2.3 Key Decisions: Therapy? No. Research? No.
The “Overview” prepared in 2006/2007 spoke of the project as one which would be “led and guided by former children, young people and staff from residential therapeutic environments”. The fact that the project was developed within the Planned Environment Therapy Trust by, with, and for people, many of whom had personal and professional experience in therapeutic environments, meant that there were inevitably assumptions and principles built into the project design which reflected the culture and practice of the environments themselves. It was not an accident that one former Shotton Hall student reflected during an Archive “Weekend” that it felt like being at Shotton Hall, in the best sense.
At the same time, and quite intentionally, the project was organised from the Archive, and focused on oral history; and while some people might or might not experience participation and outcomes as 'therapeutic', the project team, and the project design, were very clear that they were not doing therapy. Nor were they doing research. The primary function of an Archive, and in this instance an oral history project conducted from within and for an Archive, is to gather, preserve, manage and make available materials for others to learn from and use. These two cornerstones, clearly re-stated throughout the project, were an essential feature of the project design: It was not therapy, and it was not research. It was "a major oral history-centred project relating to life and work in therapeutic residential environments for traumatised, deprived, and delinquent children and young people between about 1930 and 1980", to quote the 'Overview' again; an exploration of a particular area of the nation's history and heritage with, for, and by people who were not subjects of the project but participants, and even better, colleagues and co-workers in it.
With this in mind, it was basic to the specification for the project design that it use the understandings built up over many years, especially (but not exclusively) in therapeutic environments of various kinds, in order to create a project in which prior involvement, knowledge, or experience of the heritage was not a necessary precondition for successfully taking part and contributing to it. One did not have to have been a child in care, been aware of children in care, had any specialist training or background in counseling or therapy, or worked with children in care in order to be an effective and full member of the project team - either the core team, which is to say, the employed team; or the wider range of volunteers, researchers and participants who completed the full team.
In other words, the project design sought to lay out a blueprint which could be adopted and adapted by non-specialists - by outsiders, in effect - for sensitive and specialist community history and heritage projects across the board, from children in care, to retired members of MI5. Special considerations will always apply: But reinventing the wheel is not necessary, and in theory there are, or should be, general principles which can be applied by lay people in a variety of specialist environments, which will ensure safe, appropriate, targeted and richly rewarding and productive experiences and outcomes. For this to be the case, a clear supporting framework is an essential starting point.