1999: “THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND: a specialist archive and study centre for ‘alternative’ therapeutic and educational communities”

 

Craig Fees, “THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND: a specialist archive and study centre for ‘alternative’ therapeutic and educational communities.”
unpublished paper delivered to the Oral History Society Annual Conference (15 May, 1999).

[Text of a paper delivered to the Oral History Society Conference in May 1999, accompanied by audio-visual materials referred to in the text.]

Archives are a form of memory. They form part of the experience of a person, organisation or community, and are intimately bound up with it. The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre was founded in 1989 to care for the memory of people and places which approach work with disturbed, disturbing, delinquent or disaffected people, or people like you or me, in a particular way. It tends to be non-hierarchical, consensual, and participative, and utilises the environment – of relationships, and also of the built and natural worlds – as a tool for therapeutic and/or educational ends.

This paper uses the resources of the Archive’s collections to explore the history and development of this approach in Britain over the past sixty to seventy years. Characteristically, much of the work has been (and continues to be) in the ‘here and now’, and has been fueled by idealism and a fundamental belief in its human as well as therapeutic and educational rightness. Although highly influential, the way of working has rarely been fully assimilated into the mainstream, and indeed sometimes cuts across it. The result is a field whose best documentation is often in the people themselves. Conventional records, when produced, have often been lost or destroyed, or do not, in themselves, adequately depict the subtleties and dynamics of something whose therapeutic or educational essence lies in the changing daily life of the environment.

From the beginning, therefore, the Archive and Study Centre has had three main Programs: The Archive proper, providing a good home for the conventional archival records of people, places and organisations; The Library, of books, journals, audio-visual materials and ephemera; and Oral History, which it both carries out and promotes. All of these sources will be tapped in this presentation.

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I’m going to play two songs, recorded over 40 years ago, from the annual pantomimes at Bodenham Manor School. Bodenham Manor is now a hotel and restaurant in rural Hereford, but then it was one of the leading therapeutic communities for maladjusted – as the term then was – children in Britain. The pictures under the songs are also from Bodenham. After the songs the video carries on with photographs of Q Camps, or Hawkspur Camp, about which I will be speaking; and then from other Depression-era camping, mainly to do with a project in South Wales, before returning to Q Camp/Hawkspur Camp as it is today.

The adult you heard in those songs, David Wills, one of the formative figures in this field, is now dead, and the children you may just have heard in the background of the first song will be in their late fifties or early sixties.

In the context of this and of presentations to come, several phrases leap out of these songs. For example, in the second song – not recorded, but marked in green on the script – “No more shall I camp by the river/No more shall I sleep in my den…”

– a whole oral history could be developed around children’s dens and therapeutic work with emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children and young people – what could be more therapeutic than building your own little home from the stones and branches and dirt and discarded odds and ends which end up around a school for disturbed children; cooking a meal for yourself in the outdoors; sneaking out of your dorm room to spend the night under the branches. What does a self-built den mean for a child with a radically fragile sense of self-identity and self-worth, who may rarely, if ever, have created something tangible and of positive value? But then how as an adult responsible for the growth and well-being of these kids do you keep the inevitable fire-raiser from burning it all down; how do you keep the violent child who can destroy a classroom in a matter of seconds from going into a sudden rage and destroying all of these intensely mundane and meaningful fragments of other children’s dreams and growth, not to mention his own. How do you keep the self-destructive child from impaling himself on an entirely inoffensive stick, or burning himself in the fire? Indeed, what kind of madness is it which sets these highly damaged and in some cases highly destructive children free to go camping, pioneering and cooking in the woods in the first place?

Something of the answer is also indicated in these songs.

From the second very sad song, “I’m leaving the Manor tomorrow” marked in the script in red: “The last washing up has been done”. Again, a whole oral history could be built up simply around “washing up”, or perhaps what it means, as this from a student helper in a therapeutic camp for boys which flourished in 1945-46:

I remember endless washing up, because we didn’t have any electricity, and, so we had to wash up for thirty people, and all the cooking pots, with water heated on two oil stoves and no detergents, you know, washing soda. So ever since I’ve enjoyed washing up actually, because it was a real challenge to you know be able to do this bloody great stack of washing up. You had a turn every day, and you had a boy, ostensibly as a helper I suppose. And I did a lot of washing up and got rather good at it. And I still like it actually, I still am rather pernickety about it, and say, “No, you don’t do it like this, you do it like that,” you know. Because, I just, you just had, well, you know, if you were going to survive you had to learn to wash up rather well.

 And then , from “The Flying Snail”, “The meeting song” as such. The lines “If you keep interrupting I’ll fine you a bob/ We’re having a meeting now” – might evoke familiar memories for anyone who had been to a meeting at Summerhill School, founded in 1924 and still alive and well.

