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International Women's Day 2024

Staff at the Caldecott Foundation today walk in the footsteps of the women who have gone before. We were founded by Leila Rendel and Phyliss Potter, two young women who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children from working-class families living in and around a matchstick factory in St Pancras, London.

For many of these families, the workhouse was an ever-present danger, and their mothers worked long hours trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads; consequently, their children needed care and support.

Leila and Phyliss were born into lives of privilege, yet both followed a strong tradition of philanthropic endeavour. They trained as teachers, and were passionate about wanting to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. This led to them setting up a children’s nursery in 1911, which was Caldecott’s beginning.

Phyliss took on the role of co-director with Leila when Caldecott moved to Kent. Students have said that she had a beautiful speaking and singing voice, a regal air, kindness, and a deep interest in a child’s view. After twenty years of dedicated service, she left Caldecott in 1931.

Leila worked for, and grew, the organisation tirelessly, and oversaw the seven moves from London to Kent via Dorset. In 1947, she helped to set up the first experimental reception centre in England, to assess the most appropriate home for children who could not live with their parents. She was awarded an OBE medal for her work in the 1948 New Year’s Honours list.

Through crisis and change, Leila continued to embody the love, comfort, and stability that provided the community’s therapeutic approach. Her success lay in her ability to connect with children, and she was a director of our charity until 1967 when (aged 84) she retired.

To do justice to the history of our organisation, and the role women have played in its success, we would need many more words than this blog post allows. For those readers interested in more information we would recommend the website of our friends at the Caldecott Association – – which contains many excellent first-hand accounts of the work of these pioneering women, kindly written by the children they cared for.

We pay tribute to all the women who have been part of the Caldecott family over the past 113 years, helping children build a future.

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