The Settlement with some colourful workshops ahead of Christmas.

On December 13th Helen Allen returns for an evening of creating a couple of long lasting floral gifts as presents or personal treats. No previous experience of flower arranging is required as full guidance will be given.

The session runs from 7-9pm and costs just £35 which includes all materials.

Then on Thursday December 14th we are hosting another cake and craft event this time focusing on Christmas Icing with Tracey Merryweather.

Enjoy friendly company as you create icing penguins and other seasonal designs for cakes and puddings. The workshop will consist of colouring techniques and modelling hints to help you along the way.

For further information visit the ‘work shop’ section of our website or contact the office on 01462 682828.

New Term of opportunities at Letchworth Settlement

The autumn term begins at Letchworth Settlement on September 11 with the most diverse range of courses, lectures and workshops on offer in recent years.
As part of the drive to attract new faces as well as old friends, The Settlement is also excited to host a special talk on September 29th by former MI6 boss Sir Richard Dearlove that explores the threats that have faced the UK in recent years and into the future.
Sir Richard was head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), a role fictionally known as “M” and actually, though informally, as “C” from 1999 until 6 May 2004 and he offers a fascinating insight into the world of espionage and counter terrorism.
Tickets for the lecture cost just £10. Doors open at 7.30pm with the action starting at 7.45pm. For booking visit or ring the office on 01462 682828.
In the meantime we still have spaces on a variety of courses which range from modern languages for beginners to literature, Victorian Crime and Punishment, flower arranging and sociology.
Sonia Weston, Settlement Manager explained: “The majority of our courses are taught at The Settlement, but we are always keen to try new ideas. For example our ‘Art and About’ course in Cambridge will be done on location with our expert tutor Sarah Burles who is both an art historian and Cambridge graduate.
“Closer to home there are some fascinating special interest courses which explore a range of subjects including French architecture, Art and the Garden and the Silk Roads. We are proud of the wide range of courses we have on offer this year and have worked hard to make our prices as competitive as possible.”

Summer season of workshops and lectures at Letchworth Settlement

Just as the ink starts to dry on The Settlement’s new 2017/18 course brochure, details of an exciting and diverse range of summer workshops and lectures are revealed.

Devised to encourage creativity and provoke debate, the sessions run during August and can be booked either via the office on 01462 682828 or online at . Details can also be found listed in the events section of our Face Book pages
From workshops on Lino Printing, Applied Arts and Rag Rugs to lectures on Canaletto, British Treasure Hoards, Architecture and English Customs there is plenty on offer for those looking to try something different this summer.

Settlement Manager Sonia Weston said: “We know how busy people get and these lectures and workshops have been designed for those whose time is limited but who want to have a go at a new skill or learn about something of interest. Equally for those curious about The Settlement, attending one of these sessions will give you a better insight into what we do.”

She added: “Of course our new autumn term begins in September and we have a record number of courses on offer this year. You can pick up a course brochure at Letchworth Library, David’s or from the Local and Tourist Information Centre in Station Road.”