About 5,000,000 people in Britain do some form of social service, on an entirely voluntary and unpaid basis. That is about 9 per cent of the total population. In terms of man-hours, these volunteers make a contribution greater than that of all the paid staff in the social services departments of the local authorities. It has been found that the Welfare State cannot do all that is required. In many places, voluntary organizations are the only providers of, for example, youth clubs, advice centres, or preschool playgrounds.
It is an interesting and important fact that more than half these volunteers are young people under 24. Many of them spend one or two evenings a week in some form of service. Some go out in groups to do repairs and cleaning for old people living in dilapidated houses. Of course, often the work is not done with professional skill, but as one old lady said to me, ‘I know these young people have come to see me, just to see me — that’s the great thing. It doesn’t matter if the repairs are a bit rough. It is hearing their cheerful voices, and then afterwards we all have tea together — that’s the high point of my week.’
The organizer of one of the volunteer groups told a reporter not long ago: ‘The sort of thing that can happen is this. We sent out a team to repaint a house for an old lady who lives alone, and when they came back they told me there had been an unfortunate accident, and that the paint had got spilt on the floor. They said she had taken it very well, but I rushed round to apologize to her. She said to me, “I’ll tell you something just between ourselves, shall I? I enjoyed it. You know, my daughter (she’s the only one I’ve got) married and went to Australia, and I’ve never seen my grandchildren. They can’t afford yet to come across, so I’ve never seen them, never. And when that little boy slipped and fell off the ladder, and the paint-post slung round his neck too — why, I felt I had got my grandchildren here after all.” And I saw she was crying with happiness.’
Not all accidents turn out as happily as that one, of course, and the groups sometimes have to send a follow-up team to do the job again, but there is no doubt that it is human feeling, rather than cold efficiency, which is the most important thing in this social service.
The Royal Borough of Kensington, where I live, is not a typical part of London, so to give an example I will choose an area in the north of London called Barnet, which has a population of about 300,000 people, about 50,000 of them being over 60. Most of the latter have relatives who look after them, but about 5,000 are on the borderline of extreme poverty. In a good many cases the reason is, that they are too proud to ‘take charity from the state.’ In the days of their youth it was a great disgrace not to be independent, and they still have this attitude, even when they are very distressed.
In the Barnet area, there are no less than fifty voluntary organizations doing some sort of social work. One specializes in cleaning up little streams or ponds that have become clogged by rubbish during the past thirty years; others have been turning waste ground into allotment gardens, or little flower parks. There is one organization, with about 600 members, which concerns itself solely with old people who because of age or illness have become isolated. Half of its volunteers are school children, some of them from a famous public school, Mill Hill. Fifty years or so ago I was a pupil there myself -there was nothing like that in my time. The local authority provides an office and two full-time paid organizers, but all the work of the group is done by volunteers, for no pay. Each volunteer spends at least two periods of two hours each week, visiting and helping those who are on the register, and looking out for more old people who are in need of help.
One of the sons of a Barnet family that I know well is keen on this voluntary work, and I asked him how he started. He told me, ‘When I was a schoolboy of about fourteen, I was coming back from school one day when I saw a very old man leaning against the wall in the street; he had a little dog with him, on a leash. He looked absolutely exhausted, and I said to him, “Is there anything I can do?” He said, “I wanted to take my dog for a walk in the park as usual, but I’m too tired somehow.” So I said, “Well, HI take him if you like, and bring him back. Where do you live?” He pointed to a tiny house almost behind him, so I took the little dog for a walk and then brought him back. The old man asked me to come in for a cup of tea, and I saw the room was rather dirty, and there was a big pile of letters on the table, all unopened.
‘After that, I used to look in at his window as I passed, and sometimes he waved to me to ask me to take the dog again. I got to know him quite well, and found that he was all alone, and he was terrified that “they” — the officials, h e meant — wanted to take him away from his little house and put him in an old folks’ home. But he wanted his independence, though he had no one to look after him. He wouldn’t answer letters, and he wouldn’t even go to collect ^ the pension he was entitled to. One day when I was there, the Health Visitor knocked; he didn’t want to let her in, and I talked to her on the doorstep. I told her who my parents were and where we lived. She checked up on me, and then we came to an arrangement by which I could collect his pension for him, and give it to him. He would take it from me: it was the officials he distrusted. He wouldn’t have anything to do with them, though they only wanted to help him. The old man even agreed to let me open some of the letters, and I wrote some answers for him, which he signed. Of course, sometimes I had to ask my parents what to say in the answers -they were mostly official forms about pensions or rent rebates for the elderly and so on. I must say the officials whom he disliked so, were very understanding. He wouldn’t see anyone grown-up at all; he thought they were all in a plot against him. But he trusted me – perhaps he thought I was too young to be in a plot, or perhaps it was because of the way we met. Anyway, after about a year he died. But it gave me an interest in this kind of thing, and I joined one of the volunteer groups.’