Going back to Chris Beedell, the student helper you just heard – a pacifist who was doing his war work at this camp for unbilletable boys in Essex, called Hawkpsur Camp, or Q Camp, in 1945/46. It was an experience which changed his life, and he changed course from becoming an industrial chemist to becoming one of the most influential figures in British therapeutic child care, founding and for many years directing the Advanced Child Care Course at Bristol University, whose influence and students – I recently learned via the Internet – extend well outside Britain, as far afield as South Africa.

Q-Camp – Hawkpsur Camp, near Great Bardfield in Essex – had originally been established in 1936 as a therapeutic camp for young men – in the end they were aged between 16 and 25, and ran the gamut from effete to delinquent to psychotic. It closed with the beginning of the war and its various founding members – David Wills, for example, whom we heard singing at Bodenham Manor which he founded after the war – went on to other things. Wills – a Quaker and a conscientious objector – went up to Scotland and, with the great help of the Edinburgh Society of Friends, and a big house made available as a war charity by the Earl of Wemyss family, created Barns Hostel and School, a therapeutic community for unbilletable evacuees near Peebles.

After a number of adventures, including taking over and turning around an evacuation hostel in Cornwall where children were being deprived of their rations by staff, who ate the food themselves – another founding member of the first Q-Camps staff returned to establish the second Hawkspur Camp, for boys, in 1945. This was Arthur Barron, whose radical – and some would say commonsense approach to therapeutic child work – led to his being blackballed immediately after the war by the Home Office, forcing him rather extraordinarily for a person of his working-class background and difficult up-bringing to take an Anna Freud training, to become a child psychoanalyst, and to become an influential consultant in child care work. He was recently mentioned by name, for example, in an otherwise pseudonymed but fond Radio 4 programme “Memoirs of a Maladjusted Teacher” by Nick Yapp, on what he called “New Riverside School for Maladjusted Children”; and was instrumental, for example, in Eagle House Approved School’s rather extraordinary and pretty unique development as a therapeutic institution within what was, historically, a fairly discipline-oriented, and often outright punitive state service for difficult, delinquent, or distressed and damaged kids.

But punishment as such was not in the Q-Camps toolkit, and certainly not administered or determined by staff or from on high. The addressing of difficult and destructive or delinquent behaviour was the responsibility of the community as such, as represented in the Camp Council or the Meeting, of which every member was a part, and in which every member took part. Chris Beedell discovered the power of the “Meeting” in a particularly telling incident. One wonders whether something like this might have worked with President Milosevic:

The Children mostly came from London, although we had one boy from Birmingham called Mickey, with whom I had quite a close relationship, and we had a camp council, a la Wills kind of thing, where, I think it met daily after lunch, probably, and everything was hammered out between the boys and the staff and so forth. I think it was a boy chairman, though it probably changed a bit while I was there, and, you know, we sort of hammered everything out there. My greatest recollection is, which I’m still astonished by, is that there was this boy called Mickey who actually was a kind of borderline schizophrenic, probably, and actually spent most of the rest of his life in mental hospitals, but he lost his temper one day and came at me with a large axe, I mean a large one, because we had a lot of tools about the place, we were always building things and so forth, and I said, “Mickey, if you don’t put that down I’ll bring you up at camp council.” And he put it down. I mean, I didn’t – you know, I didn’t know what else to do really. I’ve never forgotten it. That was the power of this amazing institution, because, well, it was just I mean, it was just astonishing. And so we had these amazing meetings.

 “We were always building things”, and “The power of this amazing institution”, the “Meeting” – threads which run all through therapeutic communities and progressive/alternative schools —

This is part of the answer to the question about the apparent madness of allowing highly damaged, disturbed and delinquent children to go into the woods, build their dens, and so on. It doesn’t take place in isolation. It is one element in a rich, intentional – planned – culture in which the child and the adult, or the patient and therapist, or the prisoner and the prison officer are drawn as they are able in to genuinely living and working and belonging one with another, in a complex, shared, examined culture which becomes holding, safe and fundamentally growing in ways which are almost invisible, and can appear dangerous to people who are only familiar with living and working in overtly hierarchical, externally accountable, and discipline-oriented environments.

