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At the Daneford Trust

September 21, 2013
by Delwar Hussain

Tony Stevens

It is the thirty-first anniversary of the Daneford Trust. The office, located  in a quiet cul-de-sac behind Tesco on Bethnal Green Rd, is as unassuming as the organisation. Nonetheless, over the years, it has enabled hundreds of local young people to volunteer in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean – irrevocably changing their lives and the lives of those they work with. Tony Stevens originally set up the Trust and continues to be its coordinator. He retells its history and, alongside some of its current members, explains why it remains such a vital project for those who have found their way to its doors.

“In 1968 I went to South Africa as a volunteer teacher and the impact that that had on me was immense. So, when I returned to London and took up a position as the sole music teacher at the then Daneford Boys School, I thought it would be wonderful to take some of the boys to Africa to give them an experience similar to mine. At the time, the boys, like the rest of East London were predominantly white, working-class, cockneys. The National Front was rampant in the area and some of the boys from my form would go “paki bashing” at weekends – if you talk to them about it now, they would be quite embarrassed. But I wanted them to see what a black-led country could be like, where there were black doctors, teachers and politicians. We could not go to South Africa because of apartheid, so we chose Botswana and Lesotho. As far as I know, this was the first state school exchange project of its kind.

We began planning in 1976. I gave a talk at assembly and there was some interest in the trip amongst the boys. Eventually, it whittled down to a group of ten who were serious about going. They would turn up to the meetings, did language training and helped with the fundraising. We held a jumble sale in the school hall, a sponsored walk and wrote letters to the London mayor, local companies and the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council. One day I received a phone call in the staff room from the CYEC. They were offering us two thousand pounds, a third of what we needed. I got off the phone and thought, ‘God, its happening. We are going. There is no going back now.’

We set off in 1977. You can imagine what a surprise southern Africa was for the boys. These were ordinary East Enders who had never been anywhere in their lives. They were fascinated by everything and everyone around them. When one of them saw a mud hut for the first time, a roundaval, he was so taken aback with the realisation that he was actually in Africa. We landed in Gabarone in Botswana. In those days, there was only ten miles of tarred road outside of the city, so getting around with ten boys, five members of staff and a massive amount of luggage, was a nightmare. But the boys stayed positive about everything. We visited schools where they talked to classes about life in London and listened to the youngsters there, we visited people’s homes and went to a coal mine. The boys played football and always lost against the homes teams. In the evenings, they would chat to local kids and make dinner together. Two weeks later, we flew from Gabarone to Lesotho in a tiny forty-seater plane and did more of the same. Few places had electricity in those days, something they were not used to.

Overall, the boys loved the experience, it was all very positive. They were keenly surprised by how different the places were from their imagination and their expectations. In particular, they realised how small their world in Tower Hamlets was in comparison to how big the the world is. It was an important lesson. It was some time later that we managed to get four Botswanan students to come over to London. I was really concerned about how they would be treated in the East End, but they were actually treated like stars. They came for three weeks and we took them to a city farm and to the Tower of London – Brick Lane wasn’t a place tourists wanted to see then.

In 1981, one of the original boys that I took to Botswana and Lesotho, Lee Toman, wanted to go back. I helped him go to Zambia for a year where he worked at a school besides Victoria Falls. He taught maths and helped to train the Zambian Olympic Judo team. Then I helped to send a second Daneford pupil to Zambia. By then I had been teaching for quite a while and I was getting bored of it so decided to go part-time at the school. We received our Charity Commission stamp in that year, opened up a bank account and got the head of the school and the local MP, Ian Mikardo to be on the board.

The Daneford Trust grew organically from that. Since then, we have sent over three hundred kids to fifteen different commonwealth countries. They work in all sorts of places, from street children’s projects to youth clubs, community centres, hospitals and old people’s groups. We have a no-rejection policy which means any young person can be part of the Trust. We currently have two young people working in Nepal, two in St. Lucia and one in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

There are now, of course, many private companies who do similar sorts of things, where they arrange overseas volunteer placements for gap students, but I think we continue to be different. Working-class kids have always remained excluded from such experiences and many continue to be. I wanted to provide opportunities for such kids to experience and learn about the world in order to come back and help to build the egalitarian, multi-cultural society that we all so want.”

