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Some notes on the history of Julian House

bob alderman

This history of Julian House was researched and written by Bob Alderman.

Bob began with Julian House as a volunteer in the temporary Night Shelter in Manvers Street in 1989 and continued as an active volunteer for many years.  He joined the Board in 1992 and Chaired the Board until 2005-2010. 


The Beginnings (1980-1987)

After 25 years, the details of how Bath Churches Housing Association (BCHA) became established as a charity are a little hazy in the memory of those involved but there is consensus that it had its genesis in two groups both linked to Bath Central United Reformed Church.  Firstly, the Argyle Housing Association (AHA), which was established in the early 1980s and then later through a small multi-denominational pilot group of about ten members, who came together to look at ways of providing overnight respite for the growing homeless population in the Bath area.

Argyle Housing Association

Argyle Housing Association (AHA) had been set up by members of the Bath Central United Reformed Church following the donation to the church of a house in Bath – a house was later sold.  A small sum from the proceeds of that sale (probably less that £2000) eventually passed to BCHA.

Evidence of the link between AHA and BCHA is apparent in the written record, where the office-holders of AHA are all listed in the BCHA register of shareholders.  The Treasurer (from 1981) was Ron Turner; the Secretary (from 1982) was John Twine; and the Chairman (from March 1983) was Rev Mike Stolton.    Together with a handful of others they are recorded in their respective entries in the BCHA shareholder register as “transferred from AHA”.

The Winter Shelter Committee

However, the real impetus for the shelter came from the Sunday Centre group which was a Churches Together in Bath project based at the URC on Sunday afternoons and run by Jane Tollyfield.  They saw an increasing number of homeless people (mainly men) using their services and were very concerned that they were being turned out onto the streets in all weathers when the centre closed at 5pm.

This pilot group was multi-denominational and included Alison Picken, Jane Tollyfield, Sheena Carter, John Twine, Ron Turner, David Westwood and Philip Davey (all from URC); Captain Philip Hendy from the Salvation Army and there may also have been representatives from St Johns RC Church, the Methodists, and possibly Marion Hackett from the Quakers.  It was chaired by the URC minister, Michael Stolton and it established the ground rules for BCHA and, largely through the efforts of Alison Picken, prepared rotas of volunteers to run the very first temporary night shelters.  Ian Sutherland (who later became the Director of BCHA) was not a member of this group in its first year but he was a volunteer when the night shelter first opened in 1987.

Ian Sutherland’s recollection of the transfer of power from AHA to BCHA is that, “The members of the Winter Shelter committee who weren’t already on the AHA Board were simply appointed by those that were, and those already AHA Board members who hadn’t been associated with the night shelter resigned. My vague recollection is that the AHA board was very small and might have consisted solely of the three officers”.  It may well be that only Michael Stolton actually transferred from AHA on to the original board of BCHA.

Either way, it was this Winter Shelter committee who invited Patrick Mesquita to join the new BCHA board. Ian recalls that Patrick was originally invited to join the group on the mistaken understanding that he was a retired journalist and that he might be persuaded to write a regular newsletter. He continues, “I think Patrick became chair by the usual method of not saying “no” when someone suggested it at an early committee meeting”.  He remained chairman for some years.

Input and support of Bath churches

The organisation’s original title (retained for at least 15 years) was “Bath Churches Housing Association” (BCHA) and so it is not surprising to see that, whilst most shareholders were named individuals, nine of the early shareholders were named churches.  The register confirms the names of these inaugural churches and (in some cases) the name and address of the relevant minister.  The nine churches were:-

  • St Johns Roman Catholic Church (Rev Tom Gunning). St Johns registered as a corporate shareholder in November 1990 – the first church to do so;
  • Bath Abbey (Rev Simon Oberst and later Rev Richard Askew). The Abbey and the next five churches in this list were all registered as shareholders on the same day in April 1991;
  • Manvers Street Baptist Church (Rev Roger Nunn and later Rev John Rackley);
  • The Society of Friends (although she is not named in the register as their rep, Ian confirms that Marion Hackett was a member of the planning committee, was a board member of BCHA for several years and may even have been the first Secretary of the board (before Cyril Jennings).
  • Christchurch (Rev Anthony Cleridge);
  • Bath Central United Reform Church (Rev Sue Henderson – a great supporter of JH and at Central for quite a long time);
  • Claremont Methodist Church (no individual recorded).
  • All Saints, Weston (Rev D I Frost); registered in February 1992;
  • Oldfield Park Methodist Church (no individual recorded); registered in February 1992;

