On 1 February 1910 Sir Winston Churchill visited three newly opened ‘Labour Exchanges’ – forerunner to the modern day Jobcentre – in Hackney, Stepney and Camberwell.
A century later, Hackney Museum is set to honour the role played by these Exchanges in helping people into work through a new exhibition entitled: “100 years and counting: helping people into work since 1910”.
Churchill, who was then President of the Board of Trade, was well aware of the need to combat rising unemployment in Britain at the turn of the 20th century.
“These Labour Exchanges are a piece of social mechanism and are, I believe, absolutely essential to any well-ordered community. The exchanges I have visited today are all painted green which, I believe, is the colour of hope,” he said on that first day in February.
He went on to emphasize the need for a collective effort, which would bring together people seeking work and employers looking for workers. The matter took on even greater urgency in the years that followed, with two world wars leaving over one million people unemployed, according to exhibited texts.
During the course of their existence, the Exchanges changed names three times. They were renamed Employment Exchanges in 1916, before finally being relabeled Jobcentre in 1973.
Exhibition visitors can see a reconstructed Labour Exchange office, the front page of the February 1910 Daily Mirror, and black and white pictures loaned from the People’s History Museum of Manchester that authentically recreate the era.
The exhibition at Hackney Museum carves out a historical journey, charting the transformation of the exchanges from social hubs where jobseekers would spend a great deal of time sifting through vacancy cards, to the computerized self-service network we have now. Jobcentre Plus is currently said to receive over one million online job searches daily.
The exhibition is being held at Hackney Museum in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions and will run until 6 March.