CrossReach celebrates 150 years of social care

Lynne McNeil, the editor of Life and Work magazine, looks back at the proud legacy of social care in the Church of Scotland which can be traced back to 1869.

Man with carer
The Church of Scotland's social care council, CrossReach, is celebrating 150 years of social care in 2019

This article first appeared in the January issue of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

Victorian Scotland was a place where the gap between rich and poor was sharply in focus. Death and disease were rife and many lived on the margins of existence.

Social care as we know it today did not exist, although churches were known for their support and work with the poor, but this was very much on an ad hoc basis.

But one of the Church of Scotland’s great visionaries of the age, the Rev Professor Archibald Charteris (later Very Rev), saw the potential for a church wide initiative that could provide care and support for the most vulnerable people in society – but also be flexible to the changing needs of the age.

As the first Convener of the Committee on Christian Life and Work within the Church, he was one of the people who helped sow the seeds of ‘care in Christ’s name’ that launched formally in 1869.

The Life and Work Committee, ‘appointed for one year only’ was one of the most innovative of the Victorian Church of Scotland under the Convenership of Charteris, and became one of the most influential committees within the Church.

Responsible for the founding of the Church of Scotland Woman’s Guild, the Diaconate and this magazine, the roots of the Church’s social care, today known as CrossReach, can also be traced all the way back to 1869 and the work of this committee.

Led by the Rev Professor Charteris, who had undertaken deep seated mission work with the poorest and downtrodden in need of care during his ministry at Park Church, Glasgow, there was a recognition that the disparate work carried out by congregations in tending to the needy required some focus and the identification of need was presented to the General Assembly of 1870.

In endeavouring to draw attention to both need and provide a focus for unified work, the first steps were taken in establishing social care with a church-wide focus. The work of the committee would also include the founding of the Deaconess Training Hospital in Edinburgh in 1894 – bringing together the diaconate and social care.

The work of this committee sowed the seeds for some of the modern day social care still undertaken by CrossReach – the Social Care Council of the Church of Scotland – in its care for the poor, the addicted, the abandoned and downtrodden.

The Church’s social care work was also flexible and innovative: the first Church of Scotland Huts, supporting soldiers fighting on the frontline of the First World War were established in 1916.

The second root of the Church’s social care history can be found in the early 20th century with the creation of the Committee on Social Work in 1904. The older committee gradually reduced its scope until, in 1936, both were united by the General Assembly.

The work underwent several name changes before becoming the Board of Social Responsibility – the forerunner of the Church’s 21st century Social Care Council operating as CrossReach, which was founded in 2005.

Looking back, some of the landmark moments for the Church include the opening of its first ‘Eventide Home’ for the elderly in 1926 – the year before the National Health Service was launched across the UK. The pages of Life and Work throughout the 1950s and 1960s are packed full of regular reports on the opening of new care homes run by the Church of Scotland.

The Church also recognised the benefit of counselling for those whose lives were impacted by addiction and in 1962 opened the Tom Allan Centre (named after the evangelist and highly regarded Church of Scotland minister who died in 1965) for counselling, which remains today as not only a place where those in need can access counselling (and many other services), but as a recognised counselling training provider.

The 150-year legacy of the Church of Scotland’s social care work continues to pioneer innovative care projects for those most in need of care in our society today,

all centring around the original ethos of ‘caring in Christ’s name’.

Flicking through the history books with 21st century eyes, there are examples of early intergenerational work: residents of eventide homes were early sponsors of children who came into the church’s residential care homes. Whilst the church now only has one residential and respite for children with disabilities as well as a few smaller community houses for looked after children, its work in caring for the elderly is just one example of important community and social work that continues in a proud legacy along with a raft of innovative ideas, but all rooted in the early premise of Christian care.

Its intergenerational work continues with young children coming to play at an Inverness care home last year – improving the well being of the elderly residents and increasing understanding about the elderly among youngsters.

CrossReach is proud of its reputation at one of the country’s largest providers of social services, crossing social boundaries to provide care for older people, help with tackling alcoholism, drug and mental health problems (including post natal depression) and assistance for homeless people and those with special learning needs – although this is not a comprehensive list of the breadth of its work.

The legacy of pioneering care is also perhaps best demonstrated by the launch of Scotland’s first post-natal depression counselling service (now the Bluebell Project) in the late 1990s in Edinburgh in recognition of support for vulnerable new mums.

This pioneering approach was evident again in 2012, with the launch of the Daisy Chain Project in Govanhill, Glasgow, which aims to use play between parent and child to improve the lives and opportunities for under eights in an area with a life expectancy that is less than the Scottish average.

From the early days of 1869, CrossReach now employs more than 2000 staff and supports some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people, from the youngest to the oldest through a range of services that have care and love at the heart of the work

Perhaps the key to its success lies in its ability to identify where people need help – and to listen and learn and diversify.

Whilst some services have disappeared as they were no longer needed, the core of the work of CrossReach – caring for those sometimes on the margins of society –has remained at the centre of all it undertakes.

Celebrating the long history of care within the Church of Scotland, CrossReach chief executive officer Viv Dickenson said: “It is a real privilege to be Chief Executive Officer of CrossReach at this point in time, and to have the opportunity to delve into the history of the Church of Scotland in the area of social care.

“What is wonderful about that history are both the stories of those whose lives have been changed because of the love and care shown to them and of those who have helped make it happen. The legacy of love in action is a strong one, and is evident in local church settings as much as it is in the formal social care provision offered by CrossReach.

“As I look back I can see that the golden thread is a very real passion to make a difference to the lives of those in challenging circumstances who are in need of support. That passion is as evident today as it was 150 years ago and has helped drive innovation in finding new ways to tackle knotty problems. From the first investments in healthcare and hostels for the homeless through to postnatal depression services, and specialist services for those with dementia or addiction the Church’s activity in social caring helps reveal something of both Scotland’s social history and the pioneering spirit which has helped it to discover new solutions.”

Looking ahead to the future she added: “That pioneering spirit is still strong as we think about the needs of the communities we serve today and will serve tomorrow, and consider how we can continue to walk alongside people and empower them to live life to the fullest at every age and stage of their lives and whatever their circumstances.”