Providence House 50th Anniversary – A Part of our Lives

Over 500 people attended Providence House 50th Anniversary on Saturday 10th May 2014.

From 12.30pm until 11pm in the evening there was never a time when the place was not heaving with people. The whole day was an enriching time of people connecting and reconnecting with the work of Providence House. There were people in attendance from almost every corner of England and people re-visiting after perhaps twenty years absence, or meeting again with people with whom they had shared their Providence experience as much as ten, twenty or more years earlier. In fact there were still people arriving after 10pm, who had only just heard of the event, or could not come any earlier because of work. And, of course, the building was filled with many of today’s youth members and their families.

The anniversary event achieved three clear aims for the day. For the first part, a service of celebration was held with around 170 seated guests, where the story of Providence House was told through pictures, film and personal testimony from former and present members straddling the fifty years. The service was led by Robert Musgrave MBE, Director of Youth and Community Work at Providence House, and Rev Edgar Daniel, former Chair of the Shallowford Trust, gave the closing address. Tribute was made to the late founders of the work, Elizabeth Braund and Rosemary Bird, and several people spoke movingly of how Providence had changed the course of their lives.

While the lunchtime guests were still exchanging past stories and experiences, the rest of the building was being opened up to showcase the current active work of Providence House youth club, led by Esther Clevely, Senior Youth Worker and her team. The car park was busy with face painting and badge making and children’s games; the media room had a nonstop succession of tee shirt printing that extended well into the evening, while the carpentry workshop was full of young people making jigsaw puzzles and simple wooden stools. A table tennis challenge kept both young people and adults captivated throughout the day. But perhaps the biggest draw were the photographs, telling the story of 50 years. Almost until 11pm at night, there were still people searching for their photograph that told their part of the story.

More of the Providence story was captured by visitors writing in a memory book or on a large timeline, as well as a recording session to tell it in your own words. 

The scene changed again in the evening as the main hall was set up for a concert on the stage. Compered by Freddie Morrison, all the performers were men, women and young people who had been part of Providence House as youth members, including Noel Mckoy and the McKoys, Aston Essen, and Ziggy Anderson. There was a strong sense of a community coming together throughout the evening celebration, with those seated in the concert, with the youth club still busy with activities, and many people just standing together in the corridor and outside wanting only to talk and connect.

There was generous support from several local businesses, Waitrose, (Costa Coffee), Ernest Larner, Georgiou, Maria’s Fish & Chips, Piggies Cafe and Zenobias, as well as Platform One and Wandsworth Youth Service with the loan of equipment.

There were several key messages from Providence House 50th Anniversary.

First, that the success of this work is built upon the foundation of those who have given so much in life commitment to this community and its young people, not only those who founded the work and pioneered a unique inner city Christian mission, but those who have carried it on, and the many, many people for whom Providence has been a part of their lives. Foundational to it all is the underlying sense of Christian mission. ‘Except the Lord build the house, its builders labour in vain’ was quoted on several occasions, and in his closing address the Rev Edgar Daniel urged that the firmest foundation for the future of the work must be Jesus Christ, and his purpose, inspiration and strength.

Secondly, the busyness of the whole day, with so many young people engaging in a variety of activities underlined the value of youth work in a day, when there is a tendency to marginalise its importance. Youth work has been the core work of Providence House for fifty years, and will continue to be so as it faces the uncertain future of the re-development of the local neighbourhood and the ever shifting trends in social patterns.

Thirdly, the throng of people from different generations and different cultural backgrounds highlighted the importance of community strength. A willingness to engage with change in society, and not hide from its impact, has been a hallmark of the community work of Providence House.

One of the founding members of Providence House Youth Club Trust, a retired minister, recently commented that ‘places like Providence are need more than ever. Don’t let it be lost!’

And an article about Providence House in the Observer newspaper, ending by quoting from a young person, who when asked if he able to build the ideal youth centre, what would he want it to be like, simply replied after a moment’s thought, ‘Providence House’.