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Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 18:14 UK
A childhood worth living

Original transportation for children at Action for Children in Waterloo
Original transportation for children at Action for Children in Waterloo

Some of London's poorest children were given hope when Action for Children launched 140 years ago so it celebrated its birthday in style.

Life for the poorest of children was grim in Victorian London so Methodist minister Thomas Bowman Stephenson decided to do something about it.

His growing concern over the living conditions of children in the capital coupled with a determination to provide a safe, friendly environment for his parish's young people prompted him to open the first children's home near Waterloo.

Frederick and George, the first residents
Frederick and George

The first residents were George Oliver and Frederick James Hall and since then the charity has transformed the lives of thousands of children all over the UK.

To mark its 140th birthday, a blue memorial plaque has been unveiled at the first Action for Children home at 8 Church Street (now Exton Street) near Waterloo.

Actress Shirley Anne Field, of Alfie and The Entertainer fame, grew up in an Action for Children children's home and unveiled the plaque with the charity's chair Pam Chesters.

Ms Field, one of the charity's ambassadors, said: "Having grown up in one of their homes, I know first hand just how valuable Action for Children's work is in supporting children and vulnerable young people.

"Being separated from my own family aged four was an extremely distressing experience. However, Action for Children gave me a safe childhood.

The first home in Church Street, Waterloo
The first home in Church Street

"My two older sisters were not as lucky, so not as safe and nourished as myself and my younger brother. When I look at my grandchildren today, I give a silent thank you to that home: I'm grateful for the childhood it gave me."

The charity, formerly known as NCH, currently works with approximately 156,000 of the UK's most vulnerable children, young people and families, running around 420 projects that provide care and support for those in need.

Pam Chesters said: "The plaque is a fitting way to mark 140 years of invaluable support for children and their families.

"Stephenson's vision and passion for helping vulnerable young people remains firmly rooted in everything Action for Children does today and we're looking forward to continuing his work for many years to come."

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