This year Surrey Community action celebrates its 70th anniversary – seven decades of dedicated community service since our formation on 28 February 1950.
Unfortunately the pandemic put paid to the celebrations and conference we had planned for the Spring but we’re marking the event with a series of social media posts highlighting our achievements along the way, and this potted history.
Surrey Community Action began life as The Surrey Council of Social Service (SCSS). At that time Surrey included areas of greater London including Wimbledon, Barnes and Morden. The aim of the Council was to “work with voluntary organisations principally in the rural areas furthering health, relieving poverty distress and sickness” and “pursuing any objects deemed by law to be charitable.” Our office opened at Jenner House in Jenner Road in Guildford.
It’s easy to think that everything in the 1950’s was rosy; the war was over and rock & roll appeared on the radio and in dance halls. Yet many communities were struggling. In the 1950’s social care as it exists today was not available. These were also the early days of the NHS so there were large gaps in the provision of care – especially for the elderly. Rural communities were also particularly disadvantaged.
In 1951 SCSS set up an Old People’s Welfare Committee (OPWC) to “survey and co-ordinate the activities of statutory bodies and voluntary associations engaged in work for old people.” SCSS went on to set up chiropody clinics (which at that time were not available on the NHS) in Send, Woking, Merton, Guildford, Shere and Morden and also introduced a clubs for the elderly to support those living alone.
Supporting rural communities was seen as an important part of the work of the Council – affordable housing, local employment and ‘youth issues’ were key concerns. So SCSS set up a Rural Industries Committee to train young men in rural crafts so they could train to become farriers, blacksmiths, hurdle makers and agricultural engineers.
In order to further community life in rural areas, a committee to support village halls – by 1952 twenty-four village halls were affiliated and in the late 1950’s a Best Kept Village competition began.
The 1960’s was the era in which the sale of charity Christmas cards began from our premises in Jenner Road, to support local voluntary organisations.
In the 1960’s it was common for young married couples to live in a caravan while saving up for a house and SCSS’s Rural Committee began to help remedy problems on sites.
1960 saw the introduction of The Charities Act and many halls registered as a charity to benefit their finances.
Harnessing the power of the voluntary sector had been the mission of SCSS and today of Surrey Community Action and in 1963 a Register of Opportunities for Voluntary Service was produced by SCSS with full information about social service and welfare organisations in the area.
In the 1970’s SCSS turned its attention to volunteering and so, in 1975 we changed our name to the Surrey Voluntary Service Council (SVSC).
SVSC organised training for volunteers in the field of social work and volunteers were also recruited to help in the area of mental health. The National Health Service was re-organised and the role of the volunteer was seen as ever more important.
Although there was no longer a Rural Committee, SVSC still retained its role, as Surrey Community Action does today, as a Rural Community Council.
The 1980’s saw the arrival of ‘The Surrey Scene’ a newsletter sent out to all membership organisations three times a year – the first edition covered a variety of topics from the Greensand Way footpath and employment. County Sound radio began broadcasting in 1982 and SVSC featured in a weekly broadcast documenting the life of a different village each week.
1985 was International Youth Year and SVSC organised a seminar at Surrey University entitled Youth Matters which highlighted our new focus on youth issues.
SVSC was also involved in the Youth Training Scheme during the 1980’s, sponsoring 130 places in many areas of work around the county. The scheme was a big success with 70% of those taking part finding employment at the end end.
SVSC continued its focus on training into the 1990’s, broadening the range of courses offered to staff at voluntary organisations.
In 1990 SVSC, together with interested groups from across the county, organised a seminar on aspects of access for disabled people. Out of this, the Surrey Access Forum formed – the first County Access Forum to have been set up nationally.
In 1991, with a growing staff SVCS moved out of the office in Jenner Road and into Astolat, our current home.
The Surrey Gateway Project was an initiative set up by SVSC aimed at helping the voluntary sector to become more efficient by adopting technology. Computers donated by Sony and Surrey County Council were given to member voluntary organisations and a Gateway website created to support the project. Gateway represented the voluntary sector entering the computer age and keeping pace with the commercial sector.
In 1999, SVSC launched its first website!
2000 – 2010
In 2003 SVSC became Surrey Community Action to reflect the strong affiliation to all sectors including voluntary, community, faith and rural and also align more closely with other voluntary sector infrastructure organisations.
Surrey Community Action began to get involved in grant funding distribution such as the Local Network Fund which benefited 286 community groups to the collective tune of £1.5 million between 2003-2007. In 2005 we distributed £63,000 of Sport Relief funding on behalf of the Surrey Community Foundation.
This decade also saw Surrey Community Action organise conferences for the sector, a tradition that continues today (pandemics permitting!)
In 2009 our mission statement changed to: “To support and strengthen the Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector in Surrey through access to advice, training, funding and advocacy.”
In 2014 Surrey Minority Ethnic Forum, which was set up as a project by Surrey Community Action to represent the needs and aspirations of a growing ethnic minority population in Surrey, became an independent charity.
Also in 2014 Surrey Community Action updated its logo to the one we have today and began to embrace social media. In 2016 we launched a new website.
In 2017 Surrey Community Action began its Drive into Action Campaign to recruit volunteer drivers for the county’s Good Neighbour Schemes, which have their origins in the 1950’s. We also established a Community Led Housing project to boost the number of affordable homes in the county in tandem with our Rural Housing Enabling programme.
2018 saw the launch of the Inspiring Enterprise programme to help unemployed people in west Surrey to set up a social enterprise or become self-employed, and our Warmth Matters project to help people on low-incomes to avoid fuel poverty.
2020 has been a year full of unexpected developments…but as it has done for the last 70 years, Surrey Community Action continued to provide services and support to the voluntary sector – answering queries about safe opening from community building managers, helping the Gypsy and Traveller community to make claims for financial support, finding ways to help new business owners to rapidly diversify and representing the needs of Surrey’s voluntary sector in the face of extreme demand and restricted fundraising.