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4.2 Assessment, Training and Advisory Events

 

Assessment, Training and Advisory Events were designed to bring together project staff, volunteers, and members of the Project Advisory Panel, to explore specific issues, themes, practice and process emerging from the project, to ensure a steady flow of information and insight into and out of the project, to assess standards and progress, and to feedback and advise on future direction and development.

 

4.2.1 "Place, Participation and Landscape": May 18, 2010

One of the themes to emerge during the course of the project was the central role that the buildings and grounds, and doing and making played in the lives of the students for many of the communities. Wennington School in particular took an approach to involving the students in every aspect of building and maintenance which led to the idea of scheduling the first Assessment, Training and Advisory (ATA) Event of the project during the first Wennington Archive "Weekend". Entitled "Place, Participation and Landscape," two members of the ATA Panel took part: Dr. Rosie Parnell, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Sheffield, and a board member of the University's interdisciplinary research Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, who had a special interest in involving people in the design and use of their environment; and Dr. Clare Hickman of the University of Bristol's Historic Gardens of England project, who had completed her PhD on "The Design and Use of Landscapes in England for Therapeutic Purposes Since 1800", and at the time was working with the University of Birmingham's History of Medicine Unit, the University of Warwick's Centre for the History of Medicine, and the IHWTE (see 2.7.12) on a joint bid to the Wellcome Trust for a programme grant on the history of therapeutic environments.

 

Partly with that latter project in mind, Dr. Hickman wrote afterward that she "found the day incredibly interesting. It has highlighted some of the areas that I may be able to investigate in the future, and also highlighted some of the problems that will need to be addressed."

 

The participants included a local 6th form student preparing to study architecture, Wennington Old Scholars, and members of the project team, sitting in a large circle with Dr. Parnell and Dr. Hickman, whose questions and interests generated an event combining remembering and reminiscence. The Wenningtonians could not only talk about participatory involvement in building, design and maintenance while children at the school, but could illustrate and demonstrate the consequences of this early experience in the outcomes and development in their own lives. Significant informal work went on during lunch, and again after the formal afternoon session.

 

At the end of the event Dr. Parnell asked to take a number of digitised Wennington photographs with her, and wrote:

 

It was a pleasure to meet the Wenningtonians and to take part in such an engaging and refreshing discussion with them. From a research perspective, their many recollections of constructing elements of their own school - from sewage systems to theatre spaces - provide a unique and valuable contribution to a body of work exploring the engagement of school students in the school design process. ... I am sure that future MA students - both designers and educators - will learn a great deal from and be inspired by the tales from Wennington.

 

4.2.2 Oral History: November 5, 2010

The second ATA Event went to the core of the project and focused on the theme of oral history. The Advisory Panel members taking part were Barbara Gibson, an independent oral historian who herself grew up in care, was the author of the oral history-based book 'Male Order: Life Stories from Boys Who Sell Sex', and a member of the British Library National Life Stories project on HIV/AIDS Testimonies; Prof. Martin Parsons, Director of the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading, with its intensive and extensive oral history collecting; and Gudrun Limbrick, project oral historian for Birmingham Archive's HLF-supported "Birmingham Children's Home oral history project".

 

The "Therapeutic Living" team worked closely with the Birmingham project (4.0.8), and an aim of the day was to celebrate the project, which was to conclude in December, and to learn from Birmingham's experience. Three volunteers from an oral history training on the previous day were joined by Trustee and project volunteer Linnet McMahon, the ATA Panelists, and the four members of the project team for an in-depth and wide-ranging discussion of oral history and its processes as such, and the specific legal, ethical, moral, theoretical, personal and social issues that arise for oral historians and interviewees working in areas of the heritage which, by definition, include traumatic experience, deprivation, and neglect. The project design for "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children" was queried, explained, and explored. Barbara Gibson wrote afterwards "I really enjoyed my day with you all...It was good to meet some of the team and I am amazed at how much you have achieved in such a short period of time." Martin Parsons reflected that it was "a successful day with plenty to think about."

