Toynbee Hall is a local community organisation working with marginalised people in the East End
1. What is your organisation called and what does it do?
Toynbee Hall is a local community organization – and the beautiful redeveloped Victorian building you may have seen set back from the street if you’ve walked up Commercial Road. Or you may have seen the name Toynbee Hall on the Edwardian tube station signs in Aldgate East?
We have been working with the most marginalised people in the East End for 135 years and are now a focal point of our diverse community - for older people, families, young people - just 10 minutes walk from the dynamic economy of Broadgate.
Our advisers are here to help with debt and financial health, welfare services and benefits claims, to support people’s equality of rights and access to services – and also to listen to the community and bring their views to be heard by those in power.
As well as providing crucial advice for people in times of crisis, we aim to bring different parts of the community together to work collaboratively: volunteers lawyers provide legal expertise to people in the evenings; people in professional services make calls and have friendly chats with the older people who are lonely; and volunteers join us at our celebrations to help dish out food and lead games with the people who use our community centre.
2. What are the biggest challenges your organisation faces – now and in the coming years?
Our community was already hard hit, by austerity measures and rapid changes in the local area, and the lockdown has only exacerbated these challenges. Overcrowding, poor health, insecure incomes and social isolation were already part of many people’s day to day lives.
The lockdown has exacerbated many of these problems as people have lost their jobs, struggled to access food and medicines, and found themselves isolated from all social contact.
This issue of digital exclusion has become a top priority for us as well as many other local organisations. Young people on pay as you go contracts don’t have enough data to keep up with online schoolwork, families don’t have access to wifi to work from home, and many older people don’t have any digital devices at all. Reaching the hardest to reach and finding a way of communicating with people who feel increasingly marginalised in this context will continue to be a challenge.
Our team’s focus has been to help harnessing the enormous warmth and community effort around us at a time when we are all be under increased pressures, worries and uncertainty caused by the Covid-crisis. The mental health of our staff, volunteers and of the people we work with are all challenges without easy answers.
Financially, our charity has taken a blow. We have spent the past few years creating a model for sustainability that relied on our venue hire business – at Toynbee Hall we have two gorgeous old halls with modern high-spec meeting spaces, all of which we are currently unable to hire. This means we are reliant on voluntary donations more than ever.
3.What is your organisation’s relationship with Broadgate?
We recently moved back into our newly redeveloped home on Commercial Street, just a few minutes’ walk away from Broadgate, and started to reach out into the broader community around us. We’ve been getting to know more about Broadgate – its history and future ambitions for the community, as well as where there are challenges and opportunities that we have in common.
4. Please can you describe something that you’ve learnt or that has surprised you during the COVID-19 crisis, if anything?
The degree to which digital exclusion has opened up a huge divide between those able to access support, social contact, work and schoolwork, and health information – and those who do not. 1 in 3 of the older people we’ve asked over the past weeks don’t have any technology on which to access the internet. For those that do have a device, access to the internet is still often inaccessible, either because they simply do not have the skills, or cannot afford the data. Young people are struggling to keep up with schoolwork without adequate access to technology.
5. How can Broadgate and the businesses based here best support you – now and longer term?
We are an organization built on partnerships and volunteering: bring different parts of the communities together to work collaboratively. Examples include volunteer lawyers who provide legal expertise to people in the evenings; people in professional services making calls and having friendly chats with older people who are lonely; and volunteers who join us at our celebrations to help dish out food and lead games with the people who use our community centre.
Over the next few weeks and months we would welcome support with our digital and online communications so that we can continue to help people in the absence of face-to-face support , specialist volunteering, and advice on how to manage the ‘new normal’ in public spaces.
6. What message do you most want businesses at Broadgate to remember from your blog?
There is so much heritage. Diversity and community activity on your doorstep – as well as support for anyone that needs it. Everything we do is driven by the community and everyone is welcome at Toynbee Hall. -
7. What are your hopes for the future?
That we can harness people’s commitment to their neighbours and local community for the longer term, sharing our insights and ideas with each other and improving people’s ability to bring about change.
8. Is there anything else, not covered above, that you particularly want to highlight?
We hope you can get a sense of our legacy, history and importance to the East End – an importance that continues to this day. But that’s only half the story: soon we’d love to welcome you properly to enjoy our community garden, table tennis and chess table; and see how we’re collaborating with residents and organisations to make a fairer, happier London today.