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2.4 Creating a Supporting Armature

 

"Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children" was fortunate in being able to draw on the resources and involvements of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust's Archive and Study Centre, with its archival holdings documenting a fascinating record of practice and invention across the 20th century; and with its long-standing oral history programme, through which the project director and others had met and had the opportunity to learn directly from many defining senior figures in the therapeutic community field: Individuals who had had extensive experience of creating, running and analysing organisations going back over half a century and working with complex contexts - people such as Harold Bridger, Harry Wilmer, Isabel Menzies Lyth, Maxwell Jones, David Clark, Barbara Dockar-Drysdale, Maurice Bridgeland, Stuart Whiteley, Josephine Lomax-Simpson - as well as many other former children, patients, and practitioners. With the support of the Trust, the project director had co-ordinated the Society of Archivists' 50th anniversary oral history project in the 1990s, and could draw on experiences in the history of archives and the experiences of pioneering archivists across the sector; and similarly in the ethnographic arena, in the oral history of oral history and work, among others, on the history and practice of the English Dialect Survey. Oral history, especially in combination with archives, is an excellent learning and teaching medium.

 

The consequence was a project design which clearly and unequivocally focused on the project team as the active agent, engine, and necessary locus of the development and execution of the project as a whole. The capacity of the project to meet its targets, to address the wider and more complex issues for which the project had been created, and to help the members of the communities taking part to realise as fully as possible the potential for discovering, preserving and sharing their extraordinary history and heritage, rested ultimately on the skills, abilities, and dynamics of the project team.

 

Equally unequivocally, the project team's ability to thrive depended on the successful creation of a supporting environment in which each member of the project team and the team as a whole felt valued, secure, and free to innovate and to take risks and initiative, while also feeling contained and protected, with clear boundaries and clear lines of responsibility, guidance, and accountability. The solution of the project design was an integrated structure of groups and individuals - an armature of support - whose job was to protect, support, and challenge the project team in its work: each in its own way, each with its own set of formal and informal roles and responsibilities, and each crucially linked in clear lines of communication among each other, and especially with the project team.

 

2.4.1 Primary Stakeholders

The three primary components in this supportive armature - 'primary' in the sense of being prior to the project, independent of it, but consisting of founding stakeholders, to which the project and the team were directly accountable - were the Trustee Group; the Heritage Lottery Fund (and more especially its South West Region Team); and the Community groups the project had been set up to engage. Of the latter there were, among the five proposed project communities, only two established and formal groups, the Wennington Old Scholars Association, and the Caldecott Association, both of which had been instrumental in developing the concept of the Archive "Weekend" and the project, and both of which were membership organisations characterised by regular, formal communication with members, formal annual meetings, and funds. But though less established in a formal sense, the project team's accountability to the other communities which were represented in the archives and which were taking part in the project was no less necessary and real.

 

The support and understanding of these primary stakeholders were essential to the work of the project team, and not to be taken for granted. Any number of projects in the past have foundered not because of internal failures but because they lost the confidence, belief, and/or simple understanding and goodwill of a primary stakeholder, translated into loss of support and sometimes active hostility: The hospital command in the case of the first Northfield Experiment, for example; or Oxfordshire County Council in the case of the Q Camps Committee's lost (but nevertheless influential) experiment at the Bicester Workhouse (both, of course, during World War II). The key to ensuring mutual support - the project team's belief, trust and understanding of the stakeholders being at least as important to the success of the project as the other way around - lay in open, regular and meaningful communication; understanding of and mutual respect for one another's limitations, roles and responsibilities; and the reality of shared ownership and responsibility.

 

The extent to which the project design was realised in each of these areas is a separate question, and perhaps the subject for a separate report. That the project was as successful as it was suggests that they were good enough; and if so, it was not by accident. The story of the project is a history of communication - reports, phone calls, websites, newsletters, forums, emails, visits, letters, trainings, consultations, meetings; and especially meetings. But behind the flourishing of this activity are the built-in channels for communication and responsibility: the planned framework and structures of reporting, meeting, and formal accountability to the Primary Stakeholders and others.

