The History of the University of Glasgow Settlement
Why did students volunteer in the past?
The Settlement movement was a liberal reformist social movement, peaking around the 1920s in the UK the US, with a goal of getting the rich and poor in society to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Its main object was the establishment of “settlement houses” in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class “settlement workers” would live, hoping to share knowlege and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of, their low-income neighbours.
The settlement movement started in London in the mid 19th century. These houses often offered food, shelter, and basic, as well as higher education, provided by virtue of charity on part of wealthy donors, the residents of the city, and (for education) scholars who volunteered their time. Victorian England, increasingly concerned with poverty, gave rise to the movement whereby those connected to universities settled students in slum areas to live and work alongside local people. Through their efforts settlement houses were established for education, savings, sports, and arts. Such institutions were often praised by religious representatives concerned with the lives of the poor, and criticized as normative or moralistic by radical social movements.
The Glasgow Settlement
The University Settlement or “Queen Margaret College Settlement Association” as it was first called, was founded by a group of pioneering women in 1897. They had struggled for the right to access higher education and, having achieved this against much opposition, they felt a commitment to others whose needs were often disregarded. The basic idea was simple: young people from the University should move into areas of deprivation to live with the poor and by this means, share in their lives and provide practical support through personal contact.
Based first in Anderston and later in Drumchapel, Settlement Volunteers were pioneers in many areas of social work throughout the 20th century. They provided legal and welfare advice, they set up credit unions and after-school clubs. From these beginnings developed:
- Legal Aid,
- The Citizens Advice Bureau,
- Savings Banks and a multitude of self-help groups.
Student volunteering therefore is part of the heritage of this University
The concept of pioneering new ideas remains at the heart of the Settlement today but the top-down approach, which characterised social action up to the second half of the 20th century, is no longer appropriate.
Today the aim is to develop partnerships between the University and voluntary organisations in the city. The University will provide student volunteers supported by members of the University staff who will act as mentors. Together they will undertake clearly defined projects provided by the voluntary organisations. The organisations will benefit from the fresh approach and innovative thinking of the students and the students will develop skills in project management and teamwork.
As an increasing number of graduates fight for employment in a rapidly changing world of work, it becomes increasingly important that students develop a portfolio of skills and experience which helps them stand out from the crowd. Participation in these projects will encourage students to recognise and develop the skills and knowledge that will help them succeed in life.