There are various reports regarding the establishment of the 'Slum Work' which formed the basis of the Goodwill Department. In 1889 this work was defined by Bramwell Booth (later Salvation Army General) as 'standing half way between our spiritual and social operations' (Year Book, 1937). It is reported that Eva Booth (the later General Evangeline Booth) envisaged choosing women cadets for the 'special work of hunting out the poorest and worst'. These cadets formed the 'Cellar, Gutter and Garret Brigade' and were known as 'Slum Sisters' or 'Slum Saviours'.
In January 1884 the first cadets were sent to Hackney Wick, London to offer spiritual and practical assistance to residents (All the World, July 1885). At first cadets were engaged in work during daytime hours but resided at the Training Home. In approximately July 1884 The Salvation Army purchased a room in Seven Dials for several cadets to live in; these women were supposed to put 'the example of a good life' before local residents and in order to blend in did not wear Salvation Army uniform (War Cry, 22 November 1884). By August 1885 there were 16 members of the Cellar, Gutter and Garret Brigade. Members of the Brigade also established the practice of accompanying East London residents on hop-picking holidays in 1885.
As work developed The Salvation Army purchased rooms in Drury Lane and Whitechapel and beyond; these came to be known as Slum Posts. In September 1886 the work of the Brigade was transferred to the London Division and officially re-named Slum Work. Between 1884 and 1887 only cadets were engaged in this work but gradually commissioned female officers were also appointed to Slum Posts. Female Salvationists were also encouraged to volunteer for Slum Work. It is also reported that in September 1886 Bramwell Booth asked Salvationists Harriet and James Webb to move to Salvation Army rented rooms in Walworth to engage in similar work (X/7; Year Book, 1937). Mrs Webb invited her fellow corps soldier, now officer, Ensign Polly Redmead to assist in this work (Pam/R.14).
During the 1880s Slum Work was administered by Lt-Colonel Blanche Cox; Major Mildred Duff; Major and Mrs Cooke; and Mrs Colonel Hay (1889). By 1890 work in London was divided into 18 Slum Districts and there were also Slum Posts in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Worcester, Newport, Bristol and Brighton (Pam/R.14). By 1896 there were 31 Slum Officers in London and 51 in the Provinces. From 1889 - May 1924 Slum Work was administered as part of the Women's Social Work until it became a separate organisation and was transferred to Territorial Headquarters under the direction of Mrs General Florence Booth.
An article from 1928 (All the World, January) outlined 16 'methods' used by Slum Sisters to help people. Methods of practical assistance included: visitation and care of aged; meal provision; clothing provision; jumble sales; laundry for children; first aid; ministrations to dying; burials; annual outings for children; two-week holidays for mothers; and giving 'Christmas cheer'. Slum Sisters also provided religious services and teaching to women and to children.
From 1930 to 1978, the Slum work and later the Goodwill work was assisted by members of the Goodwill League, a voluntary auxiliary service established by Hugh Redwood, author of 'God in the Slums'. It is believed that the first use of the name 'Goodwill Centre' appeared in connection with Hoxton, London 1940. By 1942 the terms Slum Posts and Goodwill Centres were both used. By 1949 the Year Book used only the name Goodwill Centre.
On 1 July 1985 the oversight of Goodwill Centres transferred from a National Headquarters department to Divisional commands. In 1985 the national Goodwill Department became part of the Services to the Community Section.