THE EC ROBERTS CENTRE – A HISTORY AND BACKGROUND.
In 1896 a local Priest, Father R.R.Dolling, published his memoirs of his time inPortsmouth‘10 Years in a Portsmouth slum’. His parish was St Agatha’s church situated in the adjoining streets to where the Roberts Centre is located today.
Although not relevant to the entire city there were pockets where Dolling identified root causes of the poverty as conflicting interests of a rapidly expanding population and an absence of wealth. Low wages created a cycle of continual poverty and Dolling’s recollections of living conditions at the time remain remarkably close to many of the same social inequalities identified by Dolling over 100 years ago. Work by organisations such as the Roberts Centre is still very much needed.
Mr EC Roberts bequest was, to quote his last testament, ‘in loving memory of my mother Henrietta Jane Roberts born in Portsmouth in 1866’ who originally lived in Portsea with her mother and brother. Henrietta left for America in the early 1890s becoming a US citizen in 1893.
The bequest, in the region of £250,000, was left to the discretion of the Bishop of Portsmouth but was designated to be used for the feed, care and clothing of the poor, orphaned, crippled and blind children of Portsmouth.
After considerable consultation with a wide range of charities and government departments it was decided that the most appropriate use for the bequest was to fund a day centre for homeless families. A letter from the Bishop 19th November 1986 stated that ‘a bricks and mortar project would provide the most tangible and lasting memorial to the mother of the testator and most accurately fulfil the wishes of EC Roberts’.
At that time (1986) there were in the region of 600 families living in temporary accommodation with no provision to facilitate the preparation of meals, give children play space, do laundry or maintain normal family life. With Portsmouth having one of the densest populations outside London, the aim of the centre was to release families from isolation and encourage closer neighbourhood integration.
Up to 1989 this need was met by the Phoenix Centre, under the Portsmouth Housing Trust. It provided a drop in centre for homeless families supplying crèche and cooking facilities and a summer play scheme for between 15-20 families a day. This aptly named project was incorporated into the Roberts Centre.
- November 1986 – Decision taken by Bishop of Portsmouth to provide bricks and mortar site for care of homeless families
- June 1990 – Official laying of the foundation stone of the Roberts Centre building. Official opening by Diana Princess of Wales
- April 1998 – EC Roberts Centre became an independent Charity & company ltd by guarantee
- Nov 1998 – ECRC won the Dulux National Community project of the year
- Jan1999 – introduced Supervised Contact and weekly Supported Contact
- May 2000 – Roberts Day Nursery opened Registered for 22 places (0-5yrs)
- Sept 2000 – Launched Temporary Accommodation Service + PCC
- Sept 2001 – visit by the Archbishop of York
- Mar 2002 – Launched Family Tenancy Support Service
- July 2002 – Gained Investors in People
- Nov 2002 – Supported Housing – chosen by ODPM as National model of Good Practice
- March 2003 – Purchased The Roberts Centre building
- Aug 2003 – 400k refurbishment improvements works completed on Roberts Centre
- Sept 2003 – Roberts Day NNI Nursery opens in the centre – 44 places
- Oct 2003 – Launched wider Contact Support Service
- Nov 2003 – Temporary Accommodation Service chosen by ODPM as National model of good practice
- Sept 2004 – Centre now Ofsted registered for 69 childcare places (22 places 0-2yrs) Nursery & Playscheme
- Oct 2004 – Recruited Healthy Eating Assistant for the nursery
- Mar 2006 – Supervised Contact service opened in Southampton
- May 2006 – BBC Children in Need funding Healthy Eating service for 3 years
- Oct 2006 – Garfield Weston Charitable Foundation granted £20,000 towards the development of the Peripatetic Child Contact Service from a base in North Hampshire
- Jan 2007 – launched Housing Benefit Tenancy Worker pilot in partnership with DWP (funded by The Coltstaple Trust and PCC Housing Options)
- Apr 2007 – Began 2 yr Contract for LA for proving contact for Looked after Children in Portsmouth
- May 2007 – Supervised Contact service opened Chichester
- May 2007 – CAFCASS granted £20,000 for the development of a Supervised Child Contact Service in Aldershot by the end of 2007/08
- Oct 2007 – Supervised Child Contact service opened in Aldershot
- Jan 2008 – launched Education Engagement Officer service
- Nov 2008 – opened 2nd site for resettlement service in Portsmouth
- Dec 2008 – Opened new leased base and moved services to the venue in the centre of Aldershot
At the end of Dolling’s ministry he recorded ‘although we have lost many of the visible signs of slumdom, poverty remains and always will, but utter hopelessness and callous depravity have in a large measure passed away’. The world has changed since the age in which he wrote these words but the need for projects such as the Roberts Centre has not. With its continued attempts to alleviate the effects of poverty on the most vulnerable in society and by offering the hope of an improved future, some families may be able to break the cycle of deprivation in which they are caught.