Carolina House Trust, founded in 1815 by a group of Dundonians who wanted to help people experiencing hardship, is one of the oldest charities in Scotland. The charity aimed to care for children who could not live with their parents in the city’s first orphan establishment.
To this day we still care for children and young people who cannot live with their own families but they are cared for in a family setting by our community of carers.
Life was difficult in newly industrialised Dundee. Even people who could find work lived in cramped housing and had poor working conditions and sanitation. Life was especially hard for people who couldn’t find work. Parents often were unable to look after their children, or died as a result of their poverty, leaving orphans behind.
On February 9, 1815, John Whittet Junior, William Dick, David Adams and George Scott met in the Baker’s Room of the Trades Hall in Dundee to ‘deliberate on the propriety of attempting to open an orphan establishment in Dundee.’
One month after the initial meeting, a group; including doctors, mill owners, ministers, merchants and estate owners, met to discuss establishing an institution to care for and educate the city’s growing number of orphans. A Board of Directors (early Directors included James Keiller of marmalade fame, and James Chalmers, the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp) was appointed. Work began raising funds, finding a suitable building and appointing staff.
As plans were made tragedy struck the city. On May 28, 17 people lost their lives in the 1815 Tay Ferry Disaster. According to a newspaper report, ‘A good many people were ready to show their sympathy in practical form.’ Increased public awareness of the plight of orphaned children brought in donations of £700 and a property in the city’s Paradise Road was rented. A ‘kindly woman’ was installed as matron and two teachers were recruited. At 10 am on September 18, Dundee Orphan Institution opened its doors to nine boys and 12 girls as the first residents.
The house in Paradise Road soon proved too small so the Society’s Directors agreed to buy a larger property in Small’s Wynd. The Small’s Wynd building housed the orphans for more than fifty years. To help pay the increased costs, day-scholars, mostly children of the poor, were admitted for education for a payment of one shilling per quarter.
On March 23 1830, Dundee Orphan Institution was granted a Royal Charter by King George IV and became Dundee Royal Orphan Institution.
On September 29 1870, Dundee Royal Orphan Institution’s new home was formally opened and 55 children moved into the new building, which was also a school for the orphans and day pupils.
Built on ‘a most amenable site’ on the south side of Craigie Terrace, with views across the Tay, The Courier & Argus describes the house as a ‘villa… with spacious grounds’. The building was on three storeys and contained large and airy dormitories, classrooms, sewing rooms, dining hall, kitchen, scullery, washhouse, laundry, lavatories and bathrooms.
The Directors’ Reports for the next few years show that the children and staff settled in well at their new abode, with each report outlining the numbers of children in residence (usually about 55) and the various trades the boys went to when they left. At this time, the girls almost always went into domestic service.
Initially, the children were educated in the home, but the directors were aware of the limitations of their education policy. By 1895, some of the children were enrolled at Glebelands School.
Several won bursaries to the academies and many gained dux medals and prizes later at the Dundee High School and Morgan Academy.
Only children born in Dundee could benefit from the Home until 1928 when a new Royal Charter opened the door to children from Angus, Fife and Perth.
By the 1920s state-funded social welfare began to impact the work of the Royal Orphan Institute but there was always a need for an organisation to care for children and young people who had lost one or two parents, or were from broken homes or other circumstances that required admission.
Following the end of the First World War, the notion of ‘charity’ also changed radically. In the Orphanage the importance of a balanced diet and a less restricted home life meant that life was similar to a well-run boarding school.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Orphanage faced financial problems. Sixty-two children were evacuated to Gray House in Invergowrie. While they revelled in their new environment, the Home was taken over by the Admiralty for the duration of the war at a yearly rental of £250. Donations and subscriptions fell to as low as £60, the lowest ever, and the children themselves tried to help out by donating their earnings at the ‘Tatties’.
Fifty former pupils served in the Forces. Four were killed.
The children returned to the home on Ferry Road in 1946 after it had undergone an extensive and very expensive facelift. Since the passing of the Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Act in 1937, the number of children admitted had been gradually shrinking.