 

4.2.3 "Themes": December 4, 2010

The third ATA Event was held at the halfway point of the project and was focused at the request of Project Management Group Chair Richard Rollinson - who was about to stand down as a Trustee and Chair of P.E.T.T. to begin his journey to become Executive Director (see 5.1) - on the theme of "Themes": Narrative themes which were emerging from the archives and oral history; practical and theoretical themes which were emerging in and about the work of the project as such; themes emerging about the P.E.T.T. and its future roles and possibilities; and themes which might influence the development and improvement of therapeutic theory and practice.

 

Advisory Panel members taking part were Cynthia Brown, historian and oral historian; Dr. Clare Hickman, Research Assistant at Bristol University; Dr. Rosie Parnell, lecturer in architecture at the University of Sheffield, and member of the University's Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth; and Dr. Christopher Reeves, retired Child Psychotherapist, former Director of the Mulberry Bush School and then Director of the Squiggle Foundation. Project Management Group members taking part were John Diamond, CEO of the Mulberry Bush School; John Cross, Executive Director of P.E.T.T.; Rosemary Lilley, P.E.T.T. Trustee; Dr. Linnet McMahon, P.E.T.T. Trustee; and Richard Rollinson. For the first time - an indication of the extent to which the project had successfully become integrated into the life and work of the Trust - P.E.T.T. team members Joanna Jansen, Conference and Accommodation Co-ordinator, and Maureen Ward, Administrator and Trust Secretary also took part. Originally residential and intended to cover two days, the sudden and heavy snowfall which subsequently closed local roads restricted it to one very full and productive day.

 

4.2.4 Project Review: May 19, 2011

The fourth ATA Event took place during the second Wennington Archive "Weekend", to take advantage of the expertise and generosity of the Wenningtonians, who had agreed to share the day with the Board of the Child Care History Network. The Board met as a Board in the morning, and then joined Wenningtonians, Trustees and members of the project team in an ATA Event in the afternoon.

 

Each of the six participating Wenningtonians had known the Archive and Study Centre for a number of years prior to the Project, and had helped to invent and had taken part in pre-Project Archive "Weekends" from which the current series had sprung. They had seen the project proposal and application process develop, and had taken part both in the first project Archive "Weekend"; and several had taken part in other project events, such as the Open Day and the Performance Archive "Weekend". This range of experiences and involvements gave the Wenningtonians a unique set of perspectives on the project and its realisation which the project team was anxious to exploit, through the Wenningtonians' reflections and critique.

 

For David Lane, Darren Coyne and Charles Sharpe of the CCHN Board, the meeting at Toddington gave them their first opportunity to encounter the project in vivo, and to question Wenningtonians and the project team from their professional and personal perspectives, including social work practice, administration and consultancy; being-in-care and advocacy, education and networking on behalf of children and former children in care; and residential work and therapy. Two other Board Members, Rosemary Lilley and John Cross, had an established and intimate knowledge of the project, as did Project Management Group Chair Richard Rollinson and Trustee Linnet McMahon, who also took part.

 

The diversity of experience and interests, in this instance, took on a life of its own, rapidly departing from the initial focus on the Wenningtonians's specific observations, to become a lively and useful, wide-ranging discussion, making new connections, and stimulating conversation which went well beyond the close, and continued on into cars driving away to make train times at the station. The comment of one of the Wenningtonians in an email afterwards was characteristically direct and productive: "Thursday afternoons meeting was a little confused and went off the original plan. However a lot of interest came from it with the ingredients for further explorations."

 

4.2.5 Current Practice and the relevance of the project: July 25, 2011

In a March 2011 training session which was effectively an in-house ATA Event, Project Management Group Chair Richard Rollinson had conducted a training and discussion for the whole of the P.E.T.T. team on the history and nature of therapeutic communities, and on the distinctive features of therapeutic communities and therapeutic environments, especially those for children. A question for the project team from the beginning was how the project itself, and the work they were doing, was relevant to the wider world of child care practice, and how the project might make a contribution to it.

