Our history

Our history

Elizabeth Finn Care was founded in 1897 as the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association; however our roots can be traced back a lot further. Elizabeth Finn, our founder, was born in 1825 in Warsaw where her father was a missionary. As the eldest daughter, Elizabeth helped to raise her brothers and sisters and assisted her parents in their charitable work.

In 1846 at the age of 21, Elizabeth married James Finn, who had recently been appointed Consul of Jerusalem. The couple moved to Palestine where they set up home on Mount Zion. James and Elizabeth quickly became a focal point for those seeking formal aid.

During her time in Palestine Elizabeth secured donations from England and set up a workshop to find employment for 150 people and together with her husband established the Jerusalem Literary Society, as well as a library and museum. By 1857 Elizabeth had helped 1,500 poor families who were receiving assistance and regular visits to assess their ongoing needs.

In 1866 Elizabeth, James and the three children returned to England to live in Hammersmith in what was then little more than a rural spot. In 1872 James died aged 66.

The couple had three surviving children during their diplomatic mission one of whom, Constance, was to help her mother found the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association.

It is not certain when Elizabeth got her inspiration, however it is recorded that she was moved to do so when she and Constance were invited as guests to a friend’s house. They realised that their host had the ‘misfortune to be an unwanted poor relation’ receiving just a few weeks of dole maintenance at a time. The contempt with which this woman was treated touched them deeply and so they invited her as a guest to their own home in Brook Green.

“Over the years, Elizabeth’s home had become a welcome haven for others. It is reported she was never without some ‘distressed’ person seeking refuge under her roof. Her friends became interested in her efforts, and it was suggested that some organised work might be started for the help of people who were struggling”

In 1897, Elizabeth Finn founded the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association. At the age of 72, she had decided that the idea might be introduced in an informal way at a drawing-room meeting with a few friends. She read to them a number of cases of people who were struggling to cope financially in isolation and poverty. Her audience were so moved by the stories that many volunteered to fundraise and get the support from their own friends. It was in this moment that the Association was launched. Elizabeth’s own home in Brook Green, just a stone’s throw from our current office, became a base where the most practical work of the Association could be undertaken.

By the time Elizabeth Finn died in 1920 the Charity had firmly established itself as a vital source of support for those in financial difficulty. Since then we have continued to respond to the needs of those who turn to us for support whilst remaining true to the values that inspired our founder all those years ago.

Our Timeline provides a detailed breakdown of key milestones in the charity’s history.

Elizabeth Finn c1890[1]


1897 – Elizabeth Finn founds the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association at the age of 72

1904 – The Charity receives its first legacy from founding Chairman, Colonel William Knolly, of £450, equivalent to £40,000 today

1948 – In the aftermath of the Second World War it is decided to do more to help address the shortage of nursing homes in Britain. This began with the purchase of a home in Surrey and continued with two more homes in the following year

1965 - The Charity opens its first care home in the North of England, Hampden House, which was also the first purpose built care home in Harrogate

1999 – Following a consultation with our supporters the Charity decides to change its name from the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association to the Elizabeth Finn Trust in honour of our founder. In 2005 the name is altered to Elizabeth Finn Care to better reflect the broadening work of the Charity

2007 – As demand for Elizabeth Finn Care’s support increases the Charity creates Turn2us, a free service that allows people to see what support they may be eligible for in terms of welfare benefits and tax credits. Not only does the service support the traditional work of Elizabeth Finn Care, but it also allows it to direct support to a wider range of people in financial difficulty

2008 – Elizabeth Finn Care wins the 2008 Third Sector Award for Innovation in Grant Making

2009 - The Charity reaches a major landmark as it has given away a total of £130,000,000 in direct grants since its foundation

2010 - Elizabeth Finn Care wins a competitive bid from the City of Edinburgh Council to consolidate 35 poverty related funds into The Edinburgh Trust, a charitable fund for the people of Edinburgh

2011 – Turn2us grows in size with over 5 million people in financial difficulty using the service, including over 100,000 calls to the helpline since its foundation

2012 - The Turn2us online service receives the accolade of a Nominet Internet Award for being one of the best online charity initiatives in the UK

2012 - The work of Elizabeth Finn Care continues to grow with over 350 volunteers providing face-to-face support to those seeking our help

2013 - Turn2us launches a new Benefits Calculator to take into account the largest change in the benefits system since its formation