The Unsung Sixties: memoirs of social innovation

27th February 2004 at 00:00
The Unsung Sixties: memoirs of social innovation

By Helene Curtis and Mimi Sanderson

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The Advisory Centre for Education, the Pre-School Playgroups Association, Gingerbread, Shelter and Help the Aged all have their roots in the 1960s.

For their founders, Ken Loach's TV drama about homelessness, Cathy Come Home, was more likely to sum up the decade than the Beatles. The accounts of those who pushed up the social agenda the unfashionable needs of lone parents, low-income families, terrified runaway teenagers and people with disabilities are collected here: the nitty-gritty of working for change in the days when a high media profile meant the director cycling up Fleet Street with a press release, and the stories of those who made it happen.

ACE's part-time administrator, Sonia Jackson, recalls the first parents'

"advice shop" in the Ipswich Co-op (followed by a season at Butlins), at which a suggestion that a parent might be entitled to approach the headteacher with a question seemed radical. Later she was among the ACE pioneers behind the founding of the Open University.

Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of Community Service Volunteers (which today has 3,000 volunteers a year) came fresh from hearing Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech to assisting its founder, Dr Alec Dickson.

Her autobiographical postscript pinpoints the family as the root of altruism; a common thread of having been brought up to give something back or share what you had runs through these portraits. But just as important is what Help the Aged's John Pearson, recruited from a furniture showroom ("if you can sell furniture, you can sell charity"), describes as being "the right person in the right place at the right time". And, as Sonia Jackson says, social change "was part of the climate. You think you think of things by yourself but you don't; it's in the air."

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