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The Story of EIGHTEEN PLUS from February 1941 to August 1944

Published by The Federation of Eighteen Plus Groups Federation Headquarters:


1946  Price 3d.

EIGHTEEN PLUS is, we believe, the only organisation which has as its sole aim the social development of young people in the age-group 18 to 30. It has come into being because, although many young men and women of this age have come within the wider sphere of adult work, hitherto no specific provision has been made for them. There is an enormous gulf between the work of the juvenile organisations and youth clubs and that of adult bodies as expressed in religious, political or social activity.

It is the aim of Eighteen Plus to help bridge this gulf. Much of the ground to be covered is new, and the initial approach to the problem has had necessarily to be experimental. Our experience, however, though short, has shown that a great need exists, and suggests that Eighteen Plus has a real contribution to make in this particular field of social service. It is the purpose of this leaflet to indicate briefly the origin of the movement and the lines along which it has developed.


The first serious study of the age-group was carried out under the auspices of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust between 1936 and 1939. The results of this investigation, published as "Disinherited Youth", gave a realistic picture of the psychological effects of social environment among young people in certain areas, and made clear the nature and the urgency of the problem. a joint memorandum to the Trustees from the National Association of Girls Clubs and the British Association of Residential Settlements was equally emphatic on the need for practical work in this field:

"Three urgent problems face those concerned with the 18-30 group:

(a) The boy or girl who has received education and guidance in school and in voluntary organisations is frequently left at this formative age to drift into adult life, instead of being able to share in an active movement of young people which inspires its members to self-development and social responsibility.

(b) The work of the educational and voluntary juvenile organisations in developing gifts of responsibility and leadership is largely wasted if there is no means to ensure that their members have the opportunity to carry them further.

(c) The boy or girl who has not been a member of a juvenile organisation may, at the age of 18, be willing, and indeed anxious, to play a part in a self-governing group of young people promoting activities of mutual interest."

The memorandum outlined a basis for the development of a youth movement for the age-group administered by British Association of Residential Settlements and the National Association of Girls Clubs, and after some modifications this suggestion was adopted by the Carnegie Trustees, who decided to conduct the experiment under their own aegis.

Am Advisory Panel was therefore appointed to direct the experiment: it included, besides representatives of the British Association of Residential Settlements and the National Association of Girls Clubs, a number of members serving in an individual capacity drawn from religious, social and educational organisations. The N.A.G.C. placed a room at the disposal of the panel, and early in 1941 an office and secretary were handling the business of Eighteen Plus in London.

With resources for the experiment available it was clear that a plan of campaign had to be decided upon, and a Conference was held at St. Peter's Hall, Oxford, in March 1941, at which the general shape of the programme was crystallised. It stated its aim as being "to discover what kind of organised provision would be acceptable to, and meet the needs of, young men and women over 18 years", and agreed upon a basis for the establishing of groups - that they would be independent, purposive, self governing and drawn from a wide range of individuals and areas. Although it placed, perhaps, too much emphasis upon the desirability of having a senior adviser in the background, it pointed out the advantage of a small nucleus of enthusiasts around which a group might form. Three parallel lines of development emerged at the Conference:

1. The establishment of new groups on the above basis.

2. Contact with organisations having a similar social purpose, and the fostering of groups within them.

3. Co-operation with existing independent groups of young people, not connected with any organisations, but meeting for purposes similar to those of Eighteen Plus.

Progress in the eighteen months which followed may be conveniently considered under three heads: (a) Tentative period, (b) Selective period, and (c) Purposive period.

(a) Tentative Period (march 1941 to October 1941).

The six months March to October 1941were devoted to the formation of experimental groups, while some discussion with other bodies also took place. The office was reorganised, a limited amount of literature appeared, and visits were paid to many parts of the country in an endeavour to secure the co-operation of "senior advisors" in establishing new groups. Results were admittedly disappointing, successful contacts being made in only two areas.

In accordance with the policy of fostering groups within other organisations, approaches were made to a number of organisations working in similar fields, but practical assistance was forthcoming from only one quarter and two groups resulted. Thus by October it was possible to pass some sort of judgement upon the experiment in the light of six months' practical experience. It was very evident that to be attractive to young people groups would have to be purposive - the context of war tended to heighten the desire for training and service for the community. It seemed that the technique of forming local units through an adult adviser might not be the best approach, and that direct links with young people should be established. Thus, although the number of groups was small, the experiences in these cases were encouraging; there seemed every reason for believing that a real answer to a fundamental problem was being evolved.

Selective Period (October 1941 to March 1942).

In reviewing the situation in October, the Panel decided to concentrate upon the formation of entirely new groups rather than plan within the framework of existing organisations. It reaffirmed the need for a nucleus of responsible and enthusiastic young people as a prerequisite of a healthy groups and agreed that a further limited amount of publicity be given the experiment, Visits were paid to a number of new places, so that by Christmas 1941 ten groups had been formed in areas as widely different as Oxford and Spennymoor (a small Durham mining community). The task of finding the right elements for the beginnings of a club of this kind was usually very difficult and frequently insuperable in a number of places where it had been hoped that Eighteen Plus might become established. In spite of such difficulties, however, the movement was spreading, and at the beginning of March 1942 representatives of sixteen groups were present at the First National Conference, held at the Mary Ward Settlement, London.

