In the late 1800s 30% of the population in the UK was living in poverty, with 8% of that 30% completely destitute. These people associated religion with wealth and comfort and few churches would tolerate their presence in their buildings and at their services. It was these people Wilson Carlile desperately wanted to reveal the love of God to.
In 1890 the first Church Army home for the homeless was opened in London, called "The Homes for Tramps and Inebriates" – helping men back into work through the use of labour homes. By the end of the century there were 7 of these labour homes in London and 20 in different provincial cities.
By the early 1900s Church Army realised that these labour homes were insufficient to the meet the needs so they opened up night shelters where men came into rest and were given soup and bread as well as some work.
In 1909 Church Army purchased the Yorkshire Stingo Brewery, on Marylebone Road, in London. This became Church Army’s central labour home, made up of workshops and dormitories. In 1965 it became Church Army’ HQ.
By the 1920s the economic situation was desperate and so Church Army introduced soup and bread canteens and due to increased unemployment and overcrowding had to take steps to extend premises.
In 1935 the Wilson Carlile House in Stepney was opened providing accommodating for 300 destitute men in the east end of London.
In the 1930s one big problem was young men coming out of the education system but not being able to find employment so finding themselves homeless. This led to Church Army opening Wayside Lodges on the outskirts of London where these men could stay and where they would be helped to find work. Often they would be trained up as chefs and caterers, many working in the bakery at Wilson Carlile House, which supplied the bread for all the Church Army houses.
On his 90th and 91st birthdays Wilson Carlile asked for donations to this work instead of presents, which led to the opening of Livingstone House, Willesden in November 1938, which had beds and living space for 91 young men, with room to play games, quiet space for reading and hot water for bathing.
The 1940s saw Church Army opening up a number of Welfare Hostels, to provide cheap and comfortable accommodation, for men of all ages, from all backgrounds and circumstances including those just out of prison and ex-patients from mental hospitals.
Due to the introduction of the welfare state after the Second World War, Church Army’s work changed with its emphasis being more on helping men who did not fit into the state scheme and needed more care than either the state or other voluntary societies could provide. This included men’s hostels throughout the country including Birmingham, Norwich, Bristol, Leeds, Guildford and London.
In the 1980s the Church Housing Association took over the direct management of the hostels.
Church Army still remains heavily committed to supporting and working with those of the margins of society, those who often find themselves in desperate situations, including the homeless, providing care, support and hope, equipping them to move forward into an independent future, including through The Marylebone Project in London and through Cardiff Residential Services. Cardiff Residential Services has been working with young homeless people, in Cardiff, for over 30 years, helping over 1,600 young people since 1984. Many young people arrive at this project because they have no-where else to call home and no-one else to look after them. They are offered care, support and training to help them acquire the skills (including cooking and domestic skills, social skills and networking and budgeting), required to help them move on into independent living.
Captain Paul and Sister Betty Swinscoe's story
Doris Knowles - My life as the wife of a Church Army Captain