Now, the origins of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, the Archive and Study Centre, and the oral history programme. I realised, in re-reading the abstract, that I am still holding on to the notion that I am a researcher, or even an historian – I did my doctorate in Folk Life Studies at the University of Leeds from 1981-1988, with a thesis which involved a fair amount of oral history in looking at the life and culture of a North Cotswold Town over the past hundred years. There are many other aspects of this conference which in that respect – as a researcher – I would be better equipped to address; contests over memory, identity, and local culture, for example. But after I took my degree in 1988 I was asked by the Planned Environment Therapy Trust whether I would be willing to help to develop an archive and study centre, and I have gradually been transformed into an altogether different creature, an archivist. I still have an enquiring mind, but it is an altogether different task, and I think it would be more appropriate to say that what I do now – although legitimately oral history on one level – is in fact a form of oral archiving. Regarding the people I record as living documents, and not as objects, as such, in a history which I am doing. Regarding their remembered experience as a record which I gather in to the archive in the way that I gather in log books, photographs, correspondence and so on: More for the use of others, and especially for future generations, than for myself or any on-going research project. This is not a pure position, as you will understand, and in an opportunistic way I have recorded to help others in their research projects, or provided machines, tapes, transcription and sometimes financial assistance to others who are doing research; but in the balance between pure research and pure archives, my weight is on the archives side. I regard the recording of a conference, meeting, or celebration weekend as much a part of my oral archiving as the interviewing. Perhaps that is the ethnological element in my background.

The Planned Environment Therapy Trust was founded in 1966 by Marjorie Franklin, a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst. Her two founding trustees were David Wills and Arthur Barron. Franklin was a remarkable woman, who has not yet had her biographer. She was born in 1877, and trained as a teacher under “Charlotte Mason, a pioneer of progressive methods” where she “learnt much of value, including respect for children as persons”. In his obituary of her David Wills noted that she had retained “her life-long interest in education, especially in what used to be called the progressive movement”. But she opted for medicine, and then psychiatry, and then – precociously, especially for a woman – for psychoanalysis. She was recommended to the British Psycho-Analytical Society by Sandor Ferenczi in 1926. But, again according to David Wills, she was frustrated by the inevitably narrow reach of conventionally practised psychoanalysis, and throughout her life strove to find ways to take her skills to a broader community. One of these ways was a member of the Council of an organisation called Grith Fyrd, or Grith Pioneers, which was founded in 1931/1932.

Lucy Jaffé may be discussing Grith Fyrd – Anglo Saxon for “Peace Militia” – in more detail later. I’ll slightly caricature it by describing it as an organisation established to create and run self-governing and self-sufficient wilderness camps for long-term unemployed men. The camps – one in Derbyshire, one in Hampshire – were run by the men themselves. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, built their own shelters, and in the process of living and working together rebuilt their lives and morale and so on, and also walking around Britain – discovering, in a variety of senses, “This Land is Your Land” and, of course, in the imperative balance – “This Land is My Land”. But the camps threw up a number of men who simply didn’t fit in, and in late 1934 the idea was floated at a Grith Fyrd Council meeting to extend the work through a series of camps for people “who were behaviour problems or psychologically or physically unsuited for Grith Fyrd…”

In the end Grith Fyrd itself did not pursue it, but gave its support and involvement to Marjorie Franklin, who helped to found and became Hon. Secretary of the Q Camps organisation, which in 1936 opened Hawkspur Camp for men. David Wills was the Camp Chief, or warden; Arthur Barron a teenage helper. Thirty years later, partly with the residual funds of the defunct Q Camps organisation, they together founded the Planned Environment Therapy Trust.

The term “planned environment therapy” arose to describe the kind of work which was going on at Q Camps before the war. The term that became popular after the war for a similar approach was “therapeutic community”, which, in a deceptively simple way, indicates what it is all about – a community whose processes are, in themselves, therapeutic.

At the core of this approach is the fundamental belief – or insight – that human being is essentially a self-healing organism; that within the right milieu – sometimes without apparent effort, but sometimes very painfully, and sometimes with tremendous expressions of anger, and of chaos, or of hate, which very few conventionally structured organisations can sustain – some of you may be familiar with the story of Mary Barnes at Kingsley Hall in London, and the shit-smeared walls – the self will find or fight its way towards “health”, whatever that is. And also that we are, in a radical, fundamental way, in our environment, and that that environment of language, relationships, space and so on, can be approached and developed intentionally to facilitate the growth of the self. This tends to lead to a “democratic”, hands-on approach within intentional communities, with flattened hierarchies – if you went into an ordinary psychiatric therapeutic community, for example, you wouldn’t see uniforms, and you would probably be hard-pressed to tell a “patient” from a nurse or one of the psychiatrists; and indeed, might not always be sure who was being therapeutic for whom.

And although it is a recognised approach – there are a number of psychiatric therapeutic communities within the British National Health Service, for example, and several within the prison service – it is very much a minority approach, dealing with an area of life which, by and large, those of us who make up Society don’t really want to know about, or attempt to understand. For the most part the Society of which we are a part doesn’t wish to have to care for people with severe mental health problems, or that minority of children and young people who are beyond their own or others’ control. And where this doesn’t mean active neglect, it does mean that governments, in particular, do tend to favour responses which are simple, unambiguous, and based in the commonsense of everyday behaviour, whatever that happens to be at the time, whether apparently permissive or apparently authoritarian.