In 1948, the passing of the Children’s Act heralded the Welfare State for orphaned children. Surprisingly the number of residents increased in the following year from 48 to 55. Unfortunately, there was no corresponding increase in funding. The public had begun to assume it was now a state-aided institution.
Early in 1961, as part of a national survey, an inquiry was held by the Scottish Office into children’s homes in Dundee, and the Scottish Secretary drafted a scheme to be called ‘Dundee Children’s Homes Trust Scheme 1962’. The Directors objected to so many questions of fact and policy that the Scottish Secretary called a conference of all interested parties, and in consequence, the Orphanage remained a home supported by voluntary subscriptions; control remained in the hands of seven directors elected by these subscribers along with two co-opted directors and representatives of Dundee Town Council and Angus County Council.
The name changed to Carolina House, in recognition of its situation adjacent to Carolina Port.
One of the first steps the new Board took was to divide the building into three family group homes with eight to twelve children in each – in keeping with the concept in the ‘60s of good child care practice.
With that the old image of Dundee Orphan Institution changed forever.
As approaches to childcare have evolved nationally during the past half-century, so too has the structure and delivery of services offered by Carolina House Trust. Over the years, there has been a move away from residential care for children towards care in the community and supporting families in their own homes. The next 40 years would see Carolina House Trust run different valuable services while it responded to the changing needs of young people and local authorities as well as the funding backdrop of the times.
In 1983, Carolina House moved to Strathmore Avenue in Dundee and operated three smaller residential units, one for the little ones and two for older children. On 1st July 1994, one of those units closed and an Outreach Project supporting young people leaving care was set up.
In 1997, when the Trust moved to Roseangle, the residential units and then the Outreach Project were closed down. Care Rescue was set up in 2000 as a short-term alternative to secure accommodation. Between March 2000 and November 2001 respectively, Star and Tarvit Cottage residential homes were opened as part of the Care Rescue service.
In 2011, Star and Tarvit residential accommodation closed. Carolina House Trust re-opened its residential care service at Tarvit in 2017 until its final closure in July 2021.
Throughcare & Aftercare Service
In the meantime the Moving On Team was set up in 2001, in partnership with Dundee City Council, to support young people leaving care. In 2009, a review of the Throughcare & Aftercare service defined the roles of both organisations, establishing a successful and positive service for young people.
In October 2012, Carolina House Trust launched their Supported Accommodation project, Carolina Mews, which was funded by the Big Lottery. The Project worked with vulnerable care leavers to ensure successful life transitions from being looked after to independent living as young adults. This service closed in 2017 when the grant funding ceased.
Life Changes Trust project
Life Changes Trust provided short-term funding from 2016 to 2021 for a small team, based with Carolina House Trust, to establish mechanisms to foster engagement and participation with care-experienced young people and care leavers. This project championed the voices of young people in local and national conversations, making them more involved in setting the direction of their support and services.
Its achievements include:
Dundee City Council is continuing this work as part of their ongoing role with CEYP’s and care leavers.
Fostering & Continuing Care
In 2003, our Fostering & Continuing Care Service was established. This is now our largest service and we support carers across Dundee, Angus, Fife and Clackmannanshire, who offer safe and nurturing family homes to children and young people that are unable to remain with their own families.
In 2010, Dundee City Council commissioned Carolina House Trust to set up a Supported Lodgings Service. Supported Lodgings provided vulnerable and/or homeless young people who had been in care and were not ready to live independently with a safe place to stay. The commissioned service ended in 2017 and this service was deregistered in 2021.
In 2013, support workers joined our team to offer tailored support to carers and young people. This may be one-to-one support or group activities, with workers leading participation, therapeutic work and community events. This role continues to be a key part of our service.
In July 2022, we registered our Supported Care service, a partnership with Dundee City Council. This service supports two groups of young people, care leavers and separated children by offering safe and caring homes. Host families support separated children (unaccompanied asylum-seeking children) while they make an application for asylum and settle into their new life in Scotland, while carers offer local care leavers a home to help them as they transition into independent living.
We continue to grow family-based care services and look for opportunities to improve the lives of care experienced children and young people.