4.8 Visits by Former Children to a Current Community
Mulberry Bush School, June 17th, 2011
The Mulberry Bush School at Standlake in Oxfordshire is one of the oldest continuously surviving therapeutic communities for children, and one of the leading international centres of its kind today. On June 17th it held an Open Day for 17 people, to which five Community member participants in the Project were invited. There were introductions and talks, a tour of the school led by some of the Mulberry Bush children themselves, lunch, a film, and discussion, in which the Community members, representing Bodenham Manor, the Caldecott Community, the Mulberry Bush itself, Red Hill and Wennington, took a lively part. The former Mulberry Bush child had an individual tour with CEO John Diamond, and the five Community members recorded their own discussion about the experience and the reflections it raised with project oral historian Gemma Geldart afterwards. In her report she wrote: "Arrived at the Mulberry Bush just before 3pm and was ushered upstairs into the final meeting John Diamond was leading. 'Our' group was dominating the conversation and the theme seemed to be the future – how do we get more of these places? Who can we lobby? How much cost is involved?..."
The Community members' responses to the visit were positive. One who had been at the Performance meeting at Trinity Catholic School the day before wrote that "It was an even more remarkable day than Trinity." Another called it "an inspiring day"; and, reflecting on the non-Community members taking part with them, said that "Even though the group were mainly educational professionals we seemed to get along fine with lots of interacting during our lovely lunch." She also commented:
...even though the children at the Mulberry Bush seemed infinitely more troubled than the children encountered by our respective schools in our time. The energy, expertise, and enthusiasm is there to meet the current needs of today's children. The key is to broaden the awareness that "it is worth it" for all of us longer term.
For another, the visit provoked reflection on his own self and experience:
I left with a number of strong imprints. Clearly, even with the very limited contact/observation we had of the children, we were able to see 'disturbed' at first hand. This evoked the response in me - was I like that? Throughout all my adult life (after I became 'normal') I lost touch with maladjustment so I had peculiarly mixed feelings of deja-vu and that of an observer looking back at shades of myself. A very strange experience. I was struck, again, by the surfeit of riches in the establishment - very comfortable, warm, buildings, toys everywhere and lots of staff. I guess I show my age: 'in my day' we had very little given to us - or provided by the establishment - so the things we did have, things that we had made for ourselves assumed a very close relationship to us - they were 'ours', ours to keep, share or give away. Having, it seems, everything provided (to my mind) diminishes ... something. I suppose this is merely a characteristic of the early 21st Century, but looking back, striving to achieve something gave a shape and focus to the day, week, month which, I think, helped to cement the community that was the RHS [Red Hill School] that I knew.
In her report, project oral historian Gemma Geldart spoke of "a renewed optimism from the group" one of the members "telling me he felt he'd missed his life's vocation and should have been working at the Bush." Another was " 'greatly reassured that at least there is a small nucleus of special establishments like this still surviving, when a few months ago I'd have said that, because it was my belief, that they'd all gone - it was all history and it was only history now, so the fact that some of it is going on is very heartening'." Another said:
"I came into this whole thing somewhat in despair from thinking about the ethic and culture of Red Hill and comparing it with, you know, the diktat of health and safety, the diktat of political correctness and not touching children and all that whole scene of thinking: well it's impossible that the Red Hill ethic can survive. And the message that I take away from today is it is really encouraging to see exactly that same thing existing here and that there's a real will, leadership from the top of this company, this organisation ...The result is that a number of very disturbed children will be helped to overcome their disability or dis-functionality or whatever."
In her report the project oral historian concluded that "A good time had by all," and closed with a quote from one of the members: "It was an excellent, excellent visit. It really was".