This article originally appeared in 2004 in the last issue of the trimesterly newsletter published jointly by the Association of Therapeutic Communities, the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities, the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, and ultimately, the Community of Communities. The appropriately named Joint Newsletter was published between 2001 and 2004, and briefly afterwards under a less transitional name. The article was a farewell editorial, and in it PETT archivist Craig Fees crystallised the philosophy and purpose as he understood it not only of the aptly named Joint Newsletter, but the later RadioTC International; and the passion and purpose underpinning the work of PETT's Archive and Study Centre:
"where else will you find a magazine in which service users, workers, administrators, family members, retired people, exes (ex-clients, ex-staff members...), friends, children, young people, adults, poetry, prose, articulate, less articulate, academic, high culture, low culture, comedy, tragedy, polemic, evocative, dry, passionate, reflective, progressive, democratic, drug-free -- What haven’t we had, that it is possible to have -- are joined together as if they belonged together, with no big deal being made about it? As if we were all part of the same community?"
The editorial quietly anticipates the demise of the collaboration, as did the front cover cartoons on the last three issues of the Joint Newsletter. One of the uses of history is seeing what is likely to happen. Strangely, a field rooted in the understanding and intentional use of community processes is not averse to acquiring the future the hard way, by ignoring what it knows.
Hello, I must be going (from the November 2004 issue of the Joint Newsletter)
When I was a folklorist(1) it always took me by surprise: As a field we never applied the lessons of our own research to the securing and developing of the work, and continually paid the price: If you’re British, what is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “folklorist”? Probably not student of group and community processes, nor “ethnographer”. And what do people ‘out there’ think when they hear the term “therapeutic community” or, god forbid, “residential worker”? Or what do you think of your self, if you are somehow involved in an intentional therapeutic environment? Do you wear the latter because you have to, and then get down to the real work of making each day the best possible for the containers of endless need and possibility which nature and our way of living continuously throw up for us? Are you content with that?
I certainly was. During my time within a therapeutic community for children all I needed was time to sleep, food, my own room, and the privilege of taking part in the most amazingly beautiful and difficult world I had ever come across, secure in the knowledge that ‘out there’ it was being taken care of – valued, secured, protected, made possible. It was a surprise when it was all stripped away, and I found out not only that the work I was doing as a short-term loan from academia had not been secured ‘out there’, but in fact had been suffering similar disasters and annihilations for the whole of the 20th century. What had our forbears in the field been doing all that time?
As it turns out, pretty much what we had been doing: getting on with the work, and trusting in tomorrow; influencing as best they could the legislation, policy and practice of the day, putting the past out of mind, healing the wounds or getting out of the work if the wounds were too deep, and if not blown away, drawing on the bottomless optimism that is available to people who have engaged with the deepest human disaster and seen it transfigured through the tenacity and wealth of human being: Children - consigned to a lifetime of failure, incarceration, medication, and the replication of their emptiness and pain in the world around them - held in their pain and emptiness long enough and well enough for the immense re-creative power of being human to begin to replace the emptiness with a foundation in which the pain, and the experience behind it, become incorporated into its strength: who bloom; who become healers; who become parents of happy children, or simply strong and devoted partners in marriages, or businesses, or professions, or communities. Or simply more than the loss they would have otherwise become. But not, by and large, drawing on the lessons of the work and providing comparable holding and healing mechanisms for the field itself.
“But the roof doesn’t leak when it stops raining”.
For the past four years I have edited the Joint Newsletter -- twelve issues. A good Jungian time to stop. While I would like to say that I am giving it up now primarily through strength of character, or because I feel I have achieved what I can, or because of a rare wisdom to give up something you love to allow it to flourish in new ways in other hands, the prosaic reality is that the production of the Newsletter is getting in the way of the fundraising which has now become necessary as part of my job as Archivist and Director of the Archive and Study Centre; which, indeed, now depends on it. Editing – which has meant everything from OCRing and re-typing, to tickling material from the roaring river of the field (the way we used to do to fish in the quieter mountain streams of Colorado), to laboriously laying out and Desk Top Publishing, and then picking them up from the printer and stuffing and posting – takes too much time. Sigh.
