The Settlement Movement began in London in the 1880s with the foundation of Toynbee Hall in London's East End. The aim of this settlement was to bring people of different classes together for mutual benefit. Students and staff of universities (at first Oxford, later joined by Cambridge) resided at Toynbee Hall, bringing learning and culture to the poor of the district, while they in turn learnt about the social conditions and difficulties encountered by the working classes. The experience and knowledge so gained would, it was hoped, eventually filter through into public policy.
These activities at Toynbee Hall were discussed with great interest at Owens College (the predecessor of Manchester University). The warden of Toynbee Hall, Canon Barnett, was invited to a meeting at Manchester on 27 March 1895. At the conclusion of this meeting it was resolved to set up a settlement in Manchester in a similar style to that of Toynbee Hall. This settlement was named the University Settlement, Manchester.
The preamble to the constitution (from Annual Report 1897, MUS/2/1/1) gives the aims of the Manchester Settlement:
"This Settlement is founded in the hope that it may become common ground on which men and women of various classes may meet in goodwill, sympathy and friendship; that the residents may learn something of the conditions of an industrial neighbourhood, and share its interests, and endeavour to live among their neighbours a simple and religious life."
The Settlement always aimed to help communities help themselves. At the outset this was achieved primarily through an inspirational type of education consisting of lectures, debates, concerts and classes. The aims and activities of the Settlement in these early days were very similar to those of the Manchester Art Museum, which gave local children the chance to see art and beauty in the uninspiring surroundings of Ancoats.
The Manchester Art Museum was to play a crucial role in the history of the Manchester Settlement. It offered rooms in Ancoats Hall, where it was based, to the newly formed Settlement. The committee of the Art Museum included some of the first residents of the Settlement (Annie Anderson, Miss C H Stoehr). T C Horsfall, the treasurer of the Art Museum, was a significant participant in the formation of the Settlement. The Settlement held debates and classes at the Art Museum; the two institutions rapidly grew closer together. In 1901 the Settlement amalgamated with the Manchester Art Museum and became the Manchester Art Museum and University Settlement. In 1918 the institutions split and the Settlement was renamed the Manchester University Settlement. The split was amicable and the two institutions continued their tradition of cooperation.
By 1897, the Settlement had moved into a wing of Ancoats Hall, where it based its women's residence. No rent was charged to them by the City Council. This ideal situation continued until 1953 when the lease reverted to the ground landlord (British Railways). This was a severe blow to the Settlement whose finances were never strong. The Manchester University Settlement moved out in 1963 due to the decline of residence and the attempted sale of the Hall by the British Transport Commission. 20 Every Street was the male residence from 1898. The Round House was a circular building behind 20 Every Street. It housed a large recreational room (used for plays and dances etc.) and had a playground outside. It was demolished in 1986. These buildings were the primary residences and social centres for the Settlement. At various periods other smaller residences existed around Ancoats and Gorton. With the clearance of the slums in the 1930s, the Settlement set up outposts in the Wilbraham Estate, Newton Heath Estate and in the Gorton/Belle Vue area. In the 1960s and 1970s the Settlement set up centres in Moss Side and at St. Aidan's Rectory in Beswick (the Rectory was later demolished and replaced with a purpose built one storey building for the Settlement).
Financial problems have threatened Manchester University Settlement throughout its history. It seemed that whenever money was most needed, there was less of it to go around. Luckily the Settlement benefited from a number of large donations, without which it might not have survived.
The flexibility of the Settlement enabled it to respond to changing situations including the Depression of the 1930s, two world wars, the clearance of slums and ensuing erection of new housing estates. In response to the new estates, the Wilbraham Association was successfully set up on the Wilbraham Estate, with the intention of helping a group of disparate individuals become a community. Such was the success of the Wilbraham Association that it became an independent organization in 1935. Other bodies have also split from the parent organization over the years; the Santa Fina Branch developed into the Invalid Children's Aid Association and in 1918 split from the Settlement.
The wardens played a leading role in determining the major activities of the Settlement; particularly influential were: Alice Crompton (1898-1908), T R Marr (1901-1908), Beatrice B Rogers (1917-1925), Hilda Cashmore (1926-1932) and Gordon Kidd (1949-1959).
Gradually the emphasis of Manchester University Settlement moved towards working with public agencies on welfare matters. By the 1930s it was at the forefront of social research and had published a number of surveys (see bibliography) as well as expanding its advisory services. However, classes and educational holidays continued to play an important role, and the most consistent successes of the Settlement have been its community activities: local clubs and associations, theatre, and holidays.
In 1942 Sheila McKay, the warden, described the functions of the Settlement:
It provides a centre for neighbourhood social life and the opportunity for learning the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic community; it provides a common and informal meeting ground for people of different educational and social backgrounds; it gives advice and help to anxious and troubled people who are bewildered by official regulations...; it acts as a liaison between the man-in-the-street and the officials of statutory and other organizations which affect his life; it carries out educational and social experiments and undertakes research into social conditions; it takes responsibility for training students in practical social work.
(from Mary Stocks, Fifty Years on Every Street,
Residence had been central to the ethos and practical work of the Settlement. However, in common with other settlements across the country, the 1950s saw decline in the numbers of residents. With much of its work already being done by non-resident workers, the Settlement ceased to be residential in the late 1960s.
In 1983, the centenary of the Settlement movement, a new purpose-built centre at the old St. Aidan’s Centre site, Bosworth Street, Beswick was opened. From this point, East Manchester became the focus of the Settlement’s work. In 1986, the Roundhouse was demolished. In 1996 the charity changed its name from Manchester University Settlement to Manchester Settlement. A National Lottery grant was secured in 1996 to help refurbish the Bosworth Street building and to go towards the costs of funding core staff. The building reopened early in 1997.
The latter decades of the 20th century saw the Settlement active in a number of areas: a Children’s Literacy Scheme was set up in1977, in 1994 it set up an Over 60s Club (later known as the Pensioner’s Club), And for children and young people, and there were regular Play Centres, Holiday Play Schemes, community holidays; after school clubs; and youth outdoor pursuits. Some special projects such as RISE (Re-Integration into Secondary Education), started in 2002, targeted youth education.
Other important developments were housing initiatives such as the East Manchester Care and Repair scheme, established in 1991 to help older residents with housing problems (it became an independent company in 1996); the East Manchester Young People’s Housing Project; and the Galston Street Tenants and Residents Association (est. 1993). The Manchester Settlement worked in partnership with Manchester City Council to help regenerate East Manchester, for example as a member of the Economic Initiatives Group.
other community projects included the Environmental Action in the Community and the Recycling Project, established in 1991, the Beswick and Openshaw Credit Union in 1992, and later the Community Business Development project. The Beswick & Bradford Community Project (BCCP) was started in 1992 and aimed to promote and develop community projects for the Bradford and Beswick areas of east Manchester. It ran a Bradford and Beswick Community Fund (established in 1995 with the aid of a Monument Trust grant), and supported projects for women’s health, training and support for those with mental health problems, the Fresh Food Co-operative, welfare rights advice, crèche facilities, a Somali women’s group, NVQ training, yoga, and outward bound activities for young people.
In May 2009, the Manchester Settlement moved into a new £2.2m centre, the ‘New Roundhouse’, on Ashton Old Road, Openshaw. The new centre was funded by the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund. The Settlement continues to play a major role in community and welfare projects in Manchester.