The Joint Newsletter is the result of the confluence of three streams, possible because of the increased communication, awareness and involvement among the three main charities devoted to Therapeutic Community in Britain, and an atmosphere of ‘Yes’ at the core of each. When it was first suggested, Rex Haigh, Chair of the ATC, gave the idea an enthusiastic embrace; Jane Pooley, Executive Director of the Charterhouse Group, gave an enthusiastic Yes and pitched in to get it going; and John Cross, Chairman of the PETT, said Yes, came to the initiating meeting, and placed the particular resources of the PETT at the disposal of the project, to see it off the ground and get it going. That was almost three years ago, and came out of an ATC newsletter which was entering extinction through lack of submissions, an annual PETT newsletter which came out every 18 months, and a proposed CHG newsletter, which was flagged up on the web-site but had not yet emerged.
The aim was to create a showcase of therapeutic community of, by, and for the people who make therapeutic community, and for those whose decisions impinge upon or who are concerned in some way with it. It has succeeded, to the extent it has, because of the inherent richness and generosity of the field, and because of an awareness of the history of newsletters within the Association of Therapeutic Communities in particular; specifically, dispensing with unrealistic expectations and recognising the real nature of the editorial and production task.
The ATC and its Newsletter were created at the same time – the creation of an ATC was announced in the first Bulletin/Newsletter in 1972; and a recurrent theme quickly emerged:
1974: “The Editor mentioned that material for the Newsletter was disappointingly scarce”
1977: (Issue 22, in which the cover depicts a grave marked “Bulletin” and “RIP”): “The docility of the last AGM seemed a cause of grave disappointment to very many people who attended…As Editor of the Bulletin, it came as no surprise to experience the inactivity of the ATC membership, for it is also represented in the Bulletin by the lack of spontaneously offered contributions. The present number of the Bulletin is a greatly slimmed down one….Production difficulties are such that I have no eagerness to inflate the size of the next number beyond the minimal amount that has been sent in voluntarily…The ATC is no longer a support to the Marlborough [the ATC member organisation which produced the Bulletin], but a burden.”
1978: “Does the small size of this Bulletin, the paucity of contributions sent in, give a real picture of the state of our ATC?”
1980: “Issue is a little slim – I’m not getting much information.”
1982: “A somewhat slimmer issue of the newsletter this time which is a pity as I feel sure there’s lots of ideas, information etc. that could be shared via this.”
1998: “We have had few submissions for this edition of the newsletter.”
1999: “no one, no one has sent anything to be published.”
Different editors and editorial teams have tried different tactics over the years to tap into the excitement and richness of the field and to winkle contributions out of people – cajoling, embarrassing, reasoning – but the fact is that just as newspapers are filled by journalists because that is their task, which goes on more or less all the time, and not by people writing spontaneously in when they are struck by something which could be shared and so enrich others’ work and understanding and – well, read the editorial in the last issue of the Newsletter - so the role for a therapeutic community newsletter editor combines active soliciting of material and its creation. Anything not signed in a Joint Newsletter has been put together/written by an editor.
The accrual of material is one job. Selecting and modifying is another. The getting it into a state where it can go for lay-out is another – and as that includes sometimes substantial editorial work, typing or retyping, OCRing or translating formats – the time taken shouldn’t be underestimated. Nor should lay-out be underestimated, in which the aim is to create a meaningful overall order – a kind of narrative structure, so that people are rewarded by reading cover-to-cover or piece-by-piece - ; page-by-page design, so that the eye is attracted and led (or at least not offended) and the reader assimilates quickly without being overwhelmed; within a limited number of pages in multiples of four, fitting articles of varying lengths onto pages without obvious crowding or distortion or unintended anomalies; and deciding what to do when you have more material (or less, depending on whether you are a half-full or half-empty person) than you need to neatly complete your segments of four pages: Do you add three pages of material, say – and from where? Or do you cut and burn, or shrink and wrap? And what does that late, last-minute submission do to the overall structure, and where the heck is it going to go and not stick out like a sore thumb?
There is then post-layout proof-reading, taking to the printer and all those negotiations, picking up, and then stuffing, labelling, and posting. It’s a lot of labour, which, if not careful, can quickly become Bob Hinshelwood’s ‘Marlborough burden’.
The PETT’s particular contribution, which it is specially placed to do because of its facilities, resources and constitution, has been to shoulder that main editorial and production burden, albeit with a view, originally, of it being shared among the three charities. In practical terms, each issue consumes a month of my time. Because we are such a small office, the PETT has effectively seconded me to the Joint Newsletter’s editing and production for three months of the year. The result seems desirable, and each issue finishes by being enormously enjoyable; but as readers of the Newsletter will know, the small Archive office has become considerably smaller over the past 18 months, while the workload and future demand has grown. All things being equal, the current way of doing things might have persisted indefinitely; but the reality is they can’t. Hence throwing the question open.
Given the underlying realities of producing a periodical within a largely charitable and hugely voluntary setting, about which the oscillations in the history of the ATC Newsletter have a great deal to say, a central problem ratchets down on the question or burden of production. It is a huge lump of a task, however and by whomever it is done. That it is worth doing, the success or otherwise of the current Joint Newsletter will indicate. That it can be done, sustainably, is another thing altogether. No matter how rich the soil, no garden except the wild garden manages itself; it requires tending, energy, and resources; in the present, with an eye on next season, and planting in the present for harvest and cropping years down the line.