About Alec Dickson

Alex Dickson passionately believed that anyone – whatever their background – could make a positive contribution to the world around them.

About Alec Dickson

Appalled yet fascinated by Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s – and also deeply concerned for disadvantaged young people at home – Alec Dickson strove before and after his graduation from Oxford in 1935 to combine work as a foreign correspondent in Central Europe with helping groups of young people in the slums of Leeds and London.

The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia led him eventually to give up journalism and plunge himself into refugee relief.  Many years later he was flattered to discover that in the event of a German invasion, his name was number 57 on the list of those to be arrested by the Gestapo.

During the Second World War, Alec served with black troops, first in the liberation of Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia), then later pioneering the use of soldiers for a campaign of “mass education” throughout East Africa.  He was to spend 15 years in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, training indigenous young people as community leaders and animateurs.

He and his wife Mora spent the winter of 1956-57 working with refugees at the Austro-Hungarian frontier.  Watching the impact on their student helpers from the West, they asked themselves – as had William James, a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, 50 years before – how the moral equivalent of war might be achieved.  Back in England in 1958, working from the kitchen table of their home, the Dicksons founded Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), sending school leavers to work for a year in developing countries.  The first volunteers – who kept in touch with Alec and Mora Dickson every six weeks with sixpenny airmail letters! – were recruited through an article in The Sunday Times, written by Alec Dickson but credited to Lancelot Fleming, then Bishop of Portsmouth.

If young people from the West could do worthwhile things in Africa and Asia, there were also problems on their own doorsteps waiting to be tackled.  In 1962 the Dicksons returned to their kitchen table to found CSV – Community Service Volunteers – mobilising the talents and energy of young people in their own country.  When Alec Dickson escorted the first CSV to Euston station on his way to an Approved School in Glasgow, it seemed as though he was dispatching him to Senegal.

CSV provided Alec with the opportunity to put many of his innovative ideas about community service into practice.  He passionately believed that anyone – whatever their background – could make a positive contribution to the world around them.  Alec pioneered the involvement of young volunteers with backgrounds in offending, drug misuse and homelessness, built up a programme of community service work in schools, and campaigned vigorously for a nationwide community service.

It was with this spirit of adventure and belief in young people that the Alec Dickson Trust was established after Alec’s death in 1994.

About Alec Dickson Trust

We support young people who, through volunteering or community service, aim to enhance the lives of others, particularly those most marginalised by society.