A planned environment therapy-based archive is first and foremost an archive.
An archive is a holding place of past experience, in various forms, with cataloguing to aid management and retrieval, and a containing environment to facilitate the long-term survival, security and integrity of its contents. In an ideal world, one would speak of "permanent" rather than "long-term"; but the nature of materials and environments is such that arresting active damage, doing no harm, and inhibiting agents and processes of destruction and decay is the 'good enough' of archival preservation. An archive holds past experience to be put to use in service of the present and future.
The specifically planned environment therapy element of an archive begins with a recognition of the complex nature of "experience" as such, the explicit concern for what being a holding place of past experience means generally, and what it means more particularly where there is history of trauma and deprivation.
A specifically planned environment therapy archive focuses its collections policy on people, places, and organisations whose core task or concern is precisely in the area of trauma and deprivation, using group and community processes to contain, engage, and facilitate "therapeutic" change; with "therapeutic" in quotation marks to indicate how flowing and dynamic the underlying concept is, and the range of approaches and terms used to try to identify what it is and what is involved. The language used by Marjorie Franklin and the framers of the Q Camps Memoranda in 1935/36 is very different from the language of Winnicott, which is not the language of the Peckham Experiment, Homer Lane, HMP Grendon, or Kenneth and Frances Barnes at Wennington School, for example.
A Study Centre takes an Archive, embraces it, and puts it to work.
The work of a planned environment therapy Archive and Study Centre is dynamic and wide-ranging. Its primary task is to support individuals, institutions and organisations which are engaged in therapeutic work. It does this directly, indirectly, and through influencing the environment and climate in which they work:
- Direct Support
During the course of its history the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre has supported the field directly:
- through administrative and secretarial support - in setting up and managing the original administrative relationship between PETT and the Association of Therapeutic Communities, for example, which meant that the Association's phones were answered five days a week, and queries and requests for referrals were immediately responded to;
- through direct management of archives, including storage, management, and retrieval on behalf of the institution;
- through professional archival advice and guidance on appropriate storage and management of records held in situ, with supportive cataloguing of materials retained by the host institution; providing transitional storage of records in emergency situations, as well as permanent storage where called for;
- through technical support - initiating, creating and managing websites and email discussion groups for therapeutic communities and organisations; recording meetings and events; creating outputs; putting equipment and expertise at their service; technical problem-solving and advice;
- through gathering and disseminating information; providing evidence and background information to communities and organisations, sourcing material, providing references and documents;
- and through promulgating communication, connection, and shared knowledge and awareness:
- through active networking and participation in organisations and events;
- through creating, facilitating and maintaining channels of networking and communication - for example the Joint Newsletter, the Therapeutic Community Open Forum, IHWTE, conferences, seminars, websites, email discussion groups and specialist forums
- Indirect Support; influencing climate and environment
Throughout its history the Archive and Study Centre has developed a variety of ways to support the field indirectly, and to influence the environment around therapeutic communities:
- through identifying, encouraging, supporting, and facilitating researchers and research, opening the real and metaphorical doors of therapeutic community history and practice to students and academics, as well as practitioners, in order to deepen the base of evidence and enquiry upon which practice can build, policies can be influenced, and uninformed attacks deflected and more effectively countered;
- through actively documenting the field, recording the lives and careers of people involved in therapeutic environments, as well as conferences, seminars and meetings: building the materials on which new research and innovative forms of study can be based, as well as creating audio and visual resources through which the work and importance of therapeutic communities can be presented in creative and accessible ways to the public and policy-makers;
- through embracing, engaging and informing the public, to draw them into the field and into a personal understanding and stake in the field, for example in "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children", a project which not only involved a rich range of people from the outside community with therapeutic community, but won two national awards, widening the circle of public awareness and understanding on which support and funding for therapeutic communities ultimately depends.
- through telling the stories, and expanding the venues in which the stories are told.
- Creating an ongoing therapeutic medium
- The Archive and Study Centre has been helped by the people whose records have been placed there to encounter and develop the Centre and its archives as a facilitating environment, through which it has become a tool for building community, belonging, and the grounding and protected exploration of one's self-and one's identity. In awarding Your Family Magazine's 'Archive of the Year Award' in 2013, its Editor-in-Chief, the historian Nick Barratt identified this unique capacity of the planned environment therapy archive and study centre:
“It may be that you have never heard of this archive, but the work that it undertakes and collections it holds are inspirational.
“The Trust was founded in 1966 to support therapeutic approaches to the treatment of children and adults who have suffered severe emotional and psychological hurts. The archive and study centre was formed in 1989, and not only does it collect and curate 200 archival material collections, including 1,100 oral histories, but provides a space for people to share memories and experiences relating to environmental therapy, and so it is continuing to undertake therapeutic work today.”
“This, to me, is the essence of family history – practical, small scale and life changing. 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.”
A planned environment therapy Archive and Study Centre is a dedicated engine of support and development for the field of therapeutic community, designed to help inform practice and influence policy, and in itself a creative exemplar of the facilitating environment.