 

a. The Heritage Lottery Fund

The Heritage Lottery Fund, as the channel and steward of public funds, rightly required quarterly reports on the progress of the project. The online reporting form required relatively little information about the project itself, however, and the project was therefore given permission by HLF's South West Regional Team to submit a more extensive, detailed and informative report on activities and issues. This created far more work for the project team, but produced a commensurately more useful and meaningful record, as well as giving the project team the confidence to know that if a question arose or a problem was encountered, its grant officer and others within HLF would have a better understanding of the context and background. In their turn, apart from being readily accessible by phone or email, HLF both monitored the project and demonstrated its sense of ownership through visits of members of the Regional Committee to take part in both the Open Day at the beginning of the project (Sam Hunt), and the Final Celebration Event at the end (Roger Goulding); and in Grant Officer Philippa Davies's taking part in a Project Management Group meeting, by invitation, in the middle of the project.

 

b. The Planned Environment Therapy Trust

The Trustee Group of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust had generated, midwifed, and given birth to "Therapeutic Living", and bore ultimate responsibility for its conduct, management and success. Meeting three times a year and comprised of individuals with considerable practical experience in the field of therapeutic environments, it worked in collaboration with the project director, the Project Management Group, and the Consultant, to plan activities from the very start to ensure the continuing benefits of the Project and its findings for the Project itself, for the Trust, and HLF. In order to ensure a good and accurate flow of communication, the Executive Director, Chair, and two Trustees joined the Project Management Group, a structure set up for the duration and shepherding of the project (see 2.4.2 below). The project director met with and reported regularly to the Executive Director and the Chair, and was invited to meetings of the Trust to give verbal reports and responses based on written reports. Richard Rollinson, as Chair and then as Transitional Project Director and then Executive Director (see 5.1), met regularly with the project director and individually with members of the project team. Trustee Linnet McMahon took part in each Archive "Weekend", during which she worked closely with the project team; and both Executive Director John Cross and Richard Rollinson took part in Archive "Weekends", and joined the project team in some of its meetings. Trustee Rosemary Lilley, who succeeded Richard Rollinson as Trust Chair, conducted a regular agenda-less meeting with the project team (to use as they wished or needed); and though the meetings themselves were confidential, the openness of communication and relationship they fostered between members of the project team and the Trustees were palpable. For its part, the project team prepared email and newsletter-style updates for Trustees and Project Management Group members throughout the project. Communication between the Trustee Group and the project team, formal and informal, was regular and built into the project structure.

 

c. The Community Groups

The Third Primary Stakeholder was in part a construct of the project design, and integral to it; but as a coherent single voice or body it did not exist. To the extent that it did exist prior to the inception of the project, it consisted in the first instance primarily (but not exclusively) of individual relationships with the project director in his role as archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust - developed over a number of years in responding to queries, recording oral histories, taking part in events, and acquiring archives; and then in the more developed engagement of members of the Wennington Old Scholars Association and the Caldecott Association; and then in the formalised and systematic deposit of archives by the latter, followed by work/study visits. Historically, this led, in the case of Wennington, to the invention of Archive "Weekends", which became a regular feature of the Archive and Study Centre's annual pre-project life; to the Archive and Study Centre taking on responsibility for hosting and managing the Old Scholars' Wennington School website; and to the archivist/project director reciprocating the commitment made by the Old Scholars Association to the Trust by taking part in the Association's AGM in Yorkshire. The relationship with the Caldecott Association developed in a similar manner, with the long-standing familiarity of Caldecott Association Committee-member and archivist Robert Clark (a familiarity with the Trust which pre-dated the archivist or the Archive and Study Centre), which led to a decision by the Caldecott Association to place its archives in the Archive and Study Centre, which led in turn to Archive "Weekends". A pre-project cross-fertilisation with the Wennington Old Scholars took place through the generosity and initiative of Wenningtonian Tom James, who came to one of the pre-project Caldecott Weekends in order to talk about the Wennington Weekends, and to explain what an Archive Weekend was and could be all about.

