Established in 1951 by three schoolteachers, its name derives from founder Joyce Pearce’s family home ‘Ockenden’ in White Rose Lane, Woking, Surrey, England.
The organisation became a registered charity on February 24, 1955, under the War Charities Act 1940, its stated objective being to receive young East European people from post World War II homeless persons’ camps in Germany and ‘to provide for their maintenance, clothing, education, recreation, health and general welfare’.
Within a few years, world events and the ever-increasing number of refugees worldwide encouraged supporters to extend its remit – and scope.
The project began when Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) persuaded Woking District Council to contribute to the Festival of Britain by supporting a holiday for 17 homeless East European teenagers at her sixth form centre at Ockenden House.
The plight of older non-German speaking children in the refugee camps, for whom the educational provision was inadequate, provided the stimulus for Joyce Pearce, her friend and teaching colleague Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) and her cousin Ruth Hicks (1900-1986), headmistress of Greenfield School, Woking, to found the Ockenden Venture. The modest project soon grew and houses were acquired in Haslemere, also in Surrey, and in 1958 Ockenden took over Donington Hall near Derby as a school for boys.
After World Refugee Year was declared in 1959, government money and increased donations enabled Ockenden to open eight new homes across Britain, and a small administrative staff was established.
Spurred by Joyce Pearce’s desire to provide assistance to Tibetan refugees in India, the general council of the charity in October 1962 agreed to amend the constitution of the Ockenden Venture to state its object is: ‘to receive displaced children and other children in need from any part of the world and to provide for their maintenance, clothing, education, recreation, health and general welfare’ to allow the possibility of help to non-European children. Initially most help took the form of donations towards existing orphanages and schools, and sponsorship schemes, but Ockenden’s first direct participation in overseas-based work also began during the 1960s, with projects in India, northern Africa and later Southeast Asia. In 1971, Ockenden merged with refugee charity, Lifeline.
The most dramatic expansion of the Ockenden Venture came with the government’s decision in 1979 to accept Vietnamese ‘Boat People’ (who had begun leaving south Vietnam in large numbers after the invasion of Saigon by Communist forces in 1975) into the UK. Ockenden, Save the Children and the British Council for Aid to Refugees were given responsibility for a third of the country each to arrange for reception and resettlement of incoming families (Ockenden covered Surrey, the Midlands, the North West, North East, North Wales, Gosport and the Portsmouth area of Hampshire).
The Birmingham office was responsible for organising resettlement; assistance was provided through support group liaison officers and support groups from the local communities. The three agencies operated under the umbrella of the Joint Committee for Refugees from Vietnam (JCRV), which was established by the Home Office in October 1979.
Ockenden opened 25 new centres in response to the crisis, and by the end of the government programme in 1982, found itself a changed organisation, with a large workforce in formal salaried employment where before the organisation had been principally voluntary or semi-voluntary.
During the early 1980s, Ockenden continued to receive refugees and to add to its projects overseas. The death in 1985 of Joyce Pearce, who had continued as the driving force in the charity for 30 years, prompted questioning of the future aims of Ockenden. The burden of maintaining Ockenden’s UK refugee accommodation to modern standards became an increasing argument for concentrating effort on overseas projects. Houses were closed down during the 1990s, until only Kilmore House, Camberley, Surrey, a home for severely disabled Vietnamese orphans, remained in 2001.
In 1999, the Ockenden Venture became Ockenden International, and concentrated nearly all its work overseas – in Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iran and Uganda.
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