From The Oral History Society Regional Network Report for Gloucestershire, October 2018. I became the OHS Regional Network representative for Gloucestershire in 1999, based in the Archive and Study Centre. The Network consists of volunteers, practicing oral historians, who give of their time and experience to answer queries and support oral history in their regions in whatever way they can. See OHS/Regional Network.
This will be my last Network report as archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, which is changing hands in the New Year. From January 2019 the Archive's collections and programmes will come under the stewardship of the Mulberry Bush Organisation, 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 38-weeks a year, to which has been recently added a 52-week house, working with vulnerable and severely traumatised primary aged children and their families in the UK across England and Wales; The Mulberry Bush Outreach, the outreach and training department; the Research and Development department; and The International Centre for Therapeutic Care.
When it was established in 1989 the Archive and Study Centre was heavily influenced by the late Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies at the University of Leeds, with an ethnological approach to collecting and fieldwork, and oral history at its core from the inception: It took in its first oral history interviews in March 1989, recorded on a Sony Walkman Professional audiocassette recorder loaned by the Archive, along with the tapes, to a student researcher. It was the first of a number of loans of equipment, travel grants, trainings, and support to a range of researchers and groups over the years. From 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, which began its life before the Second World War - it took a profoundly collaborative and community-creating approach to archives and oral history, leading to the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children: an oral history of residential therapeutic child care c. 1930-c. 1980" project in 2010-2011, and 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, presenting the "Archive of the Year" 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."
The Oral History Society more recently described the Archive's oral history collection as "one of national and international importance" whose importance "stretches far beyond the traditional research communities", adding that "The manner in which PETT Archive has collected these oral histories through collaboration with its many constituent groups is, in itself, innovative."
The collections will stay on the current site. Among these, the Planned Environment Therapy Trust will be transferring over 4,000 audio and video recordings to the care of the Mulberry Bush Organisation. Over 1800 of these, which include events and occasions as well as oral history interviews, were recorded by members of the Archive team. Another 139 were recorded on equipment supplied by the Archive to researchers, and/or with the material and financial support of the Archive: it made copy tapes for their interviewees, for example, and in some instances took care of transcription, acted as recording technician, and helped groups build websites through which histories and memories could be shared.
During the course of this year, since the last Network Report, the Archive has made 57 recordings. A significant contribution to this was a discrete oral history project with the five surviving Governors of HMP Grendon, Europe's only fully therapeutic community prison; but there were also individual oral histories with five former children and staff of therapeutic environments; three group remembering, reflection and discussion occasions; and four 'events' - talks, seminars, and meetings of celebration and remembrance. An ongoing collaboration with a research group of anthropologists, psychologists and mental and social health professionals in Oxford, which bore fruit in a witness seminar hosted by the Archive in 2016, bore further fruit this year in the form of anthropologist Neil Armstrong's article "What leads to innovation in mental healthcare? Reflections on clinical expertise in a bureaucratic age", in the Psychiatric Bulletin 42:5 (2018), pp. 184-187, available on Open Access at https://doi.org/10.1192/bjb.2018.14.
In terms of my work as a Regional Networker, it has been another quiet year....