cropped IMG 1293

2.8 Selecting Project Communities and Recruiting Community Participants

 

2.8.1 Focal Communities

Time and budget dictated that five communities would be invited to take part in the project (see 2.7.1.b above). Two of those communities were effectively already involved, through their respective associations: Wennington School through the Wennington Old Scholars Association, and the Caldecott Community through the Caldecott Association, both as primary stakeholders. The aims and objectives of the project dictated that the other three would be drawn from the 28 remaining schools and communities which had a significant archival and/or oral history presence in the Archive.

 

Among the pre-requisites in choosing among these 28 was that the communities should have flourished within the loose time-frame of about 1930 to about 1980. 1980 was a notional cut-off point because of significant changes that came in during the 1980s and after in terms of legislation, funding, practice and expectations: Many of the first generation of pioneering figures had gone or were retiring, and the world of residential therapeutic child care which was emerging was meaningfully and significantly different from that which had gone before. The past was a different country, the history and heritage of which were in danger of being lost and needed to be recorded.

 

The lower cut-off point of 1930 derived from the expectation that the possibility for oral history and engagement with the archives would diminish rapidly before that, and from the history of the heritage as understood, as noted in 1.3 above: "During the 1920s and 1930s the way that traumatised and abused children were viewed began to change..."

 

A further pre-requisite was that the communities should have been closed, limiting the number of variables and relationships the project would need to handle. Insofar as possible the five communities should also be very different from one another, giving a diverse - if not random or representative - sample of the heritage.

 

As a step into the unknown, in which there was no precedent for Archive "Weekends" or anything of their kind with any but the two stakeholder communities, there was also a practical, pragmatic element. Asking people to take an immense risk with the project - coming to an unknown place, not knowing in advance who else from their community might be there (quite rightly frightening in itself for some people), not really knowing what they would be doing, what the accommodation was like, what the food was like, what the project team was like, what the Planned Environment Therapy Trust was like and was really after, and so on - verged on the unreasonable. Website and other information might mitigate that unreasonableness, but only to a point. To be reasonable, there needed to be an anchor of trust; and that anchor of trust needed to be someone from their community in whom they had confidence and who already knew the Trust, the Archive and Study Centre, and preferably something of the project as well; or they had to have had a direct experience of their own, which gave them sufficient confidence to take the leap and to take part. The final list was decided on the number and nature of contacts the Archive and Study Centre already had with members of different communities: Some had been interviewed, some had visited, some had written in support of the project, some had been in email contact over a series of years. Those communities which were focused on to become part of the project, were those which had met the other pre-requisites, and where there then seemed at least some likelihood that the project could attract four to six community members to at least one Archive "Weekend", the central tool of the project.

 

2.8.2 Opportune Communities

Having made a best-guess selection of five focal communities, the communities the project would build its work around - Bodenham Manor School, the Caldecott Community, Red Hill School, Shotton Hall, and Wennington School, each very different in its own way - the project gave itself the flexibility to respond to other opportunities as they might arise. The first interview for the project, for example, was with Emma Griffiths, who was then a member of staff at the Cotswold Community; she saw the advertisements for the new staff positions, visited and recorded an interview, and became a volunteer who then did two recordings herself related to the Cotswold Community (Emma's experience became the inspiration for the Alcester Grammar School students' production of "Other People's Children": see 4.11.1 below). A former child at Hartfield House contacted the project for information on the consultant psychiatrist for Hartfield, the late Josephine Lomax-Simpson, after which he visited the Archive and Study Centre and recorded an interview. Although passage of time alone made it seem very unlikely that a group of former children and staff could be brought together for an Archive "Weekend" for Barns School in Scotland (1940-1953), both staff member Edward Thomas and former child Myles Rafferty had been in regular and long-standing contact. As David Wills was the founding warden for both Barns and focal community Bodenham Manor, and as Barns was effectively a precursor to Bodenham (David Wills had been recruited to establish Bodenham following a visit from Frank Mathews and Hilda Rees of the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children, which set up Bodenham), the opportunity was taken for a micro-project on Barns. Aston House was used by the Birmingham Society, and became part of the project following contact from Janet Adetunji, whose aunts lived at Aston House and carried out therapeutic fostering for the Society: With Bodenham as the spur, a micro-project also built up around the work of the Birmingham Society as such.