But there is a different kind of social service too -not concerned with helping the aged, but with helping young people. After the war when I returned to Britain, I determined to continue my interest in introducing Judo to the West. I had then a Fifth Dan from Kodokan, and I was active in the Budokwai Judo Club in London, founded by Gunji Koizumi in 1918, and the oldest and best club in Europe. (We have preserved the old spelling Budokwai, which was the standard spelling in 1918.) Mr. Koizumi was a beautiful stylist, but was then getting on in years and could not do the hard practice with up-and-coming young hopefuls. I used to teach at the Budokwai in the evenings and also take weekend Black Belt classes, to which 50 or 60 Judo leaders used to come from clubs all over the country, including Scotland. In those days a First Dan was regarded as a high standard, and any club that had a First Dan was very proud of him.
Finally I founded a new club, in quite a different part of London where there were not many facilities for young people. I managed to get a large hall for my club, and I imported Japanese tatami to make an 80 mat dojo. The members all helped to repair and redecorate the hall. We could have got a substantial grant from the London authorities, but like many Englishmen of my generation I was very reluctant to accept any help from the state. (It is the same attitude as the reluctance of the old people to take ‘charity from the state.’) I n fact I had to finance the club for the first three years, but in the end it got on to a firm basis, and I then cancelled its debts to me and handed it over to the members.
I regard the introduction of Judo as much more than simply providing a sports facility. I was always impressed by the way the senior members of Japanese Judo dojos used to take an interest in the beginners, and give some time every day to helping them. This is not the case in British sports groups; strong golfers, for instance, play with each other, leaving the beginners to play among themselves. The Japanese example seemed to me superior, and I was fairly successful in helping to cultivate this spirit in British Judo, where it still flourishes. Leaders of other sports have sometimes commented on it with interest and respect. (It is another facet of the curious fact that Japanese will do more for fellow members of a group than British people will do, whereas British people will do more for strangers in difficulties than many Japanese feel called upon to do.)
I can remember one amusing incident that shows something of the Judo spirit that the members were trying to cultivate. One year we had to repair the roof, which was very pointed, and over forty feet from the ground. It was quite dangerous work, especially for amateurs like ourselves. We had borrowed long ladders, and generally three or four were on the roof itself with the others engaged in passing up the slates and tools to them. One afternoon I arrived with our team captain, a very good Judo man who was fanatically keen on keeping up our excellent contest record. We were ^ just beginning to win contests against the Budokwai, though in a sense the contests were false because most of the top men trained at both clubs. As we came near the building we looked up at the roof, and then my companion gave a yell of indignation. ‘George,’ he shouted, ‘why are you up there? You are our No. 3 man -suppose you break your neck, what are we going to do for our No. 3? Get down from there at once!’ One of the middle- aged members, a hard worker at Judo but not nearly good enough for the team, called up, ‘Yes, come down, George. I’ll go on the roof instead of you. I’ll never get into the team, so it’s no loss if I break my neck!’ Everyone burst out laughing, and they accordingly charged places.
Helping to spread Judo in Britain has been a social service, but far deeper than merely providing a healthy sport for your people at very cheap rates. One of the reasons I wanted to introduce Judo was, that it is a good introduction to culture, especially Japanese culture. Japanese people do not realize clearly that abroad, the Judo ideal is a cultured and intellectual man like Dr. Jigoro Kano. In fact many of our British Judo enthusiasts have become interested in Japanese culture. For twenty years I insisted that those of the British Judo men who were enthusiastic enough to go to Japan, having got a Second or Third Dan here, must study some Japanese before going. Altogether in those first twenty years, about 30 men went, and twenty of these learned to read Kanji, at least to some extent. Three of them, on returning to Britain, took degrees in Japanese at London University; one of them came top of the First-class Honours Mists I gave most of the British Judo men their first lessons in Japanese, often in the dojo after practice. So I can say that some of my social service has been as a Japanese-language teacher.
Today I have retired from Judo world completely. Old myself, once I did something for two or three hours each week to help a group of old ladies who were semi-invalids. Unless we do some social service of this kind, my generation cannot face the young people of today in Britain. They expect everyone to do it. And anyway, it is a pleasant feeling to know that one is a member of the group of 5,000,000 who are doing the social service, and not yet a member of the group of 2,000,000 old people who are being helped by it.
© Trevor Leggett