Greenwich Friendship club was originally a branch of the Christian charity TOC H, which was born 100 years ago, in the strife of World War 1. It started in a house in a Belgian town named Poperinge, a few miles behind the front-line trenches. The house was called Talbot House (whose initials, in army telephone jargon, give TOC H its distinctive name). In this house, a young army chaplain, the Rev. 'Tubby' Clayton, set up a rest centre for soldiers. From the start, it was open to all ranks, which was very unusual. Many who visited gained a deeper understanding of other people, and of their own faith.
After the war, the men who survived returned to civilian life. They decided to try to recreate the Talbot House experience in peacetime. They started creating opportunities for other people to have that same experience, whether the divisions were of rank, class or any other. To begin with, they set up residential houses like Talbot House. Later, they started forming local branches, which met weekly. Very soon women were fully involved too.
TOC H spread to many countries. It mainly worked quietly at local level - bridging barriers, giving service, challenging prejudice and encouraging all to find a faith to live by. All were welcome to join this way of living. TOC H tried to get behind the labels that divide people. Labels like ‘old’, ‘young’, ‘disabled’, ‘deviant’, and so on. Labels hide the real person and breed prejudice. Prejudice remains as long as people never actually meet each other. But when people do meet face to face, they find that labels don't do justice to anyone.
TOC H tried to reach out to all. It offered friendship and neighbourly help when needed. It invited people to come and risk meeting others. It did so because it knows that friendship is possible between people who are very different. TOC H believed that differences can add to friendships, rather than divide. These friendships, and the help good neighbours quietly give, help to build better communities.
There has been a TOC H branch in Eltham since June 1938, originally for men only. The Eltham Joint Branch was established in the 1960’s. The word ‘joint’ signifies the fact that men and women were both allowed to join, which was relatively unusual in TOC H branches of the time. Eltham was one of a large number of branches in the South East London area responsible for a diverse range of projects. One of the most significant, but sadly long forgotten, was the establishment of the Brook Hospital League of Friends, which started as a TOC H project, and went on to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the hospital. The highly successful Coffee Shop retained its TOC H links until shortly before its closure, with TOC H volunteers providing the Sunday service to give the weekday volunteers a much-needed break. The other local branches have gradually disappeared, the last two being Lee and Charlton, leaving Eltham as the sole survivor in the area.
Today we are known only for our Friendship Club, (originally called the Blind Club as it catered almost exclusively for people with visual impairments). The club has operated from several different locations over the years, most notably the Holy Trinity Church Hall in Southend Crescent, under the charismatic leadership of Rev Lance Baker, subsequently at the Lionel Road Community Centre and more recently in Progress Hall. Our partnership with Greenwich Council Social Services Department, who provide door-to-door transport, enables us to offer a monthly social evening for the elderly and people with a range of disabilities. The raffle at the club and fund-raising events elsewhere, cover the cost of professional entertainment at each meeting, and help to subsidise outings and special events. Our dedicated team of volunteers aim to provide a happy and relaxed environment in which members can meet old friends and form new friendships.
In the 21st Century, we still retain the traditional values of TOC H, by bringing people together to build stronger communities, and we hope to be able to do so for many years to come.