Aston Charities Trust

For nearly half a century ASTON CHARITIES TRUST has been in engaged in social action and has been providing community services to the people of Newham.

Jimmy Froud, after whom the Froud Centre (Romford Road, Manor Park) is named, became involved with Aston Charities Trust in 1959, after his return from Hong Kong where he worked for some years with refugees from Red China. He was a Church of England ordained Priest, who had no Parish of his own, but worked in the community.

He was at first in 1960, at the newly built Community Centre, Durning Hall, Forest Gate, and that was his base for 30 years. Aston Charities Trust were a wealthy organisation who owned a great deal of land in the City and elsewhere. The main benefactress was Miss Theodore Durning Lawrence, after whom Durning Hall was named. Jimmy, as he liked to be known by all, initiated, co-ordinated and ran, with the help of many volunteers, numerous clubs, groups, and services such as luncheon clubs for the elderly, nursery provision, workshops for the physically handicapped , Citizens Advice Bureau, accommodation for the first Housing Association in the Borough - at that time, West Ham, Marriage Guidance - now known as Relate - and numbers of others small groups who had no base of their own and were run on a mainly voluntary basis.

In addition to the regular clubs, a great deal of work was done with the youth in the Borough, for whom there were very few recreational or social facilities.

Because of Astons' financial ability to provide pump priming for many of the activities which took place at the Centre, he was able to use local knowledge and prove a need for a number of specific services. He worked closely with the Local Authority and the appropriate departments, especially Social Services. A number of these activities were eventually taken over by the Borough, Durning Hall, the staff and volunteers, having established the benefit and need for the client group.

Other groups and clubs used the Centre regularly, such as Scouts and Cubs, Guides, Judo, what was then known as 'weight lifting' now known as Gym Training or workout; a Drama Group, There was a Pantomime production every year - which was rather stressful but eventually lots of fun.

In the mid 60's a Hostel was built adjoining the Community Centre. The intention at that time was to endeavour to provide reasonably priced accommodation for young workers in the Borough which was sadly lacking at that time. There were 36 units, each one fitted as a bed-sit with shared bathroom facilities. The first floor had a kitchen, dining, lounge and library area. Some staff units were on the second floor. The building was opened by Princess Margaret amid much celebration!

During this period, an old farmhouse - with outbuildings - was purchased at St. Osyth near Clacton, and teams of workers, all voluntary, would spend weekends there renovating it. At this time also, facilities at the Centre were widened to include different religious groups such as Catholics - who used the Chapel and Hall regularly, Hindus and Sikhs for religious ceremonies such as weddings and celebrations. Members from these groups would also give time and effort to refurbishing the old Farm. Regrettably, there was a major fire which destroyed the Farmhouse and outbuildings.

Later came the building of Lawrence Hall in Cumberland Road, Plaistow, on the site of the old Canning Town Women's' Settlement; originally, there was a small wooden building adjoining this area which was Keir Hardie's old H.Q. Lawrence Hall catered mainly for the elderly but in addition, encompassed many other social activities servicing the area.

After the fire which destroyed the old farmhouse, an alternative property was sought so that holidays could be provided for those groups of people for whom, at that time, there was little chance of any venue which would be able to cater for their special needs. The Bridge House Hotel in Westcliff on Sea became the place of many happy hours of holiday for elderly, physically disabled, and many others for a considerable number of years. It expanded when the properties either side of the original Hotel were purchased and adapted.

Jimmy was made an Alderman of the Borough, and became a member of the then Social Services Committee; eventually he took on the Chairmanship of that Committee.

Later still was the idea of a Community Centre in Manor Park. A partnership was formed with an existing Church, St. Michaels - which is an integral part of the building. There were at that time few social facilities for young people in Manor Park, and the Centre was built in order to try and provide somewhere to make a base for the community in that area.

This was subsequently named the Froud Centre. Jimmy himself was initially very reluctant to give his consent to have it named for him, but eventually agreed. It was opened a short while before he retired from the Trust in 1989.

In terms of a significant contribution to the Borough of Newham, it is important to understand that in addition to his amazing energy and foresight, initially this was made possible by the tremendous financial support given by the Trust for whom Jimmy worked; this, together with an extremely good working relationship with the Members and Officers of the Local Authority, enabled so much to be achieved in what was a relatively short period of time.

This, in addition to his ability to inspire and motivate people was quite remarkable; it is amazing that during the first 7/10 years of Durning Hall, the number of paid staff was less than half a dozen, and a great deal of the work relating to the running and administration of the different clubs and groups was done by volunteers; this included maintenance of the building! Thousands of people a year used the building plus the services and facilities it provided.

He loved people; he loved his work and enjoyed life to the full. His hope would be that we are all able to do the same.

Some years after his retirement, Aston Charities Trust merged with the Mansfield Settlement, another major benefactor in the Boroughs' history, to form one charitable body administering their joint assets from offices at Durning Hall.

(Uploaded on behalf of Mary Froud. Text by Mary Froud, 2009; image by Matthew Crisp)

Aston Charities Trust