Halima Begum

“In 2009, I went to Dhaka, Bangladesh for a year to work for a street children’s project called Shishu Tori. They run classes on the largest railway station in the city, a public park as well as a market square. The children were all between four and fourteen years of age. Most of them lived in slum villages around the city or in make-shift tents made out of plastic and things they could scavenge. When they weren’t in class, they worked. Every day, they went with their sacks and picked up things to recycle: paper, plastic, cloth and metal, which they would then sell. Some of the kids were on drugs. I taught them English and did Art projects. You can’t help but get really attached to them. Before I went to Dhaka, I was a little lost and didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I wanted to see the world, to gain more experience of it. Since returning, I got back on track. I got myself a degree and now design my own jewellery.”

Ayodele Bandele

“In 2008, I went to St Vincent and the Grenadines. Before I left, I didn’t know a huge amount about the place, but I’ve always wanted to go to the Caribbean and this was my opportunity to do so. I worked at Liberty Lodge which is a boy’s home on the island for six-to-eighteen-year-olds. I taught English and literacy skills which for a lot of them was a new thing because they had not been in formal education. I would often Skype my mum to ask her for advice. I set up a reading group in a nearby school as well. The experience has made me want to take up teaching as a profession. I’m now preparing to go to Shanghai to work in a school next year which will be a dream realised.”

Monique Francois

“In 2010, I went to Castries in St Lucia. Initially, I wanted to get a better understanding of my mother’s country of origin, but it became so much more. I was acting and did a BA in Theatre Studies but work was slow in coming. With Tony’s help, I ended up working at the Centre for Adolescent Renewal & Education which is a second-chance rehabilitation centre. The children are taught a trade such as electronics, plumbing or cooking, as well as literacy. I taught remedial English and Drama, helping the kids to put on a show. I loved the experience and would do it again if I could. I was there when a hurricane hit the island. I feel blessed to have had the experience of living and working there.”

Aiyaz Ahmed

“In 2005, I went to Karachi, Pakistan to work for a Non-Governmental Organisation that did work in sexual health. At the time, Pakistan did not have sexual health on its national educational curriculum. Medical universities didn’t even have one. I wanted to learn more about Pakistan, about its people, culture and history and I thought that living there would be one way to do so. Karachi is a massive city. For my first night, I booked myself into the Beach Luxury Hotel – which was nowhere near a beach nor luxurious. Things slowly got better but the place was hard. I received a huge amount of help with fundraising and organising the project from Tony. On my return, I wanted to stay involved with the Trust and I am now the head of Trustees, helping it to provide valuable placements to more young Londoners.”

Tony Stevens with pupils from Daneford School, Bethnal Green, prior to their trip to Botswana in 1977.

Pupils from Daneford School in Lesotho, 1977

Paul Duck, Fifth Year Daneford School at Phomolong Youth Hostel, Lesotho, 1977

Portraits copyright © Colin O’Brien

13 Responses leave one →
  1. September 21, 2013

    You wonderful, practical man. Brilliant.

  2. September 21, 2013

    Tony, would you put a donate button on your website?

  3. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    September 21, 2013

    absolutely inspiring – opportunities that my generation missed out on when we were at school

  4. sprite permalink
    September 21, 2013

    That last picture is quite extraordinary. Fork and knife parrallel, pattern on the jumper looking like stacked skyscrapers, topped by that hat touching the shoulders… it has a weird beauty of unconscious composition. You might want to make it into a postcard with Paul’s permission.

    Good to hear the Trust is still going strong. It would have been good to have a picture of your dog as well, Tony.


    aka Claire, Frances and Rosie’s friend.

  5. Peter permalink
    September 21, 2013

    Delwar, thank you for relaying this wonderful tale from the brilliant bloke that is Tony to us; best regards to you and Tony and best wishes for more success to the Trust.

  6. Stephanie permalink
    September 21, 2013

    What a tale. What did Tony choose to do with his time after he went part time as a teacher?
    How this sadly rings still true today – ‘Working-class kids have always remained excluded from such experiences and many continue to be. I wanted to provide opportunities for such kids to experience and learn about the world in order to come back and help to build the egalitarian, multi-cultural society that we all so want.”


