The Settlement Movement: Pioneering Innovative Solutions to Changing Social Needs
The settlement movement has been a catalyst for social reform for over 125 year. The early settlement houses were established in response to the social inequalities wrought by urbanisation and industrialisation. Privileged and educated men and women aimed to help alleviate the effects of poverty and strive towards creating a more equal society by establishing settlement houses in deprived urban areas where rich and poor could live closely together sharing skills and knowledge.
Throughout its history the settlement movement has continued to identify areas of local social need and find pioneering ways to bridge gaps in social provision. The settlement movement has played an instrumental role in, amongst others, the initiation of welfare legislation, the development and professionalization of social work, and the creation of adult education centres, nursery schools and playgrounds.
Settlements have responded to the needs of the particular communities and areas in which they are located. For example, when it was first founded, the University of Glasgow Settlement was particularly concerned with issues around gender inequalities, while Hull House in Chicago was focussed on providing an intercultural welcome house for the growing immigrant population to the city. Meanwhile Toynbee Hall in London, one of the first settlement houses, established in 1884, provided a temporary home and lasting inspiration to both William Beveridge and Clement Atlee, founders of the British Welfare State.
A network of settlements has continued to grow and develop throughout the globe with active settlement organisations existing in Europe, Asia, Australasia, Africa and the Americas. Indeed, the settlement movement’s “significant effect on the transnational world” (Hamilton: 188) is recognised by the United Nations where it enjoys privileged general consultative status on the United Nations Economic and Social Council.