The closing of a local Sunday School connected with St Andrew’s Church led to the teachers obtaining the use of a workshop for Sundays. In December 1856, the work became known as ‘The Good Shepherd School’. After three moves in nine years a new school was built in Mape St., which opened in 1866, and a day school was also established.
The Move to Three Colts Lane
The school was compulsorily purchased by The Great Eastern Railway for railway expansion, leading to the construction of a new school on the present site in Three Colts Lane, which was opened in 1872. Its memorial stone states that this school was built ‘to the glory of God and for the welfare of this neighbourhood’, a phrase that continues to guide those involved in the work today.
In 1873 the day school was transferred to the School Board for London. From then until 1932 the building was used almost exclusively for spiritual and philanthropic work, and the 1897 annual report stated that the children’s Christian services on Monday evenings were attended on average by ‘upwards of 150’.
The present building was extended in 1934, and the work amalgamated with that of the King Edward Institution and George Yard Mission, and the Darby Street Mission, as the roles of these other long-established missions changed with the times.
The Second World War and Post-War Years
During World War Two the Mission continued its gospel work, and provided temporary shelter and other help to local people made homeless by air raids. It accepted an invitation by the borough council to supervise several of the large air raid shelters in the area! During 1940-41 new activities were started that included a Girls’ Life Brigade and Cadets, and a Boys’ Brigade and Life Boys.
The sharing of the good news of the Christian faith and practical service to local people in need continued through the post-war years up to the 1970s. The 1958-59 annual report’s description of a weekly women’s meeting is typical of the attitude of the workers: ‘From the flat roof of the Mission one has a unique view of the many roads surrounding the premises and it is very interesting to look in all directions and see the women folk wending their way to the meeting. For many their steps are slow and some painful, but they look forward to the fellowship they are able to share with one another.’
Young people’s meetings and Summer camps carried on into the 1970s, although the1976-77 report mentions that ‘there is still a lot of re-housing going on in this area which results occasionally in our losing some of our members…’
The Grenfell family, who led the work at that time, themselves moved away soon afterwards, and the work came to a temporary halt.
The current era started through the vision of Ronald Willcox, chair of the Shaftesbury Society missions committee, and senior warden of St Helen’s Church Bishopsgate. He saw the potential of using the empty building to start a new work among the young people of Bethnal Green. In February 1980 a team of volunteers, opened a mixed youth club, which was followed soon after by a girls club. A junior club for 7-11 year olds was started in 1986.
Vincent Buchanan, one of the early volunteers, was appointed as full-time leader of the work in September 1982. Opposition to the Christian message was often strong, but God’s faithfulness and goodness were clear, as small numbers of local young people and adults came to trust in the Lord Jesus in the following years, and a Sunday afternoon meeting of Bible Study, praise and fellowship was started to nurture this new life
Growth of the Church Fellowship
and the Mission’s Activities
In the autumn of 1989 the Sunday afternoon meeting moved to Sunday morning, and the church fellowship at the Mission has been meeting at this time ever since, moving from an upstairs room into the main hall as numbers grew.
The new work had been overseen by a Management Committee since the early 1980s, and its members became the trustees of a new registered charity, ’The Good Shepherd Mission’, formed in 1995. Ownership of the present building was transferred from the previous trustees, The Shaftesbury Society, to the new charity in 1996. The Mission’s Management Committee retained legal and administrative responsibility for the work of the charity, and a Church Leadership Team was formed in 1997 to serve the growing church and provide greater accountability in its activities.
Following a review of the Mission's structure, a unified leadeship body, combining the previous functions of the Management Committee and Church Leadership Team was established in March 2008. This new Board of Trustees now oversees all aspects of the Mission's work.
In addition to church activities, the Mission today runs a varied programme of early years activities, a children’s club, youth clubs for boys and girls and other work with young people at risk of social exclusion. Since 2008 a growing amount of work has ben undertaken with vulnerable adults, and this now includes a winter night shelter in partnership with other local churches
The Mission premises have been substantially modernised and improved since the 1980s, and funds have been raised and spent on a phased building programme to ensure the premises are welcoming, accessible and suitable for community use over future decades.