Initially there was modest regular financial support from several of these churches – for example, the congregation at the Abbey offered financial support for several years. Father Tom from St Johns remained a great support throughout his ministry in Bath – not least always being prepared to fund individual service-users. Even so, the main thrust in the organisation of those early temporary night shelters came from members of Bath Central URC.

Temporary premises (1987-1993)

The location of the temporary winter shelters moved several times over BCHA’s first five or six years. The sequence of winter shelters was (all running from November to the end of March):-

  • 1987/1988 in an undercroft in the Bath Central United Reformed Church
  • 1988/1989 in the Salvation Army hall where there were high levels of violence, drinking and glue-sniffing
  • 1989/1990 the violence in the winter of 1988/1989 culminated in a siege when a banned client started firing bolts from a cross-bow into the shelter. Volunteers, clients and police inside sheltered under tables and so the Salvation Army not unreasonably declined to host the night shelter the following year. In the absence of an alternative venue it was decided to provide soup from a van from 10-11 each night from beginning of November 1989. This simply didn’t work because by that late at night in November and December the sensible homeless would have already found a dry bed for the night and so there was very little take up for our soup.

Ian recalls, “Then Clive Abbott (CEO of Bath City Council) got involved and invited ourselves and a few others to meet at 7.30am in the Guildhall for a croissant and mango juice breakfast to see if a winter shelter could be opened elsewhere. Crucially, one of the “others” at that meeting was Roger Nunn, then the minister of Manvers Street Baptist Church.   He agreed to us using the Manvers Street scout hall for a winter shelter, not realising just how courageous he was being – both in accepting the likelihood of violence from service-users and also being confident that he could persuade the members of his church that this was the right thing to do.  Happily his confidence was justified; when he called a Church meeting for the following Sunday and told them what he had done, there was unanimous endorsement of his commitment. The winter shelter re-opened there before Christmas and we sold the soup van. The rest is history….”

  • 1990/1991 and 1991/1992 in Manvers Street Baptist Church scout hall
  • 1992/1993 in the Salvation Army hall again
  • April 1993 Julian House permanent night shelter opened in Manvers Street


From the beginning of BCHA those wishing to volunteer in different capacities or simply to support the charity were encouraged to become shareholders and their names were carefully recorded in a register that the organisation still retains.  Each shareholder paid £1.

The first eighteen members are all recorded as “transfer from AHA” and thereafter those joining or coming on to the board were listed with their dates of joining – starting in May 1989 when those joining included Alison Picken (the first volunteer coordinator), Philip Davey and David Westwood (both from the original planning group and members of Bath Central URC) and Ian Sutherland (eventually to be BCHA’s first Director).


In the early days, when things were very hands-on (remember, we had no paid employees and everything was run by volunteers) we went for the traditional office holders on the board of trustees – chairman, vice-chairman, secretary and treasurer.  The chairman when I joined was Patrick Mesquita, the Hon Secretary Cyril Jennings, and the Hon Treasurer was Steve Brown (July 1991-July 1992).  Cyril continued as Secretary for some time (sending out agendas, writing minutes and generally overseeing the conduct of meetings – which originally began with a prayer).  We struggled to find a treasurer to replace Steve Brown (who was a volunteer and not a qualified accountant) but in 1992 a qualified accountant, Chris Hayward, became treasurer.  However, even then proper financial control and governance were hard to accomplish in the absence of any paid support or back-up from the organisation

When Cyril Jennings resigned, I think Ian took on the secretarial responsibilities and remained as both formal Secretary of the charity and minute-taker of all board meetings for most of his tenure as Director.  I think there may have been a gap in the office of treasurer and then Andy Mullett and Mandy Probert (later Mandy Loran) both took on the job – with each of them doing so in two separate terms.  When Hugh Prentice was appointed as financial manager his accounts were monitored by the then Audit & Finance Group (AFG) but even then the trustees continued to be involved in significant detail and it was only really on Helene Law’s appointment in 2011 that the “Hon Treasurer” way of working finally disappeared.