 

Prior to the "Therapeutic Living" project both Associations had appointed liaisons with the Archive and Study Centre, which fostered involvement and communication; but there was no formal mode of return reporting from the Archive, and no tool for communication between the Associations. Those remained as possible and desirable outcomes of the project itself. In terms of the other three communities which it was hoped would take part in the project, while there had been individual deposits of archives from some of their members, as well as some oral history and other forms of communication and mutual learning, the other variably dispersed and exploded communities had not coalesced into formal organisations. Red Hill School had a tradition of reunions, and a recent Red Hill website driven by the skills and enthusiasm of Red Hill old boy Terry Wilson. Former Shotton Hall and Westhope Manor members networked and retained individual connections among one another, and this was the case for Bodenham Manor as well. Social networking sites such as Friends Reunited were beginning to play a role in bringing members of communities together. For all practical purposes, however, at the point where the project design was being formulated, the Third Primary Stakeholder as a general prospect was an idea, which it was hoped the project design, and the working of the project itself, could in some way help to reify. Project activities - such as individual community websites, with private areas and forums for members of the community, and training in making it possible for Community members to take control of the websites for themselves (one of the least successful elements of the project) - were part of the schema, as were the project newsletter, and the main project website as general means of communication.

 

2.4.2 Secondary Stakeholders

Alongside the three primary stakeholders in the supporting armature were two further groups, which were created specifically for the purposes of the project, and for the lifetime of the project. They can be called Secondary Stakeholders only in the sense that they were created by the project, and would come to an end when it did; they were otherwise essential elements in the project design.

 

Although formally coming to an end with the end of the project, the Secondary Stakeholder groups were seen as an opportunity to utilise the short-term resources of the project to reach out into the wider horizon of potential stakeholders, and to develop relationships which could potentially endure and become among the long-term benefits generated by the project for the Trust and for the wider public.

 

a. The Project Management Group

Of the two new groups, the Project Management Group had a direct responsibility for the course of the project. Defined in the project design as functioning "as a subcommittee of the Trust to act as a supportive 'sounding board'/critical friend/advisory and guiding panel for the project team," the Project Management Group was composed of Trustees, with a wide range of experience with therapeutic environments, and co-opted members, who fell broadly into two groups, as described below. Scheduled to meet four times during the 18 months of the main body of the project - once at the beginning, once at the end, and twice in the middle, or effectively every six months -, in the event it met seven times, or approximately once every three months. It received detailed reports from the project team, who (as discussed in 5.2) were also invited to take part in meetings.

 

Of the two broad groups of co-opted members, one consisted of people with a clear interest in the project and its aims, but who had not themselves lived and/or worked in residential therapeutic environments for children. The co-opted members in this group included Stephen Steinhaus, the Assistant Principal at Trinity Catholic School in Leamington Spa, who had helped to formulate the crucial performance element in the project design, and was the firm centre of the creative fermentation among students and staff taking part in the project at the school; Eleanor Marks, a locally-based ILEX qualified Legal Executive, specialising in family and child care matters, with extensive legal experience on both sides of children taken or being taken into care; and Dr. Sîan Roberts, Head of Collections Development at Birmingham Archives and Heritage, with many interests in the field, including directing the HLF-supported Birmingham Children's Home Oral History Project, documenting the history of past Children’s Homes administered by Birmingham City Council. Running from 2009-2010, this overlapped with the "Therapeutic Living" project, and gave opportunities for collaboration.

 

The other group of co-optees included two educationalists; a professional librarian/ information management theorist, practitioner and author; and a residential social worker, each of whom was also, or had been, a member of a therapeutic community for children: Ralph Gee was part of the original Working Group, and a former Red Hill School child whose career as a librarian and early involvement with computers led to a number of influential books; Robert Clark was an artist and teacher, who had been a child at the Caldecott Community and was a member of the Caldecott Association Committee, acting as archivist for the Association and liaison with the Trust; Peter Cottle was a former Bodenham Manor boy, bridging the David Wills and post-David Wills eras, becoming a teacher, trainer and examiner; John Diamond - uniquely in this group a member of staff rather than a former child - had been a residential worker at the Cotswold Community, joining the Project Management Group as the CEO of the Mulberry Bush School.

