Shelter: National Campaign for Homeless People

Scope and Content

Papers of Shelter National Campaign for Homeless People, (1910-2014), including:Management papers (CLOSED), 1966-2008; Annual reports, 1971-2014; Subject reports,1961-2009; conferences and anniversaries, 1974-2008;Regional and advice services, 1964-2008;publications and newsletters, 1969-2008; Directors and staff 1971-2008;Training and commercial services,1995-2011; Fundraising, 1968-2013;Campaigns and initiatives, 1928-2005; Press releases, 1976-2005; Press cuttings, 1910-2008; Burrows' summaries, 2008-2009; Photographs, 1960-2009; Posters, 1966-1975; Objects, 1980-2008; Film: Cathy Come Home, c.1970; and ROOF magazine (In Journal Collection: R), 1975-2010.

[NB. The earliest Shelter material dates from 1963 (Notting Hill Housing Trust). Earlier material can be found in the press cuttings (1910) and the Millbank Estate Improvement Scheme (1928).]

Administrative / Biographical History

Shelter National Campaign for Homeless People (Shelter National Campaign for the Homeless from 1966-1997) was the vision of the Reverend Bruce Kenrick. It was officially launched in the crypt of St Martins-in-the-Fields Church, London, with the support of the British Churches Housing Trust, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, Christian Action and the Housing Trust.

Working in Notting Hill in the west end of London, Kenrick was driven to provide relief and support to those facing homelessness and poor housing. Establishing the Notting Hill Housing Trust in 1963 Kenrick soon realised that the issues he was seeing in west London were repeated all over the UK. He felt that a national charity was needed to help tackle these housing problems.

Shelter's launch on 1 December 1966 perfectly coincided with a time of increased public interest in housing and homelessness. The BBC drama, Cathy Come Home, which followed the plight of a young family evicted from their home, had greatly increased the profile of homelessness in the UK. Using this momentum, Kenrick worked with Des Wilson, a political activist, to successfully launch their national charity, Shelter. Together they developed a model known as 'rescue operation' to house homeless families initially concentrated its emergency operation on four areas of acute need: Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. From the beginning, Shelter worked closely with existing housing organisations in those areas, with a view to improve what was already there.

The first Shelter week was held in 1968 with 'Face the Facts' a campaign designed to draw attention to the numbers of unacknowledged homeless people. Shelter continued to produced further hard-hitting campaigns along these lines whilst also establishing a reputation for innovative projects.

From 1966 Shelter received enormous support from concerned members of the public, many of whom created local Shelter Groups to fundraise for the charity. By 1970 there were 500 groups, and they became the major engine of Shelter public support and local rescue operations. Although not officially part of Shelter, the groups used the Shelter branding and unofficial channels of communication were open between the national charity and local groups. At national level a Youth Department was established from the beginning to engage young people with the realities of bad housing and homelessness.

As the charity advanced, they began to partner with and provide funding for local housing associations to help house individuals and families. However the 1974 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act reformed the way housing associations were funded and partnerships with Shelter were no longer needed. This led to the creation of SNHAT (Shelter National Housing Aid Trust) which was established in 1976 to provide a housing aid service in England and Wales. Housing aid was developed to alleviate homelessness by providing advice and assistance to people in need of housing. Their objectives were to provide assistance to individuals through an examination in depth of their housing problem and of the possible solutions, and to investigate the need for and to promote new housing aid centres. SNHAT was developed with encouragement of the Government and successive Housing Ministers. Their funding came from the Government, local government and the voluntary sector with Shelter providing a large proportion of the funding. This allowed SNHAT to set up a number of local centres primarily in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Plymouth, Taunton, Manchester, Newbury, and Swansea.

In 1979 with the election of Thatcher's Conservative Government Shelter was forced to return to their original 'rescue operation' in response to the reduction of council house stock caused by the 'right to buy scheme'. The decade had already seen an increase in homelessness as a result of economic instability and a slowing down of the house building industry. In response, Shelter created the Shelter Housing Aid Centre (SHAC) in London. SHAC gave free housing aid and advice to those in need, soon growing to become a nationwide network of housing aid centres. Around this time, the Local Shelter Groups also became known as SHACs, with local Shelter supporters setting up charity shops, events and local campaigns to fund homelessness projects. By 2015 only one of these original SHACs was still operational – the Shelter Housing Aid and Research Project Leicester (SHARP Leicester).

