[Editor's note: Back in 2014, David Trudgian generously wrote about his thoughts and experiences as a volunteer and sent them off to archivist Craig Fees, for inclusion in the PETT eNewsletter. And then nothing. No acknowledgement; no thanks; and no appearance in the Newsletter. When he mentioned this recently (in June 2016, over two years later) Craig followed up his apology by scouring his emails and hard-drives, to no effect. David kindly sent it again, with permission to print: And here it is. With further apologies, as well as thanks. It is as true and relevant now as it was two years ago]
It was a beautiful spring morning as I criss crossed the field at PETT Archive & Barns House, Study & Conference Centre (referred to from here on as the Centre), riding on that "big green tractor mower" Craig referred to in the recently published newsletter, under heading 6, "Present Friends". Craig, having waved me down, had stopped me to ask if I would write a passage about being a volunteer at the Centre. Immediately, my mind started to try and construct the words to fit the subject to be written about, as I again returned to mulching the field and to enjoy basking in that glorious bright sunlight in the process! At least it was easy to know why I was volunteering that morning.
It was during our brief chat about volunteering, interwoven with current topics of the day, that Craig's words re the importance of recording History struck a chord with me and gave me a focus for thinking about the topic of volunteering and the small part I play in helping to maintain the Centre, and why of course I choose to do it. So, on the face of it, it would seem my task here is a relatively simple one! Give an account of my Joy Riding exploits on that green tractor mower for the Newsletter! Except of course, there is little point in preaching to the converted, especially where the converted already put more time and effort into the Centre than I do. The point I think Craig and others would like me to help get across to readers is how essential the volunteers are to the upkeep of the Centre in the hope of enticing more people to volunteer their time. As a charitable organisation, PETT’s resources are finite and it therefore continues to struggle for its survival and to emerge from this long recession intact. Its funds have been greatly depleted during this time and in order to survive, the Centre is now even more dependent upon its existing volunteers but needs to attract more volunteers also if it is to cope with the ongoing amount of work required to maintain it.
Housing as it does a small but significant collection of historic artefacts recording the conceptualisation, birth and growth of the Therapeutic Concept, the communities themselves and of course the pioneers who founded them, we the volunteers offer our time willingly to ensure that the existence of such a valuable resource is maintained and not diminished. My own personal reason for wanting to give my time to the Centre is solely because it is situated in the grounds of what was New Barns School. This is where History has a significance for me. Having been a child at New Barns for almost 5 years, but more significantly having been a benefactor of its therapeutic principles, it left an indelible mark upon my life that has not faded in the 44 years since I reached my 16th birthday and was compelled to leave. From then till now this former site of New Barns has been a Haven for me and a part of my past I choose to cling onto. Likewise, those who volunteer their time to the Centre, for the most part, have or share an equally strong conviction about therapeutic communities in some way, albeit derived from a different perspectives, a different therapeutic environment or from different periods in its history perhaps. There are those who have simply come to the Centre, more recently, as a part of their academic research and found themselves wanting to offer a donation of their own time back to a facility that had offered them so much more than the study they had initially sought and the knowledge they had simply hoped to obtain.
From my own personal experience growing up in a Therapeutic Community and from my experience as a psychiatric nurse for 34 years, I have seen the quality of care become impoverished as legislation distances the therapist from the client, adult from the child. Surely the madness that somehow believes that a child or person can be nurtured from a safe distance and their emotional needs can be mapped out and met on a schematic care plan that any agency staff or support worker can simply pickup and deliver ad hoc and in a sterile way must surely one day become exposed as the greater abuse and injustice of an individual in care. Therefore, having and protecting this treasure trove of History of Therapeutic Communities as a point of reference is essential if in future our professionals are to re-engage with people, adults and children and to have a framework for being able to do so.
Perhaps the inherent weakness of the volunteers setup at the Centre is: that there is no one coordinating the volunteer input overall. Whilst the Centre collects, co-ordinates the histories of many communities and individuals, its volunteers are largely isolated from each other (though not intentionally I'm sure) and therefore the pockets of time given by individuals can perhaps go unnoticed by others, or are so random as to be missed altogether. It may be that as individual volunteers, we are perhaps more focused and concerned with maintaining aspects of our own community's identity housed at the Centre, and rightly so, but we need to accept that their physical being has gone and what we are doing now is preserving their history. The Centre is the repository for safeguarding that history, for preserving it. Without the Centre, without that focus, without the concern, what would happen to all these records? Their Relevance? Their Importance? But whilst the Archive facility may be to many about the safe storage, preservation and availability of these historic records, its setting should be valued equally, as should its conference and accommodation facilities as being of equal relevance to the success of the Archive (I would say that, wouldn’t I).
But then, the Archive was born out of the Ashes of New Barns, and other such communities, and was itself originally known as the "New Building" (built by Roy Frye and volunteers) and therefore has far more relevance than a warehouse or storage building would have. Its location and tranquillity allows peaceful reflection to those who come to study and a retreat for those needing refortification from the rigors of today’s working environments, and of course its accommodation helps to fund the upkeep of the facilities. Surely if this was not the case, why house the Archive material in such a remote place, why not store it more centrally in a modern building fit for purpose, where cataloguing is the only requirement needing a volunteers input? Because of the significance of the location in itself, is it not a Archival treasure worth preserving? Hasn't the PETT Archive & Barns House, Study & Conference Centre in itself become an embodiment of Therapeutic Environment which preserves the ethos of our lost communities and keeps alive their spiritual aura as a tangible reality? I guess it is easy to take for granted both the Archive and Barns House being here, but I guess what we really need to do is, imagine them not being here! By offering a little time, by working together as a “team” hopefully we need never ask the question: What have we lost?
Whether cataloguing, mowing the field or decorating, each persons input is just as essential as any other if The Archive & Study Centre And Barns House Conference Centre is to survive. But as volunteers we need to use the concepts of the Therapeutic Community and come together in a more “Meaningful Way”: Perhaps by compiling a list of work to be done, by compiling a list of volunteers willing and able to offer their time to do the work, by providing the space, materials and opportunity to undertake the task, perhaps by planning further ahead so that individuals can come together as a part of a volunteer group rather than working in isolation to each other… Maybe just hoping someone will volunteer or by waiting for someone to volunteer is missing the opportunity to give someone the chance to volunteer! Why isn’t there a advert on PETT’s webpage, or an Appeal maybe, giving a current list of jobs needing volunteer input at the Centre? We may see a reference to some of the work volunteers have done, but less about what needs to be done.
This may not be what Craig envisaged when he asked me to write something for the Newsletter but it's what came out of my attempt to do so. I hope it will do!