Barnardo's children recall hard times

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The Independent Online
A "frank" account of the history of Barnardo's, the society that is attempting to come to terms with its controversial past, was launched yesterday. The authors are two of the society's most famous old boys, the designer Bruce Oldfield and the novelist Leslie Thomas. The third co-author, Helen Simpson, is a voluntary worker.

Barnardo's Children traces the history of the charity through personal experiences and looks at the use of village homes, training schemes and the tackling of Aids and sexual abuse. But it also covers controversial aspects of Barnardo's history, such as child migration to Canada and Australia (over 1,300 children were sent abroad in 1905 alone) and the separation of brothers and sisters.

Oldfield and Thomas were honest about the feelings they had towards their treatment as children and praised the professionalism of today compared with their own experiences. Oldfield, taken to a Barnardo's nursery aged one, spoke of the "heavy- handed" institutional feeling of the 1950s and 1960s.

"I think there were some very bad things about the way we were brought up and the way they looked at child care in the 50s and 60s. In my time, there were 25 boys under one roof, 3 to 17 years old, all slightly disturbed. It was very institutionalised and it was bound to be rough justice."

Thomas, who drew on memories of his childhood in Barnardo's in his first book This Time Next Week, said of the Kingston home he lived in: "The place put terror into your heart. There was a great big tower and it looks like a prison. But it grew on you." He recalls Kingston as "A rough old dump - we called it a mouldy old shack."

Barnardo's senior director, Roger Singleton, said: "The history of Barnardo's ... tells us about the changing nature of childhood over the last century and how society's attitude to children have changed."