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Our Story

Founded in 1889, Cambridge House is part of the international Settlement Movement set up to provide social services to the urban poor and campaign for social justice

The Settlement Movement

Led by Samuel Barnett, the Settlement Movement began in the 1880s in response to widespread urban poverty and social problems caused by industrialisation. Barnett’s idea was for academics and students to live in ‘settlements ‘situated within disadvantaged communities and volunteer their time and expertise in order to provide free services, education and training. The Movement is viewed as the forerunner to the welfare state in the UK – both William Beveridge and Clement Attlee, key social reformers, were one time residents of Toynbee Hall, the first UK settlement. The concept of social work also grew out of the moment. Further settlements followed across London, including Cambridge House, in Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham as well as internationally – for example Hull House in Chicago, University Settlement, New York and Hiram House, Ohio. Further information about the International Federation of Settlements can be found here.

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Cambridge House was set up by students from Trinity and Magdalene College Cambridge, to address poverty and deprivation in Southwark. Spanning five Georgian houses on Camberwell Road, Cambridge House was the main settlement south of the river. Philanthropic undergraduates and graduates from Cambridge University lived in our building and undertook vital voluntary work. Original activities included the first free legal service, educational and recreational activities, involvement in public bodies, a boys club and country holidays for city children. In the 1900’s a women’s settlement called Talbot was also set up nearby focussing on helping women and children. The two settlements worked together until they were merged in 1972. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Cambridge House set up the UK’s first Labour Exchange in response to mass unemployment and, during 1930s, provided skills workshops for the unemployed. In 1963 we developed the first Adult Literacy Scheme, which led to the national Right to Read Campaign for Adults.


We remain a community anchor, focusing our activities on vulnerable families and communities as well as campaigning for social justice and equality using our expertise and knowledge of the root causes and effects of poverty. We also provide a home to 16 charities and community organisations in our refurbished building helping to support and develop local civil society.

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