Named in honor of their friend and colleague Arnold Toynbee, Toynbee Hall was established by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at the end of the nineteenth century to bring about social improvement in an impoverished area of London. It was the inspiration of Barnetts, a Christian minister and his wife, who believed in philanthropy and the power of education to effect social change. The Barnetts not only dedicated themselves to work for the betterment of the lives of the poor and underprivileged in their parish, they also came up with the idea of bringing those of higher social class and greater educational opportunity, students from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge to live and work together with them.
The success of the Barnetts' idea is evidenced through the work done by those who have been involved in Toynbee Hall. These include not only British politicians and social reformers, but also international figures including Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who subsequently founded Hull House in Chicago. Success is also evident in the variety of programs and cultural activities available through Toynbee Hall, which have greatly contributed to improving the quality of life of local residents.
The Barnetts not only preached that the poor deserved better, they believed in serving others, and practiced what they preached, living for the sake of others. Additionally, they provided a way that the more fortunate in society could experience living for others less fortunate than themselves. Such an effort is a step toward the establishment of a true human society, one in which human beings have sufficient individual maturity to be able to regard others as belonging to the same family, serving and helping others to achieve their potential rather than just focusing on achieving one's own personal goals. The work of Toynbee Hall has thus been a valuable contribution to the advancement of a better world for all.