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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter IX. The Social Settlement


THE town of Dunfermline is particularly well adapted for the successful operation of a social settlement. The life of its people, especially of the poor, could through the medium suggested be raised and strengthened, and made happier and nobler, to a degree which would probably be as surprising as it would be welcome to those concerned for the welfare of the town. That this view may not appear unwarranted, what is suggested in the way of a social settlement may first be dealt with, and then some details of its possible work considered.

The settlement proposed for Dunfermline would, of course, be largely modelled upon those university and social settlements which have now been in operation in London and other towns for many years. Their main lines of work are too well known to require detailed explanation here, beyond stating that they represent an attempt on the part of those connected with them to gain a fuller knowledge of the life of the poor by living it with them, and by personal service to promote their welfare by every means shown to be wise. They bridge the chasms dividing classes, and seek to place within the reach of the socially lowest sympathy, knowledge, guidance, with the new life, social, moral, intellectual, that these mean.

Social settlements aid the growth of the human spirit, and are themselves an indication of it. Canon Barnett has well expressed this in the following passage. [University and Social Settlements (1898).]

"The human spirit is always growing in strength. It bursts traditions as the life in a tree bursts the bark which protected its tender age. It strains to reach beyond class distinctions, old habits, party lines, and anything which hinders man from helping man. Nowhere is the growth of this human spirit more evident than at the Universities.

"Fourteen years ago there was a clear recognition that old forms of benevolence were often patronising in character, that charities and missions often assumed a superiority in their supporters, and that sectarian philanthropy often developed party bitterness. Many men and women, therefore, anxious to assert their fellowship with the poor, resented the ways which in the name of love made their brothers humble themselves to take gifts. They did not want to appear as 'benefactors' or as 'missionaries.' They had no belief in their nostrum as a Morrison's pill for the cure of all evils. Their desire was, as human beings, to help human beings, and their human feeling protested against forms of help which put the interest of a class or of a party before that of individuals, reaching out handfuls of gifts across impassable gulfs and making party shibboleths the condition of association.

"Working people, on the other side, under the influence of the same human spirit, had come more and more to resent exclusion from the good things enjoyed by other classes. They wanted to know more of what their richer neighbours did, and, at any rate, before heaving a brick at an aristocrat, they desired to find out something about him.

"Thus it was that a way was prepared for a suggestion that members of the University might live as neighbours of the poor, and, without affecting the superiority of an ascetic life, or claiming to have come as teachers, or having any sectarian object, might form the friendships which are channels of all true service.

"The establishment of settlements is the work of those who believe that the gifts to modern times are good; that culture is gain, not loss; that cleanliness is better than dirt, beauty better than ugliness, knowledge better than ignorance—Isaacs not to be sacrificed. Settlements stand as an acknowledgment of the claims of all the citizens to a share in these good things, and as a protest against meeting those claims by the substitution of philanthropic machinery for human hands and personal knowledge. They express the desire on the part of those 'who have' to see, to know, and to serve those 'who have not.'"

The settlement in Dunfermline need not be started on a large scale. Its inception might well be undertaken by the Civic Union, between which and the settlement there will naturally always exist the closest relationship. The obvious plan of forming it would be first to obtain a suitable house within or near to the most populous district. It would be necessary for the house chosen to have one or two really large rooms, where a fair number of people could be got together for meetings, etc. If the trustees were unable to build a house specially for the purpose, the desired building could be got by taking a couple of old houses and making the necessary internal alterations. The city recently had the chance of acquiring what is, perhaps, the most suitable house for the purpose within the burgh, alike for its position and the number and size of its rooms, the old Abbot's House overlooking the Abbey Church. In passing, the hope may be expressed that when the opportunity again occurs, the trustees will not fail to acquire this house, and so save from destruction, which has more than once been threatened, the most interesting private house that the town contains, and put it to a use in such entire consonance with its traditions.

The settlement premises being obtained, two or three men would take up their residence here. The number need not be a large one; it would, indeed, be better to be a small one to commence with. These men would not set out with the intention of immediately accomplishing a great and exhaustive programme of many-sided activities. They would be content with the day of small things, and to find by experience a scope for their labours. They would presumably be men possessed of the social spirit, following their ordinary professions or occupations, but desirous of devoting their spare time to the study of various aspects of the conditions under which the lives of the poor around them were mostly spent, and of seeking by personal service to improve those conditions.

The settlement would require at its head a warden of experience and judgment, the bulk of whose time would probably be required to direct and organise the ever-increasing agencies which the settlement would bring into being.

Above all, the settlement would be a centre of practical organisation. It may be asked wherein would the difference lie between it and the Civic Union. This can perhaps be best expressed by saying that through the agency of the social settlement it may be hoped to carry to practical realisation many of the schemes formulated and approved by the Civic Union. But the supreme value of the settlement lies in the fact that it will work with and among the people themselves. It will not address them from afar or from the housetop. It will live life with them, discussing its difficulties as equals, and seeking to give the term brotherhood an actual living reality.

Yet it will be clear and definite in its outlook upon life, and if the basis of its work had to be concisely stated, perhaps this could not be better done than in the following passage by the late Professor York Powell:— [Thoughts on Democracy.]

"The classes that labour with their hands for weekly wages have now entrusted to them much of the power possessed by the Government of this country. The future of this country, and the parts of the world dependent on it, must be largely settled by the use, wise or foolish, good or evil, they will be making of this power. Their own future depends on it. If they refuse to think, if they choose to listen to fools' advice, if they do not take advantage of the opportunities they have for making themselves better, morally, physically, and intellectually, the world will pass them by speedily and inevitably. Goodwill is no excuse in face of facts; only good deeds will count.

