The Big 100

On 1 January 2019, PSS turned 100 years old.

Founded by the wonderful Eleanor Rathbone back in 1919, PSS has always been a firecracker, beginning its life with the title Liverpool Personal Services Society. Our motto was: ‘a society for any citizen in difficulty’ – and that is exactly what we were, and what we are today. For the last 100 years, we’ve been providing services that change people’s lives for the better.

From our Liverpool home, we’ve been responsible for starting a whole host of social movements, believing in and passionate about making sure all people matter, moving and shaking the first services of their kind across many different disciplines of social care (we kicked off a ton of recognisable names – from Age UK, Legal Aid and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to Relate and Riverside Housing). Some may say we flew straight to people’s need, underpants over leotards and capes flapping in the wind. However, we’re far more humble than that. Where we saw a need for change, we approached gently, listened closely, imagined the possibilities and came back with a service that fit the bill. Thing is, even when we didn’t come up with the idea ourselves, those around us knew they could trust us to do what’s right.

Our founder Eleanor Rathbone said ‘what ought to be done, can be done’ and when everyone else was turning a blind eye or unsure of how to help people in their time of need, we said ‘we hear you, let’s see what we can do’. We’ve always been unapologetically different, a rebel with a gritty and heartfelt cause – and although our organisation has grown and developed in so many ways since 1919, that’s never changed – and it never will.

 Here’s a whistle-stop tour of all of our achievements in the last 100 years:

1919: On 1 January 2019, a wonderful thing happened – the Liverpool Personal Services Committee was founded.

1920: We helped the ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer Society’ to get off the ground in Liverpool.  Later on this developed into a service we all now know as Legal Aid.

1921: We introduced the UK’s first official ‘on the job’ placement for social work students. At the start this was with the University of Liverpool, but other organisations followed our lead, and lots of these partnerships still exist today. 

1927: Our Old People’s Welfare Committee laid the foundations for the national system which was developed in 1940 – and later became Age Concern, now part of Age UK.

1928: We wanted to make sure everyone had the homes they were entitled to under the 1925 Housing Act, so Dorothy Keeling, our first secretary, said we should set up a housing society. Liverpool Improved Houses bought and renovated older houses to make them shiny and new, ready to be homes again.

1936: Our Unhappy Domestic Relationships and Marriages service was one of the schemes that led onto the work now done by Relate.      We started helping people whose marriages were breaking down. This formed the basis of Merseyside Marriage Guidance Council, which was rebranded as a local branch of ‘Relate’ in 1988.

1939: During the Second World War, people’s homes were being destroyed, children were being evacuated and lots of people were in real need of advice and information about what to do next. The government hatched a plan to help, and we helped make it happen. Working with other voluntary organisations, we opened 18 of the first ever branches of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau around Merseyside.

1943: Our Old People’s Welfare Committee were ahead of the curve, and were one of the first to start providing home helps for older people. Today, it’s more commonly known as domiciliary care. We did this with our friends at the Queen Victoria District Nursing Association.

1953: Even way back in the 50s, we knew that when issues arise in families, or when there are intergenerational problems that are set to continue, the best thing to do is to work on it together. That was quite a new train of thought back then, and there wasn’t any help around that focused on keeping families together. That’s why we kicked off the country’s first Family Rehabilitation Scheme for ‘problem families’, in partnership with Liverpool Improved Houses.

1961: At a time when there was a big stigma around mental health and many mental illnesses were still unrecognised, there were no services around to support people with post-traumatic stress disorder. We wanted to change that and bring people who’d been through similar things together, so they didn’t feel so alone. That’s when we started the Merseyside Far Eastern Ex-Prisoners of War Association.

1966: We took on our first young person’s advisor, who provided counselling and mentoring to young people in Merseyside.  Once we realised just how much this service was helping, we took even more. Later on, we let this service go so it could flourish into its own charity.

1970: Acknowledging that there’s more to our health and wellbeing than just physical health alone, we teamed up with United Liverpool Hospitals to provide nurses with post-graduate training in children’s mental health.

1976: We started the Family Clubhouse on Newby Street in partnership with Liverpool Improved Houses, as part of Urban Aid and EEC Anti-Poverty programmes. The Club House was a bit like a children’s centre, but not like the ones we know today. Families would take part in activities, daytrips and holidays.

1978: When the government started closing down old ‘institutions’ for mental health patients, lots of older people had nowhere to go. Originally called (wait for it) ‘Adopt a Granny’, Shared Lives meant that instead of getting passed to another institution, these people could go and be supported in a homely environment by a carer and their family.

1984: Our Care in the Community Scheme was created to support people with mental health difficulties in their communities – going against the general idea of the time that people with mental health difficulties should be institutionalised. This inspired and influenced this way of working in other areas of the country.

1990: We started the country’s very first Young Carers service.  Our Young Carers service supported young people providing care to a member of their family. Our support workers helped young carers through challenging and emotional times in their lives, gave them space and time to unwind and feel like children, and gave them a sense of community with other young carers.

1997: We developed a service to promote the voice of the child in custody decisions, known as the ‘Merseyside Family Mediation service’. The big focus of this service was to ensure that the views of the child involved where heard and reflected throughout. 

2002: We launched one of the earliest Siblings Projects, which provided specialist help for the brothers and sisters of disabled children. Over the years of working with people, we learned how hard it can sometimes be for brothers and sisters of disabled children – and we wanted to help. That’s when we became one of the first to create a specialist project designed to support them.

2003: We established the UK’s first specialist training for interpreters, supporting them to help with counselling asylum seekers. Our Spinning World service know just how traumatic some of the experiences of asylum seekers can be. As many asylum seekers don’t speak English fluently when they come to the UK, communication can become a barrier to helping them express themselves and cope with trauma.

2008: We started TRIO, the first ever multi-person dementia service, where people are supported in the community alongside at least one other person with the same illness. TRIO is one-of-a-kind. In fact, it’s the first of its kind in the UK. Instead of supporting people with dementia on a one-to-one basis, we decided to try teaming a support worker up with two people who suffer from the illness, with the aim of providing them with some companionship, and a bit of support from someone else who knows exactly what it’s like.

2010:  We started our Family Impact – Prisoners’ Children service, which was one of the first of its kind to support the children of people in prison. Children of prisoners are often overlooked, hiding away and keeping the realities of their situation a secret. They often find themselves isolated and judged on their circumstances. Our service was designed to support these children with their situation – bringing them together on common ground; learning from and supporting each other.

2014: We set up Ruby to support women who are in hospital as a result of domestic violence. The aim of our Ruby service is to discretely get the women the help and support they need to improve their situation before they are discharged.

2017: It’s said that many children who have a parent or family member in prison are living a ‘hidden sentence’. That’s why the experts in our Family Impact service teamed up with Novus to develop ‘Left Behind’, the first training programme in the UK that helps teachers to understand how to support children with parents in prison.

It’s now our mission to be around for 100 years more (at very least). To help make that possible we’re going to be shouting a whole lot more about how special we are over the whole of 2019. Stay tuned for plenty of performances, parties, pieces of PSS history and lots more spectacular stuff. We’re super excited!