Also in 1979, Shelter formed a partnership with Age UK, (known as Help the Aged until 2009) to established Care and Repair, a home improvement service which grew to over 21 services throughout the UK by 2008.

In the 1980s Shelter continued to establish new and innovative projects. In 1980 the Homebase (later First Key) project was established to offer support to young people leaving the care system. The charity also played a crucial role in lobbying against the Government's move to reduce the protection given to vulnerable people followed swiftly by their 'Give Us a Break' campaign and vigil at Westminster in protest against the 1986 Social Security Act which disadvantaged young people. 1986 also saw the first Shelter conference to focus on the issues around women and homelessness.

In 1990 mortgage repossessions quickly became the dominant housing issue. As a result, Shelter partnered with the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux to manage and deliver the National Homelessness Advice Service. The aim of NHAS was to ensure that anyone facing a housing crisis had the advice and information they needed to avoid or escape from homelessness. NHAS supplied specific support on housing and homelessness to complement the services of Citizens Advice Bureaux and, in London, the services of members of the Federation of Independent Advice Centres and other voluntary agencies. NHAS was funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions. Furthermore, in 1997 Shelter launched Shelterline with the support of British Telecom (BT) and other businesses, trust and individuals. Shelterline provided housing and homelessness support 24 hours a day, and was the first service of it's kind in the UK. Shelterline effectively replaced Shelter Nightline which had been established in 1991 to offer homelessness and housing advice outside office hours. Nightline was open 6pm to 9am on weekdays and 24 hours at weekends. The helpline continued to operate until at least 1995, when it was replaced by Shelterline in 1997. By 2015 the service provided by Shelterline had reduced to 8am–8pm on weekdays and 8am–5pm on weekends, whilst still operating 365 days a year.

In 2015 Shelter described itself as having four areas of operations: Advice (given by Shelterline and regional services); Representation (provided by trained legal staff); Support (given by specialist support services which work with families over an extended period of time); Campaigning (through lobbying and tackling the root causes of homelessness).

Directors of Shelter

  • - Des Wilson, May 1967 - January 1971
  • - John Willis, February 1971 - December 1972
  • - Geoffrey Martin, January 1973 - October 1973
  • - Douglas Tilbe, January 1974 - December 1976
  • - Richard Blake (acting), January 1977 - February 1977
  • - Neil McIntosh, February 1977 - December 1984
  • - Barry Jone (acting), January 1985 - March 1985
  • - Shelia McKechnie, April 1985 - December 1994
  • - Chris Holmes, February 1995 - May 2002
  • - Adam Sampson, January 2003 - May 2009
  • - Sam Young (acting), June 2009 - December 2009
  • - Campbell Robb, January 2010


The Shelter archive is divided into the following seventeen sections:

  • SHELTER/1: Management Papers
  • SHELTER/2: Annual Reports and Reviews
  • SHELTER/4: Subject Reports, Factsheets and Summaries
  • SHELTER/5: Conferences and Anniversaries
  • SHELTER/6: Regional and Advice Services
  • SHELTER/7: Publications and Newsletters
  • SHELTER/8: Directors and Staff
  • SHELTER/9: Training and Commercial Services
  • SHELTER/10: Fundraising
  • SHELTER/11: Campaigns Initiatives
  • SHELTER/12: Press Releases
  • SHELTER/13: Press Cuttings
  • SHELTER/14: Les Burrows' Archive Summaries
  • SHELTER/15: Photographs
  • SHELTER/16: Posters
  • SHELTER/17: Objects
  • SHELTER/18: Films, Promotional Videos and Audio Clips

Access Information

OPEN, except SHELTER/1 which is CLOSED.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with Bishopsgate Institute by Shelter, 6 June 2014.

Other Finding Aids

Adlib catalogue and copy of handlist available in researcher's area.

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Grace Biggins.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying and digital photography (without flash) is permitted for research purposes on completion of the Library's Copyright Declaration form and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Corporate Names