"Knowledge and the will to use it, and the courage and the perseverance required to use it rightly, these are the necessities of progress and of well-being of any kind. Ignorance that may be felt (but that may by honest effort be destroyed) is the cause of many more of our troubles than we like to admit. Science, not creed, is the Deliverer, if we will only take the trouble to follow it. There will be plenty of mistakes on the way, but if a man means to learn by his former mistakes, he nearly always has the chance, and the advance, though slow, will be continuous."

The possible labours before the settlement are so numerous that the difficulty will be that of selection, but it cannot be too well remembered that its operations should be designed specially to help those out of reach of the influence of the ordinary educational institutions. Much may be done for working men in giving them interests in life and supplanting the power of the public-house. Lectures, art exhibitions, arts and crafts leagues, nature study societies, classes for the study of municipal and national institutions, the right use of the public library, all these would be legitimate directions for much-needed work. Then, too, there is the important matter of Men's Clubs. These have been so singularly neglected in the past that the very name frequently suggests only a kind of backstairs public-house. If the settlement could guide the foundation of the true club for working men, the natural complement to the Boys' Club, which has been discussed at length in these pages, it would be rendering a great national service, for by such means would be found one of the most effective methods of dealing with the present bad eminence of the public-house.

It may be found possible to have a "Women's Settlement as well as a Men's Settlement. The arguments for the latter are as strong when applied to the former. But if for the present it is not found possible to establish a women's settlement, there is no reason why the work of the men's settlement should not receive the help of the public spirited women workers of the town. Indeed, if the mission of the settlement is to be properly realised, such help will be essential. The settlement should be the meeting-ground not only for men, but for women too, who are ready to give personal service in schemes of practical work. Much of the necessary social work could only be properly done by women workers, and if their help is not forthcoming the work of the settlement will be incomplete. In another portion of this book reference is made to the educational system of the town and the need for extending the teaching of cookery and housewifery. Through the women workers of the settlement this teaching may be given to those whom the influence of the schools will not reach—the mothers of the present generation and the younger women whose schooldays are over, and who may soon have the responsibilities of wife and mother. The experience of most social workers goes to prove that the art of housekeeping is very imperfectly known, and frequently entirely lost, amongst the women of the working classes. The poor physical condition of school children is often due to improper food, or to food wrongly prepared, rather than to lack of food. There is a general absence of knowledge of the nourishing value of different foods, of scientific methods of cooking, of suitable foods for various ages. It is hard to cope with this ignorance through ordinary agencies, but the settlement offers an efficient method of dealing with it, for its women helpers could organise meetings and classes in which the working women of the town could be drawn together and given tactful and sympathetic instruction and guidance on these and other subjects which would naturally cover simple hygiene and physiology, and consequently the way to keep themselves and their children healthy. All who have worked among the poor know how greatly their trials are increased through ignorance for which they are not responsible, and this the settlement may greatly reduce. On the question of instruction in physiology, an instance of the good which might be done is found in such a question as ambidexterity, and the hope may be expressed in passing that every endeavour will be made to persuade mothers and nurses to train all children from the day they are born to the use of both hands. It is now a commonplace of medical knowledge that children so trained develop greater mental balance, greater intelligence, more power of school work than children reared under the ordinary method. These are not mere opinions, but have been proved by actual experiment. Obviously the schools receive children too late to commence the teaching of ambidexterity. This must be done by the mothers, and the settlement appears to be the only agency which can reach these in very many cases. It is cited here as one example from many that might be brought forward of matters to be dealt with which are at present neglected in the ordinary workings of our social system.

The initial difficulty would of course be to obtain the attendance at the settlement meetings of the women it was sought to help, and to meet this probably house-to-house visitation would be necessary. Such visitation itself gives great opportunities for social service, and may enable the tactful settlement workers to gain a real knowledge of the home life of the poor. Is it then too much to hope that the women members or helpers of the settlement may form what may be termed a centre for mothers where the questions which have been briefly touched upon here—questions vital to their welfare as also to that of the town—may be dealt with under conditions and in such manner as shall lead to their due appreciation by those it is sought to benefit ?

In the course of this book particular reference has been made to the need of Boys' Clubs. Most of the reasons for their foundation might be urged in favour of Girls' Clubs too, but they, even more than Boys' Clubs, will depend for their success upon the personal guidance and service which they receive from the right women. The germ from which these clubs may spring might well have its origin in the settlement, for the latter could do very much to influence the lives of the many girls employed in the various factories of the town. Informal receptions might be held from time to time— perhaps weekly, of a simple musical and social nature. The friendship and confidence of the girls would be won, advice and guidance would be given them, methods of providing for their spare hours would be organised and might include reading circles, rambling clubs, and working parties of various kinds.

A matter for which the women and men workers of the settlement might well join forces is the inculcation of a true appreciation of music. The present musical policy of the town consists in a considerable degree in the provision of high-class concerts. With this aspect of music the writer is not now concerned, but rather for methods by which those having no present knowledge of music may realise a greater benefit from it than is conferred by the occasional attendance at a concert. Probably this object can only be effectively reached through the children, and it may perhaps be urged that this is a matter for the schools themselves to undertake; and undoubtedly there is much for the latter to do in this direction. But we must probably look to agencies outside the schools to inspire young people with that love for those simple and beautiful forms of music which may hereafter prove to be one of their chief joys. The settlement could contribute its portion towards this result by forming and guiding musical taste, by teaching young people the many simple but supremely beautiful ballad and other songs in which the country is so rich, and particularly by the organisation of children's societies for the study and occasional performance of pieces suitable for dramatic presentment.

In closing this sketch of a settlement which is intended to be suggestive only, it may be pointed out how invaluable the training derived from active association with its work would be for the municipal administrator of the future, for he would have touched the problems of life at first hand, and would have dealt with realities instead of theories.


 


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