History and track record

Created by a merger of the charities The Shaftesbury Society and John Grooms in 2007, Livability is building on a 160-year track record of ground-breaking community work. Our rich heritage of social reform drives us; we are ambitious to innovate and determined to end social exclusion.

Our charitable operation pioneered free school education and our sheltered workshops were among the first of their kind. We broke new ground by taking disabled young people out of hospital wards and into schools. We have supported disabled people in our schools and colleges improving the vocational opportunities for many. We have been at the forefront of raising awareness for disability and mental health issues within the UK church and have developed a rich portfolio of community engagement training used by churches across the country. We work with one in three local authorities, helping them meet the challenges of a changing care sector.

Our charity’s forefathers John Grooms and Lord Shaftesbury were pioneers of social change in their day. We are inspired by their story and strive to deliver impactful and relevant services that meet the needs of society today.


Lord Shaftesbury

Lord Shaftesbury was popularly known as the ‘Reforming Lord Shaftesbury’ and the ‘Poor Man’s Earl’, because many of the reforms he championed helped the poor and the working class of Victorian Britain. He was the President of The Ragged School Union which eventually became The Shaftesbury Society in 1944.

John Grooms

John Groom was a deeply Christian man, who set out to help destitute, orphaned and disabled girls in the poorest areas of London. From this grew the charity ‘John Grooms’ which delivered ground-breaking care for disabled people. More than a century after its foundation the charity was still providing employment and homes for disabled people.


Born in 1801 and a student at both Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford, Lord Shaftesbury became a Member of Parliament in 1826. Throughout his career Lord Shaftesbury campaigned about issues that included education, public health and improving working conditions.

Born in 1845, John Groom founded ‘The Watercress and Flower Girls Christian Mission’ in 1866. By 1878 it had become the ‘Flower Girls Brigade’, formed to train destitute girls to make up flower displays. The name was changed in 1907 to ‘John Groom’s Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission’.


In 1884 Lord Shaftesbury became the President of the Ragged Schools Union. Ragged schools were charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children in 19th-century Britain. The schools were developed in working-class areas of rapidly expanding industrial towns. The Ragged Schools Union combined resources throughout the country, providing free education, food, clothing, lodging and other services for these children.

In 1892 Arthurs Home at Ashley House was opened by the Ragged Schools Union. A ground-breaking, convalescent and holiday home for profoundly disabled children who would otherwise have been confined to hospital.


In 1893 The Shaftesbury Memorial is placed in Piccadilly Circus, London following Shaftesbury’s death in 1885. The Memorial is topped by a statue of the Greek God, Anteros. The statue is called ‘The Angel of Christian Charity’ – but most people (incorrectly ) call it the ‘Statute of Eros’. His funeral was held at Westminster Abbey and the streets were filled with people despite the cold wet weather.

In 1912, Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, became aware of the Flower Girls’ work and commissioned John’s girls to make the flower badges for Alexandra Rose Day – the very first flag day – in June 1912. The John Grooms flower girls also made some of the first poppies for the Royal British Legion after the First World War.


In 1944 ‘The Ragged School Union’ became known as ‘The Shaftesbury Society’, having operated as ‘The Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union’ for 30 years.

1969 The name of the charity changed again to ‘John Grooms Association for Disabled People’. In the lead up to this moment, the charitable work had run multiple children’s projects between 1890-1979.

Flower production stopped by the mid 1890s as fashions changed and the charity focused on providing disabled people with newer, community based housing and care provision. The Edgware estate where the charity was based from 1932, opened its doors to male residents in 1965.

In 1969 ‘John Grooms Housing Association’ was founded and pioneered independent living for disabled people. Developments included flats in Princess Crescent, Finsbury Park, Dolphin Court and John Grooms Court, Norwich. By 2006 JGHA was providing and managing around 1200 specially adapted houses and flats for disabled people all over the country.


In 1995 ‘John Grooms Overseas’ was formed and until 1998 focused on the development of nursing services and nursing education at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Bangladesh.

In 2007 John Grooms and The Shaftesbury Society merged to become Livability.