Gloucestershire: Planned Environment Therapy Trust

Current British Work

Oral History 47:1 (Spring 2019), pp. 13-15



Craig Fees sends this update and reflection: ‘It is all change at the Planned Environment Therapy Trust (PETT) Archive and Study Centre in Gloucestershire, whose oral history collection has been described by Prof John Gabriel, the chair of the Oral History Society, as “one of national and international importance”, stretching “far beyond the traditional research communities”, whose approach “through collaboration with its many constituent groups is, in itself, innovative”.

The Archive and Study Centre was established in 1989 to create a research resource for a “therapeutic community”, related care environments and (for good historical, philosophical and practice reasons!) progressive, democratic and alternative education. From January 2019, its collections and programmes will come under the stewardship of the Mulberry Bush Organisation (MBO).

The MBO is a not-for-profit charity consisting of the Mulberry Bush School - a non-maintained residential special school with a three-year programme which runs for thirty-eight weeks a year (to which has been recently added a fifty-two-week house), working with vulnerable and severely traumatised primary-aged children and their families in the UK across England and Wales; Mulberry Bush Outreach – the organisation’s outreach and training department; their research and development department; and the International Centre for Therapeutic Care. While PETT itself will be dissolved, the history of its collections and programmes will be reflected in the name of the Planned Environment Therapy Archive, under the aegis of the MBO.

The foundation of the Archive and Study Centre in 1989 was heavily influenced by the late Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies at the University of Leeds. It based its work on the “community folklorist” model, with an ethnological approach to collections and fieldwork, active engagement with the community and with oral history, along with the archives and library, at its core. It took in its first oral history interviews in March 1989, recorded on a Sony Walkman Professional audio cassette recorder loaned by the archive - along with tapes - to a student researcher. It was the first of a number of loans of equipment, travel grants, training and support to students, researchers and community projects over the years.

The tradition of planned environment therapy - a heavily Quaker-influenced and collegial approach to untying the knots of delinquency, and personal and group dissonance, disturbance and trauma - has been called “probably the first unified model for the therapeutic community work with young people”, and described as “the most complex form of treatment that exists [...] [W]hen carried out in a sufficiently deliberate manner it can also be the most effective form of psychotherapy available for dealing with some of the most intractable developmental issues and conditions”. From this tradition the Archive and Study Centre took a profoundly collaborative and community-creating approach to archives and oral history.

This led to the invention of the residential Archive Weekend - gatherings of former children, staff and family members of children’s communities whose records were held at the archive, to share and explore memories and experiences. Archive Weekends formed a core activity of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)-supported project “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children: an oral history of residential therapeutic child care c 1930-c 1980” in 2010-2011, which led to the Community Archives and Heritage Group’s “Most Impactful Archive” award for 2011, and Your Family History magazine’s “Archive of the Year” award in 2013.

Historian Dr Nick Barratt, explaining the 2013 award, said: “Not only do they collect and curate a range of small yet important archival material and collections, including oral histories, but they also provide a space for people to share memories and experiences relating to environment therapy - so continue to undertake therapeutic work today. All this is done on a small budget, showing that you don’t need millions of pounds to make a difference to people’s lives”.

As an ethnological collection devoted to therapeutic care, and aspiring to be comprehensive, the archive has taken in and created a wide range of audio and video recordings, from reel-to-reel to mini-cassette (and digital), and from events and occasions to formal oral history interviews. There are over 4,000 recordings in the collections, of which the archive has created something over 1,800, and supported a further 139 through loan of equipment and materials, travel grants, copying tapes for interviewees, transcription and acting as recording technician.

The archive has also been the home of the Oral History Society’s Regional Network for Gloucestershire since 1998, offering advice, support and equipment to individuals and groups throughout the county and into Bristol; and has regularly hosted Oral History Society events, such as Regional Network annual meetings, Oral History Society Committee strategic planning retreats, and the launch of the Psycho-Social Therapies and Care Environments Special Interest Group.

It has led on a variety of oral history-based projects, including the Society of Archivists’ fiftieth anniversary “Celebrating Memory: an oral history of the Society of Archivists and its members” from 1996 to 2000 (recordings are lodged in the British Library Sound Archive); “Therapeutic Living With Other People’s Children”, 2010-2011; “The Oxford Project: provision for psychologically vulnerable people in Oxford, c 1950 to the present”, beginning in 2013 and continuing with a 2016 spin-off on the Phoenix Unit at Oxford’s Littlemore Hospital; and in 2017- 2018, oral histories with the five surviving governors of HMP Grendon, Europe’s only fully therapeutic community prison.

It also provided the facilitator for the early sessions on oral history for the Society of Archivist’s seminars for newly qualified archivists between 1997 and 2002, and actively embraced the emerging technology of the Internet: setting up the Regional Network’s email discussion group in 1999; creating RadioTC International, an online file delivery platform which flourished between 2006 and 2009, during which almost 300 podcasts on therapeutic communities were created and “broadcast” to the World Wide Web, including oral histories; and creating websites for various communities and organisations, including PETT itself, through which material from the oral history collections could be shared.

The cumulative effect of serial economic downturns and the slow recovery around them led PETT in 2017 to seek a financially more secure basis for the archive’s future, and with the help of a HLF Transition Grant identified the MBO as a suitable steward.

Through an agreement reached during the summer of 2018, the MBO will take ownership of the Study Centre site and grounds at the beginning of 2019, and the collections will be restructured with an intention of increased access and long-term security under the terms of a three-year financial plan’.

[Contact details for the Mulberry Bush School then given]