It was never intended to have an Editor. The original plan was to rotate the Newsletter from organisation to organisation, a bit like the Presidency of the European Union – this issue the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, the next issue the Charterhouse Group, the issue after that the Association of Therapeutic Communities (hence the three issues a year); and in many ways that would have been better. But against the background of challenges continually facing both the ATC and Charterhouse Group over the past four years, the relative continuity and availability of resources within the Archive and Study Centre during much of that period, and PETT’s chosen role as a support organisation for the field as a whole, the de facto role of executive Editor (to use the term adopted by Kevin Healy) has simply happened. Add to that the tremendous fun and the privilege involved in making purposeful contact with so many good and exciting people, and the privilege of learning, and Voila: a willing Editor. I hope – there’s no guarantee – but I hope that someone else is given this privilege; or that the three editors are given the support required to enable them to do their day jobs while also committing the necessary time to the Newsletters.
The Special Section
Among the perks of leaving the role is a last wish, and my fellow editors have generously granted me the wish to try to put together a special section devoted to the children and adults of the Charterhouse Group. Freud memorably referred to the kind of work which goes on within Charterhouse Group communities, in his introduction to August Aichhorn’s classic Wayward Youth, as an ‘impossible profession’. It is internally ‘impossible’ for many reasons, which anyone who has done it knows, but which is hard to convey if you haven’t. It has been made more impossible by the external pressures of a State and a society which do not want children to be damaged in the first place, but are unwilling to take the consequences of actually understanding what it is all about themselves or trusting others, preferring instead a steel gloved distance and the hand of common sense. There are currently thirteen UK members of the Charterhouse Group. Each one I rang in follow-up to the letter I sent asking for material was in the midst of inspections or impending inspections, having recently been inspected and looking ahead to an inspection beyond that, from this or that body. My wish to put together a Special Section sprang from the difficulty Charterhouse Communities have had in contributing to the Newsletter over the past four years, and their radical under-representation generally; and the knowledge, which we all derive from our work with and experience of people overworked or under stress (including ourselves), that while communication is essential to mobilising the potential which exists within the external environment for support and understanding, communication itself becomes correspondingly more difficult as the work and stress increase. We have all been with children or adults whose ability to communicate has been reduced to destruction of themselves or something around them (or being destroyed), and know from experience what it takes to revive their ability to steam ahead. Apart from anything else, it requires contact. It requires belief. It requires experience (‘time’, pace Richard Crocket). It requires imagination. If a child can get a joke, then you are on your way to the integration of self and environment which allows the person eventually to flourish. In other words, we all know what building community is about.
Which is not quite the non-sequitor it may seem. Earlier this year we were sitting around the wood stove discussing the future of the Joint Newsletter, and the observation was made that “I can’t see who the target audience of the Newsletter is;” to which I heard myself reply that that was because it didn’t have a target audience, but a target task; which was building community. A key moment for me was the question several years ago in the ATC Steering Group, “Has anyone heard of Jane Pooley?”, when Jane was Director of the Charterhouse Group; and later, “Who is Rich Rollinson?”, who was then the Director of the Mulberry Bush, one of the oldest and best-known therapeutic communities for children and young people. No wonder the field has suffered recurrent tragedies over the past century. Those of us coming into the field, certainly at the lower levels but also higher up, have had little or no idea of who or what else was out there, how rich and deep the field was - seen historically, geographically, culturally, or simply in accumulated wisdom and experience; and, in the demands of the day-to-day work, there have not been many readily accessible ways of finding out, or even discovering that there was something to be found out: Living in the sufficiency of the bottomless present, like a disturbed child, without the supporting and guiding structures that we call “heritage” and community. All of that is what the Archive and Study Centre is about; and under its Presidency, and for better or worse, what the Joint Newsletter has been about. The field will be strongest when it knows itself best; and it will serve the people who come into the field best – both as staff and clients – when it is strongest.