A number of things come out of this. One is the fact that the approach, in whatever field it takes place, tends to be underfunded, and probably insecure; and either is so busy doing the work and surviving that it generates relatively little documentation about itself, or else the documentation it does generate (especially at the moment the project ends, or dies) is of interest to no enduring institution, so if it is preserved it is preserved by individuals – in their back rooms, or garages, or lofts – and is ultimately weeded out to make space, or lost through moving, or through vermin and natural destructive processes, or to relieve their children of the burden for when they die –

Some of this lay behind the founding of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre. David Wills was one of the giant figures of his generation. Apart from direct work in three therapeutic institutions which he founded – one of which the war ended, the other two of which long survived his departure – he helped to found the Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children (now the Association of Workers for Children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, or AWCEBD), won the O.B.E. and was honoured – in his lifetime – by the AWCEBD’s annual David Wills Lecture. He was a friend and colleague of just about everyone in progressive social, therapeutic and educational work with children and young people in his generation – A.S.Neill, George Lyward, Otto Shaw, Donald Winnicott. At his death in 1981 Wills bequeathed an immense amount of archive material to his wife. At her death in 1987 this went to his literary executor, Robert Laslett, a practitioner turned academic. The Wills material he was handed included personal items and photographs going back to David Wills’ childhood just after the turn of the century, an immense amount of personal and professional correspondence from the 1920s up to his death, the archives – including, amazingly, the client-files – from Hawkspur Camp for men (these were bombed, as they made their way up from Oxford to Scotland for safe-keeping during the war; the Q-Camps headquarters in London was destroyed in an air raid), the research he had done for his biography of Homer Lane, a huge amount of personal writing, and other things. It is one of the most extensive and important single collections relating to work with emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children and young people in this country. Robert Laslett quickly realised it was much too big a project for him to handle personally, and he began to look around for an archive or library which wanted them. He couldn’t find one. He was a trustee of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, and the obvious thing then was to create an Archive and a Study Centre, the scope of which was neatly described by the first three collections which came to hand, so to speak: The David Wills Collection – covering therapeutic community work with children and young people. The archives of Dr. Maxwell Jones, a pioneer and powerful exponent of the therapeutic community for adults in psychiatric and penal settings – and later of the Open Systems approach to education especially; although he had won the gold medal for his psychiatric research early in his career, by the end he had ceased to refer to himself as a psychiatrist and preferred instead, the term “social ecologist”. And then the research materials Jonathan Croall had gathered together during his research for his massive biography of A.S. Neill, the educational radical whose school Summerhill has been famous and influential around the world pretty much since it was founded in the early 1920s. Therapeutic community work with children and young people; therapeutic community work with adults; progressive/alternative/ democratic education. We now have over a hundred small and large archive collections. There are over three thousand books in the research library, and over five hundred recordings in the oral history collection.

I am aware, first that I have approached this as a series of digressions, and second that I have reneged on the promise in my abstract to “explore the history and development of this approach in Britain over the past sixty to seventy years”. Twice in the past year I have tried to force myself into constructing some sort of guide to the history of this general field over the past century, but when I get to the precipice and look over I am simply overwhelmed by the task. One of the many consequences of the way this work – or perhaps more properly, the people for whom this work is necessary – is regarded is that there is virtually no in-depth historical work going on. Who after all, is really interested in knowing the roots and intricacies of this work, and the political and social consequences of that knowledge? There is a richness to it which one can only begin to indicate – the son of a woman who helped lay the groundwork for Bodenham Manor School marries the daughter of parents who helped found the Youth Hostelling movement; one of the senior figures in the psychiatric therapeutic community movement – who was actually awoken to the dangers of Nazi Germany as a visiting camper in a Hitler Youth Camp – sends his children to Forest School Camps; Fred Lennhoff, founder of Shotton Hall School, began his career in the German Vanderwogel movement; Prof. John Macmurray, the late University College London philosopher who came briefly to prominence before the last election as having had a major impact on Tony Blair’s thinking, gave the principal speech at the Grith Fyrd Conference in 1933, and was chairman of the Governors of Wennington, one of the most exciting of the progressive schools, founded seven years later in 1940. And, and, and. There are some magnificent cleared paths through this richness, Maurice Bridgeland’s Pioneer Work With Maladjusted Children (1971), John Shotton’s No Master High or Low (1993), Tom Harrison’s still unpublished work on Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital, senior Group Analyst Malcolm Pines’s ongoing work; Lucy Jaffé’s work, which she will be reporting on; an oral history of Summerhill being carried out by Hussein Lucas. But there is a great deal of fundamental discussion and exploration which needs to be done; and much of that can only be done through oral history.

A brief bit of video, beginning with one of the things for which Robert Laslett could not find a home – a black and white film made at Barns Hostel School in Scotland in 1943; the voice-over by David Wills having been added thirty-five years later, in 1978. It is atrocious, but then so is the original (?) tape in his collection.