Children's charity in drive for recognition: Mary Braid examines how National Children's Home plans to boost its image after 125 years

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The Independent Online
THE National Children's Home celebrated its 125th birthday yesterday with a name change and an admission that despite being the second largest children's charity in Britain few people recognised its name or understood its work.

Tom White, chief executive, said the charity was being rechristened NCH Action For Children at a cost of pounds 50,000. A corporate communications company has been working on the name and logo change for two years.

Action For Children defends the spending as good investment. At stake, it argues, is a larger slice of the pounds 85m given annually in personal bequests, company sponsorship and public donations to the top five children's charities.

The charity's founder, Thomas Stephenson, a Methodist minister, is credited with creating and coining the term 'children's home' in 1869 as an alternative to the workhouse for the thousands of homeless children forced to live on the streets. The charity believes it has been in the forefront of child protection ever since. But a recent survey revealed only 8 per cent of the population had any awareness of it compared to 43 per cent for the NSPCC, 37 per cent for Barnardos and 32 per cent for Save the Children.

'It's a case of mistaken identity,' Mr White said yesterday. 'The name no longer reflects the reality of our work . . . It is a barrier to awareness raising and therefore fundraising.'

Reflecting the general move away from residential care, Action For Children now runs very few children's homes. Workers joke that they could be prosecuted under trades description laws for the old name. Instead it runs 200 community projects throughout Britain which aim to support children and families, the physically and sexually abused and vulnerable and often homeless young people. It receives most of its funding from local authorities and the Methodist Church, to which it is still accountable.

John Williams, of Fishburn Hedges, the company which changed the name and modified the logo, believes the new name will give the charity a better chance in an increasingly competitive and professional voluntary sector. But he warns extra donations might not materialise as quickly as some expect and certainly not without follow-up advertising.

'The name has been a long-standing problem for the National Children's Home. Seven years ago it changed its name to NCH, but that was done without any razzmatazz and didn't stick even within the organisation. Initials are always hard to establish unless the company is ICI and has money to spend making it known,' he said.

More than 1.5 million families on benefit cannot afford to feed their children even a Victorian-style workhouse diet, new research by NCH Action For Children suggested yesterday.

The study estimates an 1876 workhouse diet of bread and gruel, meat and potatoes would cost pounds 5.46 per week per child at today's prices - 30 per cent more than the estimated pounds 4.15 which Income Support allows for a child's weekly food.

Action For Children has written a letter to John Major asking the Prime Minister to consider the 'devastating effect poverty, homelessness and inadequate social services provision is having on millions of children'.

(Photograph omitted)

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