 

These questions were the motivation for bringing Prof. Paul Cooper and Dr. Robert Grandin to the Trust as the centre points for an ATA Event on July 25, 2011. Prof. Cooper of the School of Education at Leicester University and Dr. Grandin of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia were working together on a project funded by the European Union and the Australian Academy of Science, called "Positive Mental Health in Schools". Prof. Cooper felt it would be helpful for Dr. Grandin to meet and talk with people involved in work with children and young people with mental health and related issues, before returning to Australia. Those working outside of mainstream schools were of particular interest to their project, as were the history and practice of planned environment therapy/therapeutic community. The "Therapeutic Living" project team felt it was a good opportunity to learn more about current practice and conditions, to share the work of the project, and to gather feedback from people currently involved in the field.

 

With the help of Jonathan Stanley, formerly Manager of NCERCC (National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care) and now policy and practice consultant, Independent Children’s Homes Association, several professionals currently involved in the field were invited. At the last moment Jonathan himself was unable to come, but Advisory Panel member Clare Smallwood, an independent clinical and organisational consultant, with considerable experience in residential therapeutic work and fostering; Rachel Allan, Mental Health and Special Educational Needs Resource Developer working for the National Association of Special Schools and the University of Northampton in a knowledge transfer partnership; and Maggie Swarbrick, a teacher on a specialised fostering programme joined the project team, Executive Director John Cross, and Prof. Cooper and Dr. Grandin.

 

It was a markedly different ATA, focusing on current practice and need from a number of different angles. Some key issues were identified by the group: the need to cater for the individual child, but within a 'facilitating' environment (that is to say, a planned environment), the need for diversity of provision, and the need for greater support for staff. The project team found itself able to draw on the experiences of the project and to relate those to current concerns, giving an exciting opportunity to share information and explore what a historical perspective might bring to current practice and debate.

 

The more recent swing in public policy away from residential care towards 'family units' and fostering was raised and, with this in mind, the group explored how elements of therapeutic practice and methods, raised in current practice and from oral histories and successful past practice as identified by former children and staff, might be transferred to the mainstream. The idea of 'education' as opposed to 'schooling' was cited as imperative to ways of thinking and working, the residential therapeutic environment placing far more emphasis on the idea of general 'education' and the more general education of social, community living. The group discussed ways to raise awareness of certain therapeutic themes and modes across a wide sector to include teachers, social workers, foster carers as well as to policy makers.

 

Dr. Grandin wrote afterwards: "Your work has inspired me to produce the story of my first school and I may call on you for advice about the process."

 

4.2.6 Transcribing: August 4, 2011

The Assessment, Training and Advisory Event on Thursday 4th August 2011, focused on transcription. The event was designed as an opportunity to discuss the project's policy, practice and procedures with regard to transcripts and transcription, following much debate over the past year within the project team. It also gave an opportunity to bring together project transcriptionists, volunteers and other interested parties to meet one another, and together help the project team to explore some of the issues generated by the project.

 

Everyone had been asked to complete, prior to the event, an exercise, transcribing the same eight minute selection from a project life-story recording, and to bring it with them on the day to prompt discussion. Going through the exercise together, listening to the recording and reading the different transcriptions, it became obvious that many differences, some substantial, can emerge even when reproducing the same brief recording. Apart from some spelling errors and elements that had been transposed, the exercise also highlighted the way that the same text can physically be presented differently.

 

For this project and for the Archive and the Trust generally, the verbatim transcript acts not simply as a transcription of a recording but as a gateway to further communication and work with participants. An accurate-as-possible transcript, checked and given 'informed consent' by the interviewee, then becomes part of the archive and can be used, depending on the interviewee's wishes, on the website, for plays and productions, in publications, talks, lectures and so on. Even without consent, the interview can be used by the interviewer to remind him or herself of certain things; as a source of further questions for the interviewee or others; and can feed into wider knowledge and understanding, and debate, without violating copyright or confidentiality.

