Society marks 150 years of helping children

Health Minister Simon Hamilton and president of the Presbyterian Children's Society the Rev Purvis Campbell at the exhibition
Health Minister Simon Hamilton and president of the Presbyterian Children's Society the Rev Purvis Campbell at the exhibition

A Presbyterian society which assists hundreds of vulnerable children each year has opened an exhibition in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library to mark 150 years of its work.

Entitled ‘Generations of Generosity’, the exhibition traces the story of the Presbyterian Children’s Society and how it has been able to give 43,000 children from 17,500 families the opportunity to reach their full potential when circumstances appeared to have made that impossible.

Using stories from the society’s archives - with identities protected - the exhibition tells how generations of generous Presbyterians have demonstrated compassion at the most calamitous times.

The exhibition was officially launched in the library on Friday by Health Minister Simon Hamilton, QUB Professor Emeritus of history Ken Brown and local author Tony Macaulay.

Typical scenarios that have prompted the society’s intervention have been where a breadwinner dies unexpectedly; food isn’t available or can’t be afforded; disability forces a single parent to stop work; everything is lost through bankruptcy; or a family splits apart through domestic violence.

The exhibition also tells how recipients became a First World War VC and another a Presbyterian Moderator.

Known as the Presbyterian Orphan Society until recently, it granted almost £600,000 to support 720 vulnerable children last year.

Secretary Nathan Todd said cases are referred by local ministers with the consent of families.

“All of our grants are made with the family’s consent,” he said.

The organisation is funded by regular collections in congregations and from investments made with capital sums left in wills.

“Going through the exhibition is really taking a step through history,” he added.

“Some parents had fought or died in the First World War, then we helped people through the Great Depression, and next came the hardship of the Second World War. We also see that with the start of the welfare state in 1947, demands began to change.

“The general concept is not making any judgment, but simply stepping in to help children financially, until they finish in full-time education.

“In one case we dealt with one parent who died and another was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition soon after.

“We have also seen a rise in rural suicides in recent times, after which we often step in to help.”

The exhibition runs in the Linen Hall Library until March 25; in Coleraine on April 6; and Cookstown on April 28; with a service on May 10 in Assembly Buildings, Belfast. For further information, call 90 32 37 37.