 

b. The Assessment, Training and Advisory Panel

The final group in the assembled armature included in its make up members of the Project Management Group, giving it an interlocking overlap with other groups in the supporting structure, and contributing to the built-in redundancy in monitoring and feedback which was written closely into the project design. However, flexibility in the definition of the Assessment, Training and Advisory Panel gave the project and the project team considerable freedom to reach out to bring a wide range of outside individuals and experience into the work and orbit of the project: In theory, anyone who might have an interest in the aims, subject and practice of the project was a potential member of the Panel, and a potential participant in the Assessment, Training and Advisory Events which were the principal tool of Panel involvement. In the event (not including participating Project Management Group members and volunteers), participants' expertise included architecture, archaeology, archives, being in care and working with care leavers, community archives, history, oral history, psychotherapy, residential work, secretarial services and transcription, social services administration, special education, and research in special education.

 

The principal tools for participation were the Assessment, Training and Advisory Events, which were day-long occasions punctuating the project at regular intervals in order to give project team members a chance to stop, reflect, discuss, and share issues and discoveries with interested people from outside, and with volunteers; and for participants from outside the project team to take part, observe, share their own knowledge and expertise, and potentially influence the course and practice of the project. The name, "Assessment, Training, and Advisory", accurately reflected the purpose, with the assessment element - feedback, suggestions and observations from participants - forming part of the project's quality control mechanism.

 

The Events were also designed as a key means for sharing the heritage with a wider public, by definition those with specialist interest, and for engaging the project in a flow of communication with the wider heritage. Questions that might be asked by an historian of education listening to the project's discoveries, for example, could become part of subsequent oral history interviews. Discoveries by the archivist of previously unknown events and information could make their way back through the historian into wider academic discussions. Project approaches to oral history and archives could be challenged and improved, and could challenge in return. Questions and insights from psychiatrists could enliven an understanding of why certain individuals behaved the way they did, and the historical foundations of certain psychiatric approaches and practices could be illuminated and even questioned. Difficult issues encountered during the project could be aired, and considered. In the process the progress and standards of the project would not only be monitored, but project team members and participating volunteers would gain invaluable training, and the project would gain the benefit of the injection of many and varied perspectives with associated advice.

 

The Assessment, Training and Advisory Panel was very different from the other groups in the supporting framework, not least in the sense that it was originally expected to use Internet facilities to take its shape, and to enable it to extend its membership well beyond the geographical limitations imposed on the other groups. In practice the Panel was more casual and occasional than originally planned, and did not coalesce as expected: The attempt to create a virtual space where members of the Panel could interact and develop a group identity, as well as a group dialogue, foundered because several key members found it difficult to engage in groups electronically. That in turn made one of the original intentions for the Panel - to engage electronically with the project team in an active dialogue on discoveries and issues, generating themes and questions which they specifically wanted to be addressed, and around which they wanted Assessment, Training and Advisory Events to be organised - a real as well as virtual impossibility. In practice this meant that the burden of responsibility for determining themes, developing structures, and inviting external participants for ATA Events fell almost entirely on members of the project team rather than emerging through the group processes of an online discussion group, as originally intended. This, in turn, translated into time, tested the adaptability and flexibility of the project design, and showed the resilience, versatility and resourcefulness of the project team.

 

In an ideal re-running of the project, the technical difficulties and the reluctances which hindered the full formation of an active Panel identity and discussion would be something to address as a matter of priority, because the creativity of the Assessment, Training and Advisory Panel in its original conception within the project design lay in both the professional and personal diversity it allowed, and in the cross-disciplinary convergence of interests and concern which tends to emerge in purposeful and focused dialogue, and which becomes such a fertile ground for discovery and innovation. Diversity and convergence were indeed achieved, but at greater expense to the project team than anticipated, and not to the extent that is possible; and with training for potential members of the Panel built into the budget along with some technical upgrading, the potential for the ATA Panel could have been more fully realised.

2.4.3 Consultant

As part of the framework of support - as a further fail-safe mechanism in relation to communication, and as another layer of monitoring, feedback and advice - the design built into the project an outside Consultant to bridge between Trustees, Project Management Group and the project team. Patrick Webb OBE, with experience of managing major projects and fund-raising, and with a background in special education, attended Project Management Group meetings, and met regularly with the Executive Director, the Chair, and the members of the project team throughout the project, completing the armature of in-built support and communication through which the project team was supported, challenged, and fed, but not stifled.