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At a time when poverty was endemic and living conditions were dire, a group of buildings — which originally served as warehouses — was transformed by Irish philanthropist Thomas Barnardo into one of London’s first “ragged schools”. From 1867 until 1908, the facility allowed thousands of children to gain access to a basic education for free. Years later, as Barnardo’s school was threatened with demolishment, a group of locals fought to save the school’s unique heritage. The Ragged School Museum Trust was thus founded, with the hope to make the history of the Ragged Schools and the broader social history of the Victorian East End accessible to all. 

Throughout the month of February, the Ragged School Museum opened its doors to families from the local community, offering free arts and crafts activities inspired by the history and legacy of Victorian London. UCL volunteers joined in to help: from assisting children with face painting, to helping out at the facility’s ‘Victorian Kitchen’, they were able to experience London like never before. 

Walking into the Museum, along with the volunteers, I found myself suddenly plunged into the past. With deadlines and exams approaching, the Ragged School’s unique atmosphere, even if only for a little while, allowed us to leave the stresses of university behind, giving us the opportunity to talk to people and share experiences while making a difference. Most of all, the experience at the Ragged School Museum has made me realise that even though we often go out of our way to enjoy our time with others, it sometimes takes something as simple as helping a child with arts and crafts to really make your day. 

Written by Sofia Esposito, Student Photojournalist 

If you feel like Sofia’s article has sparked some inspiration in you to volunteer, check out all our current  One-Off opportunities - they’re a great way to take your mind off things and immerse yourself in some fun activities!