The Bede House organisation which has been working in and for the Bermondsey community and beyond for just about all of our lives reaches the grand age of 80, and to commemorate this auspicious occasion they are having an exhibition of photographs – Bede House @ 80 – that portrays the journey from when their HQ in Southwark Park Road was a baker’s to the present day.
Local residents raised £400 to buy the former bakery at 351 Southwark Park Road to create a base where volunteers (often from privileged backgrounds, and motivated by Christian values) could live and work with neighbours, young and old. It was named “Bede House” after the Venerable Bede, a monk who, whilst living all his life in a Saxon monastery in Jarrow, became the leading scholar of his age. Like Rotherhithe, Jarrow was an important international sea port, and the whole world had come to Bede’s door.
During the Second World War, Bede House was one of the few places that had a telephone. It became an important communications and relief centre and Boy Scout messengers used it as a base. After the War, Bede House was active as the neighbourhood rebuilt itself after the bombing, and adjusted to the closure of the docks. Many distinguished people were involved in Bede’s youth clubs, and social support for the unemployed, the elderly and those who were isolated. Richard Carr-Gomm, founder of the Abbeyfield Society, and local MP Bob Mellish were regular visitors, and the annual Bede carnivals regularly attracted celebrity guests.
Bede’s clubs began in Clare College’s railway arch, before moving to Lady Gomm House and then, in 1970, to the Bede Centre on the Abbeyfield Estate. Bede’s work became more professional, and in the 1970s, it became a secular organisation, the bedrooms in Bede House converting to offices. Bede has always believed in the value of bringing people together of different backgrounds and circumstances to find common interests. In this way, new opportunities are created for those who have fewest. Today these values are expressed in Bede’s programmes for adults who have a learning disability, visits to elderly neighbours, and support for people experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Bede’s youth clubs continue to serve young people aged 8 to 19, and it has many volunteering opportunities enable individuals to serve their community.
Nearly all of these superb photographs from Bede’s archives were taken by residents including distinguished photographer, Tony Othen. More examples, and stories behind the photos, can be found in Kevin Ireland’s lovingly complied photographic record Bede House Association – The First 75 Years. This can be ordered from http://www.blurb.co.uk/ (search for Bede House Association)
The photos from Bede’s extensive archive show characters and places that made up Bede’s community, as well as some of the work done during that time.
Bede House @ 80 is on at Deli Felice Café, 40 Albion Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 7JQ until Saturday December 1st. Admission: Free.