  7. September 23, 2013

    Dear Friends/Respondents,

    Thanks a lot for the encouraging comments.

    The Trust is still here and there are many excellent (younger) people than can take-over and take it forward, when I get to go (early 2014, I hope!).

    I’ll look into getting a donate button, we have an IT Trustee.

    Sadly, lost touch with Paul Duck. I’m hoping we can see him again, sometime. He was (& is?) a lovely chap.

    Thanks to Dewlar. TS

  8. Mark Rowson permalink
    October 19, 2015

    Tony Stevens – just been reading my Grandads autobiography (of sorts) and he taught at Daneford School for ten years as the brass teacher. Any chance you remember him and maybe have some photos please? Ronald (Ronnie) Waterworth.

  9. tony stevens permalink
    September 25, 2016

    Good evening Mark. Yes I remember your Grand Dad well. sadly, cannot recall any photographs. Do get in touch, via this email – if you return to read this at all… T

  10. Nahid Aslam permalink
    July 1, 2019

    Dear Tony, it was lovely chatting with you yesterday at the Weavers Field Mela. I would very much be interested in getting involved with the Daneford Trust and the Street Children’s Project as well.
    Please keep me informed with what is going on. I hope to be at the fundraising lunch on the 20th.
    Nahid (from Pakistan/Edinburgh)

  11. Terry Allen permalink
    July 19, 2020

    I was dragged up in Broadway house and went to school at Seabright in the 60’s the headteachers being Ms Soames and Mr Evansthen to Daneford in those days we were feral, I ended up in the army, boxed in the pros and then worked as a Clinical Hypnotherapist for several years and I discovered how we create our experiences which led me into two of my dream jobs. The first was in pro football as a sports psychologist then I became a peripatetic chess coach which lasted for 19 years as I taught in both State and Private schools which were a real eye-opening experience. I often wonder what my old school teachers would say if they could see me do that.
    At close to 60 I am doing a Law degree with the OU as I am still irascible and iconoclastic when it comes to authority. I have not paid Council Tax now for the past 8 years citing English Constitutional Law which we were never taught at school when it should be imbibed with our school milk as the reason to not pay it.
    I am writing a book on Consciousness and Near-Death Experiences at the age of 6 I jumped out of the window of my parents flat in Broadway House and the Angel saved me that day and I have had a few brushes with mortality since but the Demiurge as not managed to checkmate me yet.
    Be lucky and remember all things in moderation including moderation one of my mottos in life.
    If Nietzche is correct we get to do it all over again there does seem to be strong evidence for the Eternal Return, next time around I will play for Arsenal!

  12. Dave E permalink
    September 27, 2020

    Terry Allen wow, you have done good, I applaud you. You were my neighbour 1967 to 1975 I think. Also think you had a brother Jon Jon? I lived at 42 BH across the landing to you. I went to Daneford same time as you but not sure if you were in my class. I have other info but not on here. Don’t think our parents saw eye to eye no offence but glad to hear you seem to have excelled in life. Hats off to you.

    As for Mr Stevens I don’t recall you, I was only at Daneford 1968 to about a month or so not 1969 term and I left, well was dragged out by my mum. Polish Teachers locked the classroom door twice keeping us in, I walked out having none of that. She never approved. (dont worry I grew up all ok lol) I remember Mr Harrington, Mr Perry and as you say Paki Bashing that was frightening to me, let alone the victims.. Skinheads in the playground chasing groups of Pakistanis and burying them in the sand pit, yes in school. Heads down WCs until they started fighting back.

  13. May 5, 2022

    I remember Tony Stevens very well. Tony Sargent and myself used to visit him and Barry Pateman in their flat in Approach Rd I believe.
    These two, along with Mr Goodman and of course, Illtyd Harrington had a big effect on me.
    I remember the Botswana trip, Mr Stevens coming back and playing african music to the assembly!

    I have spent many years as an addict and then onto working with addicts and running courses around addiction. I went to Daneford from 70-76/77 and lived in Virginia Rd…we had Bishops greengrocers…until my dad realised he could earn more with crime and becoming an artist.

    Great to see these pics and read Tony’s memories.

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