 

The question of consent was a key one. Many organisations would not record or keep recordings where copyright had not been transferred to them from the interviewee, or where permission to give access and to use the recording in some way had not been given. Ultimately, of course, all recordings would come out of copyright and other restrictions, and while this would be well outside the lifetimes of anyone currently involved, the project's view was that the recordings should still be made and saved.

 

Even without consent, much of value can have been gained for the project and for the interviewee themselves through the doing of the interview. While the project did not set out to be 'therapeutic', the act of telling someone your life story can be just that, and for some people, having an opportunity to give an interview and have someone 'just listen' is enough. Motivations is a whole other subject; but it is important to note that there are consequences, in terms of resources and outcomes. No one wishing to record an oral history for the project would be turned away, or their recording not transcribed, just because the interviewee might not consent to it being used.

 

One ATA participant said she had wondered beforehand how a group could spend a whole day talking about transcripts. Transcription having occupied many hours of project team discussion over the course of the year, it proved an extremely engaging and interesting day, with each person bringing a unique contribution to the discussion. The project oral historian reflected afterwards: "I always feel so inspired after our ATAs – and feel that having the chance to reflect, argue and discuss our practice altogether in a friendly and non-judgmental environment is a real innovation of this project."

 

4.2.7 "Archives, Access and Dissemination": September 5, 2011

One of the core concerns from the outset of the project was 'access': The grant application form alone (never mind the Activity Plan and the rest of the 54 supporting documents) used the word "access" 35 times in various forms ('access', 'accessible'. 'accessibility'). It used the word "share" another 25. Access, in terms of navigating the legal and ethical complexities around making client and administrative files related to them available to former children and staff, with the intention of making as much available as possible, was at the heart of the project. So was dissemination, in terms of sharing as much as was legally, ethically and technically possible, with special reference to the Internet. The day was designed to report and help to assess where the project was, and where it could and/or ought to be heading.

 

The day fell into three parts. In the first, the project director discussed what the project had and had not done and achieved in terms of cataloguing, digitisation, publication, training and access, indicating why decisions had been made, and some of the costs, benefits and consequences. Data Protection, access, and confidentiality are key issues for a heritage and history project which is firmly centred on children in care, their families, and the people who looked after them; there are paradoxes and contradictions built into the system which it was important to explore and make clear as far as possible.

 

In the second, Darren Coyne of the Care Leavers' Association opened a discussion based on what others do, what could and should be done, and what the legal situation is for care leavers seeking their files. Darren takes the lead role for the CLA in their 'It's Our History, It's Our Right: Reclaiming Our Past' campaign, through which the CLA aims to promote awareness of care leavers' rights to access their files, promote awareness of the importance of these personal records to care leavers, and promote best practice on accessing these vital documents amongst professionals working in this area.

 

In the third and final section Elaine Davis, webmaster and committee member of the Community Archives and Heritage Group, which is now a special interest group of the Archives and Records Association, spoke about CAHG and its work and issues around connecting with others, disseminating archives and information, the role of the Internet, and building communities through archives and oral history.

 

Others taking part in the event were psychotherapist and Director of the Squiggle Foundation Dr. Christopher Reeves, Wenningtonian Tom James, Caldecott Association archivist Robert Clark, Trustee Dr. Linnet McMahon, and Julie Courtenay, Collections Team Leader for Gloucestershire Archives.

 

Numerous issues were discussed. The former children cited an issue that has arisen starkly throughout the project, in that archivists and even some researchers can see their unredacted files, while they themselves often can't: 'others know more about you than you.' Redaction - removal of 'sensitive' information from files in response to legislation and guidance before making them available - was a difficult area, but it was agreed that subjective judgement was preferable to automatic, electronic ones, and the consequent human interaction within the archive was felt to be of benefit to the Archive. It is not always possible, but when a relationship has been built between archivist and 'interested party', a supportive relationship can be established. Creating protocols for file access was identified as key, with an ongoing duty of care beyond access built into it.

 

The ownership of donated records was also discussed, one participant noting that there may be a fear of losing ownership once an item or collection has been deposited. Does the personal and engaged approach favoured by the Archive help to counteract this?

