Claremont has been around since 1907 and pioneered many important developments in social care and development. These included programmes in the 1920’s and 30’s which became models for the Welfare State, one of the first child care services for working women, and even free acting classes as a route out of poverty.
The building was originally built as a Christian mission attached to the rear of the main church building (which is now The Crafts Council building on Pentonville Road).
Below: Claremont Staff and the Mayor and Mayoress of Islington
The Claremont United Reformed Church (URC), who own the freehold of the Claremont building, no longer continues to meet weekly in one of the halls but passed the baton of charitable work, and responsibility for the entire building in a generous lease, over to the charity in 1998 (Reg. Charity No.1070611).
The charity’s constitution is secular and the charity is independent of the church. There is however provision for two church representatives to sit on the board.
Below: Baby weighing at Claremont
Below: Claremont lessons on food and nutrition
Claremont’s new vision started to emerge in response and reaction to institutionalized services and day centres. Who would want to go to a “day centre”, we asked, and what kinds of things would they feel about themselves if they did? With so many day centres and community centres, why were so many older people still sitting alone at home?
We wanted Claremont to be a place that we ourselves would want to visit as customers/clients and to which we would like to invite our friends and acquaintances. We wanted to be different from places where staff members, in unequal relationships, create neediness, anxiety and dependence on the part of their clients by being the rescuer or “concerned sympathetic ear”. Equally we didn’t want to be a place defined by rules and regulations and the unwritten dogma of small established cliques.
Below: 1960’s Lunch Club in the Old Hall
We believed that people, especially those feeling themselves to be in real need, were often both profoundly under-served and also sometimes ready to let themselves be defined as being “ill” or “marginal”. We wanted to help change that and develop a place where individual personal expression, exploration, responsibility and change were central and would help forge real relationships and real communities. Central to that, for us, was the general notion of creativity.
One of the first Claremont examples of the enormous positive impact that being creative can have came about in a puppet making group (the participant’s name has been changed to preserve privacy):
Henry, aged in his late seventies, had always been very withdrawn, rarely saying anything to anybody. A widower, he had no friends and no remaining family. Henry was encouraged to take part in a drama and puppet workshop. I will never forget walking past their group one morning and hearing him cry out with all his might, ´I love you!´ Henry was speaking through a puppet he had made. It was as though a dam had burst for him – he started talking passionately about so many of the things he had been bottling up. Since then, Henry has found a new voice, has made several friends at the centre and takes an active role in social activities. There is no doubt in my mind that that class and follow up sessions have facilitated radical improvements in Henry’s enjoyment of and involvement in living.
Being creative, striving for and inventing meaning, even in the face of meaninglessness, is something that gives us a special sense of our humanity. It is a reaching beyond ourselves, a cry, and a celebration of being alive. It is a process that is open to all, regardless of age, language, cultural background, skill, class, wealth or physical ability and without it we are diminished as human beings. Although deeply personal, it is also an activity that can be profoundly social, engendering social cohesion, inclusion and development.
Life is rich with possibility and choices. Life also faces us with our own limitations. Sometimes we can have debilitating difficulty with these possibilities, choices and limitations. At other times we may perhaps move artfully through crises. How we respond defines who we are, who we can become. Claremont is about people exploring and discovering their personal, social and spiritual worlds and through such exploration, discovering or recovering their sense of personal meaning and agency as well as their connectedness with others.
Below: A Claremont archive photo/postcard entitled “Typical Outcasts”