Wednesday 24 June 2015
This blog was written by Farhaan, one of our heritage volunteers
Today we looked at content taken from the organisation’s annual reports. Each year the Nottingham Charity Organisation Society (NCOS) published a report about its activities, business, work and finances during the year before. Included within this was a set of sample case studies, each about a person or family the organisation had encountered.
My group was looking at the cases taken from its first year of action, 1876. The NCOS chose to publish 14 cases to give a public picture of its work in this year. We were surprised by how active it was and how many people it must have had dealings with – one of the cases was number 536, and this was the first year!
We then got together as a whole group and talked about what we’d found in the cases printed for the different years. Other groups had looked at 1901 (the last year covered in our project) and 1891, roughly half way through. We talked about how these cases were only a tiny proportion of the total number that the society encountered, and explored the reasons that it might have had for selecting these in particular to publish. We thought about what we had discovered from newspaper articles and letters about the message that the NCOS was trying to carry, the image it wanted to create, and the opinions and practices that it was trying to change.
We used this knowledge to explain why the organisation had published the cases it did, and to see how the emphasis in what the printed cases were intended to demonstrate changed over the period. For example, we knew from the newspaper coverage that in its early years the NCOS’s efforts to end casual giving to beggars in the street, to be replaced by donations to and through organisations, drew a lot of hostility. Its central purpose, making support and assistance for people in financial hardship more organised and systematic, also sparked a strong response at the start. Knowing this, we were able to explain the variety of cases printed for 1876. It needed to demonstrate that this traditional casual giving was being exploited, challenge accusations that it was trying to end relief or charity, and, above all, prove the positive effects of linked up working.
The case studies really changed some of our impressions about the period. It was surprising to see how sensitive, comprehensive, and considered the help offered to individuals and families by the NCOS was. We were also impressed by the number of individuals, charities and other organisations involved in helping people in need in Victorian Nottingham, and by the networks that allowed these to work together.