In 1916, at the age of 45, Elfrida Rathbone began teaching in Kings Cross at a special kindergarten started by her cousin, for children deemed ‘ineducable’. In 1919 Elfrida established an Occupation Centre in Kings Cross for ‘ineducable’ children excluded from school, and recruited supporters to sit on the Care Committees of Islington’s Special Schools. She formed a Girls’ Club in 1923, followed by a Married Girls’ Class with a crèche, and in 1930 established a befriending scheme for children in institutions.
Initially known as Elfrida Rathbone Islington, the Elfrida Society in Islington continued to build on Elfrida’s work with young people with learning difficulties, which it continues to do today. Elfrida Rathbone Camden (ERC) began in 1982 as a branch of the Elfrida Society based in Camden, with the aim of ‘promoting and advancing the welfare, education, training and advancement in life of persons with learning difficulties’.
ERC started with a staff of three (Zena Brabazone, Joan Hanson and Pauline Cheesman) working in a small office in Malden Road. Next came a coordinator and home visitors (nowadays known as Family Development Workers) for the Parents & Co project, which went on to become one of ERC’s best known projects. Easter and summer play schemes, a literacy class and a youth club were also started.
The Camden branch quickly outgrew the space at Malden Road and moved to the old children’s home in Leighton Road where, in the beginning, they had to interview people in a portacabin in the garden. It was whilst here that the Leighton Education Project was first established as a pilot scheme in 1984.
In 1985 Elfrida Rathbone (Camden) was finally incorporated as a separate entity, having until then operated under the umbrella of the Efrida Society Islington/Camden. Shortly afterwards, in 1987, the Parents’ Advisory Service (later to become the SEN Advocacy Service) was established to provide support and advice to parents of children with SEN.
A further move saw the organisation temporarily housed in St Pancras Way, while the premises at Dowdney Close were completed. In 1999 ERC moved into the Camden Family and Youth Resource Centre at 7 Dowdney Close, where it can still be found today. From here ERC has continued to provide advice and support to vulnerable individuals and families in Camden and the surrounding areas.
Elfrida Rathbone appears to have been an astute, courageous woman possessing both determination and vision. She is remembered for her compassion, kindness and humility. Her ability to see beyond disability, neglect and poverty to the individual is something that Elfrida Rathbone Camden continually strives to emulate today.