Belief, heritage, creativity
A part of that strength will always reside in the belief that what many people - in government, media, or society generally - regard as impossible is, in fact, possible. Really impossible things are not made possible through belief; but disbelief (often through lack of experience and training), or the active and positive belief that something is not possible (often through contrary training or personal experience, or sometimes through personal or organisational need), can scupper even the best project or programme, much less squeeze the small light of possibility out of a difficult or pioneering enterprise - ensuring its failure, and then using that failure as proof of its impossibility. In the bottomless present there is no answer. The answer, insofar as there is an answer, lies in people who know from their own experience what is or may be possible, or who recognise the limits of their own training and experience and are therefore (critically and reflectively!) open to the experience and knowledge of others. It lies in communication and shared experience.
Where that experience resides in the past, it is called our heritage. Where it exists in the present, it is one of the tasks of the Joint Newsletter to tickle it into print, and to foster some degree of mutual recognition even across boundaries of language or profession. One of the greatest pools of support for workers in therapeutic communities, which remains largely untapped (and vice versa), consists of people who are or have been involved in ‘democratic’/alternative/ progressive education, whose belief is grounded in personal experience, if different language. But the potential is very wide indeed; and if I were to start listing my regrets in standing down, they would begin in never having done enough, here or in the Archive. It is the curse of the oral historian and archivist to see horizons of connection for which there is neither the time nor the resources to bring to the surface; and one prays for curious practitioners and enthusiastic researchers to come along.
Having said which, we have done pretty well, and by ‘we’ I mean all of those who have been involved so far with the Newsletter: The three Trusts which set it up and keep it going; and of course the editors – Nadia Al-Khudhairy at the inception and Jane Pooley, for ATC and CHG; and currently Kevin Healy and Chris Nicholson, along with myself. There is a lot of “I” and me in this particular editorial; but the Newsletter itself exists because of the belief that people - trustees, authors, readers, editors, secretaries - have put into it; and because of what I think all three of the current editors would regard as a close and almost indefinably mingled and productive working relationship. One of my reluctances in standing down has to do with losing that (and the fear that I may find out I wasn’t as important to it as I’d like to think). But where else will you find a magazine in which service users, workers, administrators, family members, retired people, exes (ex-clients, ex-staff members...), friends, children, young people, adults, poetry, prose, articulate, less articulate, academic, high culture, low culture, comedy, tragedy, polemic, evocative, dry, passionate, reflective, progressive, democratic, drug-free -- What haven’t we had, that it is possible to have -- are joined together as if they belonged together, with no big deal being made about it? As if we were all part of the same community? ‘An awfully big adventure’ to use Jane Pooley’s words.
Back to the Special Section:
In all my growing up, I never came across real unkindness to children; except the structural unkindness introduced into a family by war. It was a very deep shock to come to Britain and stumble into a therapeutic community for children: To discover in one moment how deeply children could be damaged, and how possible it was to do something about it. It was a gift to me, which I have struggled to repay in the work of the Archive and Study Centre; and hope in delving into the children, adults and places of the Charterhouse Group as we do here, and sharing it, and perhaps giving an indication of how much more is there, something of the debt is paid. So much more could be done and should be done. Perhaps the communities featured here, and those which found it impossible to contribute in the time available, will come together at next year’s Windsor Conference, which will be devoted to work with children and young people; and then take over an issue of the journal with their papers. Some gifts grow through sharing. The poetry published in this issue (and, of course, earlier) would be a good place to start. In the context of the Special Section it seemed very appropriate that David Lane should provide a Guest Editorial. Thanks to everybody. (Slips ring on finger )
(1) See, for example, Fees, C “Tourism and the Politics of Authenticity in a North Cotswold Town”, in Tom
Selwyn, ed., The Tourist Image: Myths and Myth Making in Tourism (John Wiley and Sons, Chichester), pp. 121-146.
Fees, C (1990) “Reflections of a Folklorist in a Residential Therapeutic Community for Emotionally Deprived and Disturbed Children”, Maladjustment and Therapeutic Education 8 (2), pp. 68-73. Reprinted in Folklore in Use 1 (1993), pp. 149-155.