It was here that, for the first time, members were able to meet and pool their growing experience: and here was to be seen the first confirmation of the value of Eighteen Plus. Young men and women of this age really were interested in social questions and they were meeting, in the face of considerable difficulties, to work out these problems together. Clerks, students, miners, shop assistants, factory workers, the men and women in the Forces - all had the same concern about the shaping of the future social order and all were preparing themselves for the responsibilities of community living. Most groups found themselves hampered by lack of accommodation, finance or personnel, but all displayed great resilience in unfavourable conditions. Few members had time to spare and they usually had to forgo normal recreation to ensure the continuance of a sound local group. As one delegate said, 'There is not one of us who would not take his place in the Services tomorrow knowing full well that the chances were against us living to a ripe old age. We do not offer ourselves so easily to the task of building a new order".

Nearly all groups confessed to an insufficient knowledge of existing social conditions and were anxious to secure information before reaching conclusions. The result was (1) an interest on the part of groups in the educational system and proposed reforms, and (2) a desire for speakers, discussions and international affairs. Throughout the conference there was a realisation that thought without action is not enough. A miner from County Durham crystallised this feeling when he said that in future young people must learn to be not just in the social order, they must learn how to be part of it and how to operate it.

A consideration of the general position of Eighteen Plus showed that the movement could and should develop in wartime, but it was agreed that rapid expansion would be unwise, the aim being the establishment and stabilisation of sound, responsible groups. As a result of the conference, it was evident that the idea of Eighteen Plus appealed to young people, and there seemed ample justification for the words of the chairman Principal J. H. Nicholson, in opening the conference - "A great new life is stirring underneath: it must come to something."

(c) Purposive Period (March 1942 to October 1942).

The months following the March Conference saw the stabilisation of existing groups and the formation of a number more, chiefly in the Home Counties. Considerable time was spent by the Secretary in visiting groups and assisting in their consolidation. A series of book lists on widely differing subjects was made available to members and advice was given on choice of speakers. In accordance with the policy of limited publicity, brief reference was made to Eighteen Plus in two broadcasts.

Reports received from the groups early in September showed that they were becoming aware of the possibilities of a national organisation. There was a desire for the definition of aims and purpose, for closer collaboration between groups, and a national news-letter. In effect, many of them were saying, "We have been brought into being by the Advisory Panel. Who are these people, what did they intend to do; what are our aims and objects, and how can we realise ourselves as part of a coherent and purposive whole?"

This was the challenge which had to be met at the Second National Conference. The main purpose of this meeting, held in October 1942, was to decide upon the nature of the future of the movement and to determine the direction of national policy. A draft statement of aims before the Conference was criticised as being vague and not sufficiently challenging: but there was general agreement upon the main points:

"We seek Knowledge: to understand the world, especially the nature of man and of society;

Conviction: to find a personal philosophy of living and a social faith;

Experience: to develop capacity and confidence in handling practical problems and conducting public business;

Action: To take a responsible part, as active citizens, in our own community and in shaping local, national and international policy. We believe that the art of living together can best be learnt in a group of men and women who share the desire to understand and to serve society, to enjoy the variety of views and clash of opinions, to respect all honest convictions, and to learn from each other's experience."

It was agreed that the experiment had been successful, and a resolution was passed constituting Eighteen Plus as a national body. A provisional committee consisting of six group delegates and six members of the Advisory Panel was set up to handle the business of the organisation:

Principal J. H. Nicholson was unanimously elected as Chairman. The conference decided upon a general basis for the constitution of the new body and emphasised the kind of relationship they desired between the groups and headquarters - that of a federation linking groups to a common purpose but permitting almost complete local autonomy.

The Second National Conference confirmed the evidence of the March meeting. There could be no doubt that the young people who had come into Eighteen Plus valued the opportunities it offered them: they were anxious to see it develop and, more than anything, they wanted to evolve a real purpose translatable into the simplest terms of action.

CONCLUSION. The Federation of Eighteen Plus Groups.

And so an experiment ended and a national movement began. Numerically it is not large and goes unaccompanied by fame or notoriety: but we are satisfied that it has within it the elements which can appeal - and not only appeal, but be of value - to men and women within the age-group. We have no political or sectarian axe to grind, but we recognise that young people have social responsibilities to fulfil, which can only be done by working out together the problems which them as citizens and ultimately taking individual action. One of the most interesting outcomes of the experiment has been the realisation by members that knowledge to be fruitful must somehow be related to will: there is already growing up an ethical basis for Eighteen Plus. It is no mere talking-shop: discussion is always friendly and informal, and all groups seek to develop a social side to their programme in which can be found that fellowship and tolerance without which any movement is lifeless.

The future for Eighteen Plus is unpredictable. The movement must become financially self-sufficient or die: it is as strong and as healthy as the young men and women of today care to make it. What is certain is that there is a gap to be filled, and that the kind of facilities offered by Eighteen Plus are necessary to make the social education of the citizen complete and effective.

 Last updated 22 February 2007 by