Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Quaker Social Action


Quaker Social Action (QSA), a UK charity, was originally established as the Bedford Institute Association in 1867, to combat poor housing, food poverty, poorly paid and intermittent work, and also to help families struggling to pay for funerals. Many of these same issues are still being addressed today by QSA, along with efforts to reduce feelings of social isolation and a lack of community.

The Bedford Institute Association (BIA) was created out of three earlier Quaker organisations for the, “Education, Religious Effort, Moral Training, and Relief of the sick and destitute,” in the East End of London. Its name commemorates Peter Bedford, a Quaker silk weaver from Spitalfields, who formed the Society for Lessening the Causes of Juvenile Delinquency. This, together with a Working Men’s Club and First Day (Sunday) School became the Bedford Institution Association in 1867.

The work, running adult schools and alleviating poverty, spread to other parts of east London, including Bethnal Green and Bunhill Fields. In 1893, another Quaker, William Palmer (of Huntley and Palmer biscuits) left Hoxton Hall to the Bedford Institute in his will. This was a former music hall that had been used by Palmer to house the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission. In 1894, the original site in Spitalfields was rebuilt as Bedford House. It continued to be used by BIA until 1947.

By the early 20th Century, the Bedford Institute had eight branches across east and south London. They offered activities, summer camps and outings for unemployed men and women with children, taking them away from the slums.

During the Second World War, the East End of London suffered from heavy bombing. Homes were destroyed and residents dispersed to other areas, breaking up old communities. In the post-war period, the newly established welfare state, together with new legislation, ensured a better standard of living for many. Some of the work previously done by the BIA was no longer needed.

In the 1970s and 80s, new forms of social deprivation arose in areas of high-density housing. The BIA responded to the new challenges, expanding and launching projects concerned with ex-offenders and employment training, among others. The name changed to Quaker Social Action in 1998.

Today, 49% of residents in Tower Hamlets, one of the key areas in while QSA works, are from ethnic minorities, with one third being of Bangladeshi origin.  The area has high rates of unemployment, indebtedness and homelessness. One in every two children in Tower Hamlets is considered to be living in poverty.

QSA works with families and individuals, helping them to tackle everyday issues and giving them a voice. Current projects (as of 2015) include:
  • Down to Earth, which provides practical help to those struggling with funeral expenses
  • Made of Money, which provide three to six week courses of workshops to people on low incomes in east London, teaching the use of planning and monitoring tools, discussing budgets and financial products. There are also specific workshops for women in the process of escaping domestic violence, helping them to find financial independence.
  • Homestore, which - for the past 25 years – has collected unwanted good quality furniture from households in east London, and made it available alongside new white goods to people on a low income.

As well as these projects, QSA runs or supports a number of campaigns which seeks to give a voice to those who live on a low income, feel socially isolated, have sporadic or insecure employment, have been homeless or in prison – those who, as it says on their website, “feel that nobody will listen to their stories or bear witness to their everyday experiences.”

Current campaigns, as of 2015, include the Fair Funeral Campaign, which seeks to influence both government and funeral providers to do more for those struggling to pay for funerals. QSA is also a member of the Living Wage campaign (which lobbies for employers to pay workers enough to provide an adequate living) and the Who Benefits? Campaign (which seeks to counter the negative image of those receiving government benefits).

Print this article

Further Reading and Credits