 

Julie Courtenay of Gloucestershire Archives wrote afterwards:

 

I found it extremely thought-provoking and worthwhile. As a professional archivist working within a local government archives service, I am aware of some of the barriers to access that people face when they try to find some of their own life stories. However, having taken part in yesterday's discussions with people who have direct experience of these obstacles, I came away determined to look at how we can improve access to such information here at Gloucestershire County Council.

 

A tendency towards self-criticism evident in the project presentation drew this response from Elaine Davis:

 

...it was obvious from our quick look into your store room that much has been done to ensure preservation and it would seem that retrieval of any item was not too difficult a process. Having seen how some groups keep their information and also knowing how the archive at the NMR was organised I think that this is something that you have generally cracked. The fact that you have then added extra value and understanding to that archive through people such as Tom is wonderful and something that is strived for by many but rarely achieved!

 

You have also thought long and hard about dissemination and have already used the archive with schools and youth groups to begin to change perceptions. Certainly my assumptions were challenged! I had thought that the 'children's' experience would be very negative but Tom and Robert had such positive memories of both Caldecott and Wennington. I do hope that you continue to expand on this because I think this is so important. With my teacher head on I would be interested in any resources you have or do produce.

 

4.2.8 "Looking Back, Looking Forward": October 19, 2011

Tied in with the final Project Management Group meeting of the project in the morning, this event allowed the project team to stop, take breath, and reflect with others on the project's achievements, strengths, weaknesses and generally any issues and questions that had arisen or lessons that had been learned. There was a great sense of moving forward, particularly following the final celebration event on 30th September, and the project team noted the strange sense that the project was gathering momentum rather 'winding-down' as it neared completion. With new 6-month contracts for what been the project team, the ATA discussed at length directions which the Trust might now take, and elements of the project which the Trust might develop to best use their skills, talents and experience to ensure the sustainability of their positions and contributions over the long term.

 

The group discussed the importance of the relationships that have been built throughout the project and its activities, and stressed the need for these to be sustained, probably primarily though ongoing 'gatherings' built on the Archive "Weekend" model, and other community or activity-centred events. Working with the oral histories and archives collected over the course of the project would be a priority for short term work, increasing accessibility and visibility through different media, presentations and conferences. Finding new ways to 'take the work out' were discussed, as well as ways to make the P.E.T.T. base at Toddington more reflective of the work it does and the history and heritage it holds, in terms of images, exhibitions, even the naming of rooms and spaces.

 

The importance of the past was acknowledged, with the project part of the continuum but also acknowledged as part of the Trust's driving force for change. The strengthening of the whole P.E.T.T. team during the past eighteen months and the sense of community amongst the whole Trust team was noted to be an important outcome of the project, as were the networks developed through the Project Management Group and ATA events. The Project Management Group in their supporting and guiding role gave the chance for the team to reflect, account and discuss the project throughout, and this opportunity allowed more direct involvement with more people as well as serving to keep the team on track. To build on this, it was suggested that the Group evolve into a 'Development Advisory Group' to advise and assist the Trust as it moved forward. In terms of the ATA Events, their capacity to serve as open forums for interested individuals might be developed into 'working groups', extended and opened out to more participants along a broader range of themes.

 

The opportunity for P.E.T.T. to build on its relationship with the Mulberry Bush School was explored and several other interested communities have expressed an interest in the Archive "Weekend" model. The enhanced capacity of the Trust to hold trainings, conferences and other events both in house and catering for external organisations had been a key contribution of the project and in terms of financial stability as well as increasing the visibility of the Trust, this aspect of the work should be a priority for further development.

 

Project Management Group Chair and Executive Director Richard Rollinson chaired the discussion. P.E.T.T. Chair Rosemary Lilley, and former Executive Director John Cross took part, as did Project Management Group members Robert Clark and John Diamond. The full team available was present for this last ATA Event, as they had been for the "Themes" ATA in December: Maureen Ward and Joanna Jansen, as well as Craig Fees, Gemma Geldart and Chris Long.