 

Very different was a day Archive "Weekend" with the Mulberry Bush School, which arose from the growing relationship between the Trust and the Mulberry Bush through the agency of the project, as discussed below (Section 8.3.1), and from an interest in exploring the need which some participants in earlier "Weekends" had expressed for an event in which former staff members could come together without former children, to interact and to discuss issues specifically related to their experience. Many years after having left a place, indeed, many years after a place had closed, at least some former staff members continued to carry a duty of care, and relationships which continued to be meaningful both for themselves and for former children, which made it difficult to share and explore staff-centred questions and issues within general Archive "Weekends". There were additional complexities for members of staff who were still very much involved in the day to day life and work of a therapeutic environment, as reflected in the "Weekend" honed to a single day. The Mulberry Bush Archive "Weekend" was therefore a pilot within a pilot.

 

2.8.3 Community Participants

The aim of the Trust was 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. Almost counter-intuitive for someone coming into the project with expectations based on conventional work and experience in the wider national heritage was the fact that, as part of the project design, community participants were not recruited by an active public campaign utilising all the resources of the Internet and social networking sites, and conventional media. The logic became clearer over time and from experience, but the question animated early project team discussions:

 

      • We were strangers in this world. It was not our heritage - in many cases a very protected heritage (and rightly so) -, and it was not our place to take possession of it, or to appear to lay a claim to it through a general public campaign. We were at best guests, paradoxically inviting people to their own party, and then inviting ourselves to join it. As any colonialist or anthropological fieldworker knows, it is a delicate situation, where it is best to know one's starting point as an incomer. The English Dialect Survey and others had shown that a resolution of the paradox was to genuinely put oneself at the disposal of members of the community, to put ones' self at their service.

 

      • A public campaign, by its nature, raised the possibility of a high level of interest, or at least curiosity. Leaving aside the nature of this curiosity, and its implications, at least three counter-indications followed:
        • As project team members discovered, putting ones' self at the service of others over the 2 1/2 or more days of an Archive "Weekend" (which were shortened from an original full three days precisely because of this) is emotionally and physically draining. The more people who take part, and the more complex and demanding the dynamics become, the more draining it becomes; and the greater the likelihood of mistakes and of getting things wrong.
        • The project budget assumed a maximum of eight people at each "Weekend", traveling off-peak return by train from the fare-equivalent of Manchester or London. The more people attending a "Weekend", and the higher their travel costs (coming long distances by car, for example; defined as anything beyond an 82 mile radius from Toddington), the more stress would be placed on the budget.
        • Having invited Community members to their party, you could not then say "No, I'm sorry, you can't come" without damage to the project, and to the vulnerable foundations of relationship, trust, and belief on which the potential for success of the project depended. Given what was said in the building blocks of the project design - that the people concerned "retain a part of themselves which does not belong to the mainstream community around them, or have a safe and valued place in the wider heritage" - it would be a profound and destructive contradiction to raise interest and expectation and then to demonstrate their "outsideness" by excluding them.

 

      • The communities concerned were and are genuine communities. They were and are dynamic systems, with their own layers and layers of complexities. Within some of these original communities, as members themselves explained, there had been some very dangerous people, who they would not wish to encounter again. Furthermore, as in many families and communities, there were people who would refuse to come to an event if they knew that another specific individual would be there, or alternatively would come fused for conflict. There were abundances of complexities; which were best understood, and negotiated, by members of the communities themselves. They were the guides; the project team were the bearers.

 

The starting point for asking people to take part in Archive "Weekends" was therefore the anchors, who in some way already knew the Archive and Study Centre, and to some extent the project. In effect, following the request/invitation from the project team, each community began to organise itself, through word of mouth and networking, albeit largely in reference to and in association with the project team. For each community the process was different, reflecting the nature of the community (both in the past and in the present), and the anchoring individual's relationship to it - their networks, and their place and roles within those networks -, as well as their relationship with the project and the project team. As awareness and relationships with the project team developed through the course of the project, so did the processes. At best, community members (who didn't already do so) began to feel at home, and to take initiatives, organising the project team and their visits to the Archive themselves, in and outside of Archive "Weekends".