Chairmen (1990-2015)

After consultation with Ian Sutherland and two of those early pioneers – Jane Tollyfield and David Westwood – we think the chairmen of BCHA were, in order:-

  • Rev Michael Stolton from the Winter Shelter planning committee through to the formation of BCHA possibly up to November 1989 (the date when new shareholders started being recorded in the BCHA Share register)
  • Ian Sutherland from November 1989 until Sept 1991 (when he was employed as part-time embryo director)
  • Patrick Mesquita from 1991 to 1996
  • Liz Bloor from 1996 to 1999
  • Mike Overton from 1999 to 2001
  • James Rider from 2001 to 2002
  • Claire-Wynne-Hughes from 2002 to 2005
  • Richard Blows for about six months in 2005
  • Bob Alderman from 2005 to 2010
  • Libby Gawith from 2010 to 2015

Book sales

Selling second-hand books as a way to raise money for Julian House had its genesis in June 1992 when I organised our first ‘one-off’ sale at the Bath Central URC church halls.  It was a colossal sale with visitors complaining afterwards that such was the density of the crowd that they were transported around the room “Haj-style” unable to stop where they wanted to browse.  Despite the crush, we made about £8,000 on the day and a tradition was born.  The “one-off sales” were repeated in 1994 at the URC again and then in 1996 at the Forum (by which time Tim Graham led the team) and on each occasion we made similar amounts.  After the 1996 sale the left-over books were loaded on to an HGV removal van and driven to Swindon on the following Monday where the auctioneer, Dominic Winter, sold them in his specialist book auctions at intervals over the next several months – raising even more for the charity.

We were then made a very generous offer by Aldridges, the auctioneers then based in Walcot Street, who let us use two upstairs rooms (that had been used for book auctions in the past) for a regular fortnightly sale from September 1997 through to April 1998.  Here we were able to leave the unsold books where they were after each sale and Tim Graham (who was by then a board member) took on the considerable responsibility of organising the sales.

When BCHA bought 55, New King Street in 1998 the book sale were moved into the still un-refurbished building and then, after the building had been refurbished and still under Tim’s leadership, we moved back again to 55, New King Street, filling the basement, most of the ground floor and the garage with books.  Each room was fitted with bookshelves so that stock could be retained (largely without moving books at all) after each sale.  We then ran – as a separate entity called “Ex Libris” – a very successful bookshop that opened on every first and third Saturday morning (9.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.).  These regular sales were greatly loved by their followers, who enjoyed dropping in on their way to the Saturday Farmer’s Market or on their return to the centre of Bath.  It is now more than five years since we closed and transferred all the books to the Julian House Walcot Street charity shop and I am still tapped on the shoulder in the street by those who enjoyed those Saturday mornings saying how much they still miss what they regarded as their own literary club.  The income generated for the charity between September 1997 and March 2010 was more than £200,000.

When our first charity shop opened in Walcot Street in March 2010, the book stock at the time was transferred there and books were no longer sold from 55, New King Street.  The Walcot Street shop still retains a significant stock of well-sorted and marketable books and so the tradition has been maintained.


The organisation was officially known as BCHA for about twenty years but is now formally called Julian House, ironically, the name by which it has been known locally from the beginning.

Its growth has been marked by distinct phases – the planning years of 1987-1989; the temporary night shelters between 1987 and 1993, run almost entirely by volunteers; and then the building of the Julian House night shelter in Manvers Street in 1993.  This was really the moment when the organisation had to grow up very quickly to learn the skills of employing and managing a growing body of paid staff, keeping the local support base in Bath informed and “on-side”, and discovering how to generate sufficient income to support a strategic plan that ambitiously aimed not just to ameliorate the discomfort of homelessness but to affect real change in people’s lives.  That we have been able to accomplish some of that is a great tribute not only to the trustees and staff who work today in a much larger and more complex organisation but also to the vision of those early pioneers.

Bob Alderman
November  2015