Here is briefly recorded the history of the Magdalene College Youth Club (and later Trust), which has been done so much for Southwark and Cambridge House over the course of a long and distinguished life.
Founded in 1905 under the auspices of its parent Cambridge College, the object of the Magdalene College Boys Club was ‘to provide for the moral and physical welfare of boys and men, and more particularly for those living near Wyndham Road, Camberwell’ where the club premises were originally situated.
The need for endeavours supporting young people has been constant in South London. In 1932 the Club President describes the poverty of the Camberwell area and of those seeking a social, educational and sporting outlet through the club, stating that ‘a large proportion of these many families are living in squalor that should not be tolerated for a moment in a country with any pretensions to what is popularly called civilisation.’
The War Years
The horrors of the Second World War only exacerbated the pressing needs of the borough, and it was at this time that the Club moved to Cambridge House where an air raid shelter in the garden guaranteed its continued ability to open every night. The October 1943 – March 1946 Club report described how:
‘The Club premises were damaged by blast on three occasions; but this misfortune paled in comparison with the general distress of the Borough of Camberwell, where out of its 42,000 houses, only 400 remained entirely free from damage by enemy action. Under these trying conditions, the activities of the Clubs were fully maintained.’
The Magdalene Boys Club was joined at Cambridge House by clubs from Jesus, Sidney Sussex and, later, Emmanuel. Together, now as a cohesive youth centre, these clubs provided a range of activities, trips, classes, games and sports to over 120 boys (and a similar number of girls) aged 10-18. They represented a chance to learn new skills, make new friends and broaden horizons. Annual trips to Cambridge University strengthened a bond that was further served by generous subscriptions and residencies from Cambridge students.
From Club to Trust
In 1969 the Club suffered several setbacks. On the departure of the resident youth worker no suitable replacement could be found. A small team of residents attempted to keep the club going ‘but were defeated in the end by an outbreak of vandalism which made it necessary to close the club… to prevent further damage to the premises.’
This was recognised as a chance to rethink the needs of the community around youth work and attempt more intensive and targeted approaches. It was not the end of Cambridge House’s provision of support for the young, but rather the start of something new.
By this time the Club had sold its original premises on Wyndham Road and devolved the running of the youth programme to Cambridge House. The Club invested the proceeds and, as a trust, existed now to feed funds into Cambridge House’s new youth projects.
This job it performed admirably for many years, creating unquantifiable benefits for the local area over the course of its life. In the winter of 2015/16 it was decided that the time and manpower demands of the trust were no longer commensurate to the benefits of its continued operation: the love and nostalgia that many members bore it could no longer outweigh the demands of pragmatism. The Trust was merged into Cambridge House, where the transferred financial resources have been an invaluable support to our specialist programme for at-risk youths. The legacy of the Magdalene College Youth Trust lives on in these efforts.