Page:Homes of the London Poor.djvu/55

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plish. There is always, however, a difficulty in calculating to any great extent on volunteer work, inasmuch as it is apt to be disconnected, desultory, and untrained.

It is true that where an energetic body of visitors is gathered together under able and vigilant guidance—where their districts are small, their visits frequent, their written records simple and complete, and gaps in their ranks quickly filled up, so that their work is not intermittent—they form a powerful agency for good. Such societies are usually the first to see the importance of putting themselves into communication with other charitable bodies; and when they do this, little improvement in the machinery is requisite. But it is also sadly true that the work of a number of earnest and devoted volunteers is thrown away because their districts are too large, their duties indefinite, and their work unconnected with that of others laboring according to any definite plan.

Several things, then, appear to me to be evident—(1), that if the poor are to be raised to a permanently better condition, they must be dealt with as individuals and by individuals; (2), that for this hundreds of workers are necessary; and (3), that this multitude of helpers is to be found amongst volunteers—whose aid, as we arrange things at present, is to a great extent lost. The problem to be solved, therefore, is how to collect our volunteers into a harmonious whole—the action of each being free, yet systematized; and how thus to administer relief through the united agency of corporate bodies and private individuals; how, in fact, to secure all the personal intercourse and friendliness, all the real sympathy, all the graciousness of individual effort, without losing the advantage of having relief voted by a central committee, and according to definite principles. The way in which this problem has been dealt with in one small district of London will be seen in the following pages. Every district will, no doubt, have to deal with the question in a somewhat different way, which must be determined by its special circum-