Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1845. As a young man he moved to London to train as a doctor. When he arrived, he was shocked to find children living in terrible conditions, with no access to education. Poverty and disease were so widespread that one in five children died before their fifth birthday. When a cholera epidemic swept through the East End, leaving 3000 people dead and many orphaned children, the young Barnardo felt an urgent need to help.
His first step, in 1867, was to set up a ‘ragged school’ where children could get a free basic education. One evening a boy at the mission, Jim Jarvis, took Barnardo around the East End, showing him children sleeping on roofs and in gutters. What he saw affected him so deeply he decided to abandon his medical training and devote himself to helping children living in poverty.
In 1870, Barnardo opened his first home for boys. As well as putting a roof over their heads, the home trained the boys in carpentry, metalwork and shoemaking, and found apprenticeships for them.
Barnardo believed that every child deserved the best possible start in life, whatever their background. This philosophy still guides the charity today.
Today, they support and protect children and young people facing a wide range of issues, from drug misuse to disability, from sexual abuse to domestic violence. But one thing has never changed: like their founder, they believe that with the right help, children can change their lives and achieve their potential.
Over 150 years ago, Barnardo promised to support those children in need of help – regardless of their circumstances, gender, race, disability or behaviour.
Today, they continue to honour that promise.