• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Making a difference for 180 years

Making a difference for 180 years

March 22 2024

In this blog, we’re taking a look at some of the milestones that have marked Livability’s decades of care for children, young people and adults with disabilities. We start with one of our founders, the renowned social reformer Lord Shaftesbury.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later to become the ‘seventh earl’, is born into the powerful and aristocratic Shaftesbury family. During his life, he will turn down offers of key government posts, because of his conviction that social reform is his calling, underpinned by his Christian faith.


Social reform

Lord Shaftesbury becomes known as the ‘poor man’s earl’ because of his tireless work on legislation to better the lot of the poor and disadvantaged in Victorian Britain. Key legislation includes:



  • Lunacy Acts which enforced the regulation of ‘lunatic asylums’ – now termed psychiatric hospitals – and better care of asylums’ patients. Formerly, patients could be chained up for days with no access to sanitary facilities, and subject to infrequent washing with cold water, no soap.
  • Child labour legislation, which in its final enactment, meant no child under 13 years worked more than nine hours in textile mills. A member of the Lancashire committees set up to support the Bill wrote that ‘if there was one man in England more devoted to the interests of the factory people than another, it was Lord Ashley. They might always rely on him as a ready, steadfast and willing friend.’
  • Further legislation gave rights to child chimney sweeps and to women and children working in mines.


Lord Shaftesbury becomes president of the Ragged School Union, a grouping of largely volunteer-run schools giving poor children an elementary education and often providing food and clothing. To give one example, the Deptford Ragged and Industrial School provided a wide range of community services, including education and employment training, with over 1,000 children attending its Sunday school. Teachers described some of the children as ‘so ragged, they don’t even have a name’.


The Education Act for England and Wales is passed, legislating for education for children aged five to 12. In response, the Union’s work focuses increasingly on care for children and adults with disabilities.


Life after Lord Shaftesbury

Lord Shaftesbury dies and is buried at his family estate in Dorset. People line the route for miles of his funeral procession to Westminster Abbey, where he is memorialised by a statue near the west door.


The public raises funds to erect the Angel of Christian Charity statue (commonly known as Eros) at Piccadilly Circus, a memorial to the selfless work of the ‘poor man’s earl’.


The Ragged School Union’s work continues to support poor children in poor neighbourhoods; three Battersea ‘missions’, which are part of the Union, take 17,000 children on seaside visits.


The Union’s seaside homes cater for children with and without disabilities, in a society where disability was often seen as ‘other’, and as such, to be kept separate.



The Ragged School Union becomes known as The Shaftesbury Society, in honour of the seventh earl.




Shaftesbury and Grooms merger

The Shaftesbury Society merges with another Victorian founded charity, John Grooms, to become Livability. Whilst from very different social strata, Grooms and Lord Shaftesbury shared a passionate and faith-based commitment to improve the living and working conditions of poor and disadvantaged people. This passion remains at the heart of Livability’s work today.

Read More Articles:

Next article:
What is the TCS London Marathon Ballot?

Time for a new phone cover image?
Why not run for #TeamLivability at the London Marathon?

  • Training support and fundraising pack
  • Kerb crews on M-day to cheer you along
  • Post-run party complete with masseurs