London Paddington Station. 8 p.m. March 30th 2017. Large backpack on back, full of camera and recording equipment and peripherals: tripod, microphone stands, extension leads, gaffers tape. Counter-balanced with black backpack on front, filled with laptop and other sundries. Another day recording the Community of Communities Annual Forum over. Of course I send a selfie to the family. Wife immediately replies "Where has that wonderful smile from yesterday gone????" Self to wife: "It's in the eyes". Quick response: "Ah yes so it is!!!" Finally get home and into bed after midnight. Buzzing.
The launch of the Community of Communities in October 2001 at Friends House in London took up a full seven pages of Joint Newsletter Number 3. Emerging from the Association of Therapeutic Communities, and the start of a unique partnership with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, much of the energy behind the original CofC came from psychiatrist and psychotherapist Mark Morris when Director of Therapy at HMP Grendon. "At Grendon", the Joint Newsletter tells us,
Mark was faced with the problem of the survival of the Grendon therapeutic community programmes: It hung on successful accreditation by the Prison Programmes Unit. In a challenging session at the 1999 Windsor Conference, in a paper entitled "Accrediting the TC: Subjugation or Survival", he argued that this was part of a general, externally-driven trend to accountability and regulation which faced (or would face) all therapeutic communities, and that the choice for therapeutic communities was to take pre-emptive ownership and control of this process and survive; or have standards and regulations imposed which would almost certainly be inappropriate, and equally certainly invasive and destructive.
How right he was!
For a taste of the excitement of those times, just look through pages 6 to 12 of Joint Newsletter Number 3, progress reports in follow-up numbers, and reports of the Annual Forum itself in subsequent years [2003, pages 31-34 - the First Annnual Members' Forum; 2004, pages 60-65 - introducing Sarah Paget and saying goodbye to Sarah Tucker]. Check out RadioTC International, which carried recordings of sessions from the CofC Annual Forums of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 (recorded, edited and uploaded with fond memory of the ingenuity and perspiration involved by yours truly. And don't miss the 2007 video presentation, "Working with chaotic institutions: Some thoughts about managing a Community of Communities", introduced by Rex Haigh, and presented by Katharine Larkin and Sarah Paget).
Then jump to this year's Annual Forum - preceded (personally speaking) by a jumbled night's sleep in a strange place, an early morning trek across London fully back-packed on the crowded DLR, safely on board thanks to the kindness and patience of already jam-packed strangers - a brisk walk to the Royal College of Psychiatrist's newest premises, a setting up of the equipment, a coffee among early arrivals, and then full immersion in 130 exciting therapeutic community people of all ages, places and kinds. What a privilege! And what a remarkable and creative event, well supported by enthusiastic staff, and evolving in new directions every year. A marvel. An accomplishment. A model of creative purpose, resilience, innovation and survival.
Back to the Future...
The theme this year: "Therapeutic Communities: Past, Present and Future", echoed founding Project Lead Rex Haigh's talk in 2008 on "Community of Communities: Past Present and Future" (still available on RadioTC International!). What a difference nine years makes! Mulberry Bush School CEO John Diamond put the theme to use in a highly personal keynote presentation called "Back to the Future", weaving his professional journey through therapeutic child care into a talk which included and concluded with the story of Wilfred Bion and the Northfield Experiments - a cumulative use of therapeutic community history which captured the imagination of one of the community members present, who noted her diagnosis of personality disorder, and in the question and answer period afterwards shared the powerful effect John's historical narrative had made on her.
John told us how Bion's traumatic experiences as a tank commander during the Great War fed directly into the first Northfield Experiment during the Second World War, where, with fellow psychoanalyst John Rickman, he worked with psychological casualties in the Army's Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham. This First Experiment "failed", not least because of the way Bion continued to carry his traumatic experience; but it laid the groundwork for the successful and influential Second Northfield Experiment - the adventure in psychiatry from which (apart from everything else!) the term "therapeutic community" was launched into the psychiatric world.
But why had John's history-telling had such an impact on her? "Because now," she told us "I don't feel alone at all..."
John Diamond made the talk personal not just by grounding the theme in his own experience of discovery and growth within the therapeutic community, but by bringing the Liverpool-based band [The] Espedairs into the middle and end of his presentation. They can be seen performing for us live on YouTube, here, and hopefully in the video of the talk on the CofC website when it ultimately appears. They had raced down the motorways from Liverpool the night before, and spent a hectic morning setting up and doing sound-tests at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in time for coffee and the first arrivals for the Annual Forum. They said they felt at home at the Forum, and not surprising - the band members are John Diamond's sons, and grew up in and around therapeutic communities for children, with stories of their own to tell.
It was an occasion where everyone present seemed to feel at home.
By the time the train pulled out of Paddington it had been a more-than-twelve hour working day: Following the applause, the leaving meetings, and the breaking-away of equipment which brought the Annual Forum to an end there was the book launch for Steve Pearce and Rex Haigh's The Theory and Practice of Democratic Therapeutic Community Treatment - see the numbers and the enthusiasm there, with a toast raised "To therapeutic communities!"; and that was followed by the AGM of TCTC - the amalgamation of the Association of Therapeutic Communities and the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities which channels the British pioneers of the tumultuous 20th into the stormy 21st century. Old friends, new friends, and (personally speaking, again) a tired brain failing to get its signals sequentlally to tongues, lips and teeth. And yet -
"Because now I don't feel alone at all." It was inspiring.
In the carriage, buzzing, and sleepless into the early hours, I wished my PETT Trustees and colleagues had been able to be there. I wished my fellow archivists out in the world could have been there, to feel the power - in the people in that big room - of the records they look after, and to feel the thirst for inspiration that history feeds because it is living and immediate. I would love to be able to bring them all together into the CofC Annual Forum, so that they too could come away inspired by history and heritage realised and being created, in a remarkable transitional community that reassembles and changes every year, and is magically woven into being through peer review visits and small communications throughout the course of the year.
How I wish they too had the privilege of feeling the Future being assembled around them before it heads back into a difficult world. So much enthusiasm, vitality, promise and challenge. Thanks, everybody, for the pleasure.
Project Manager Sarah Paget,
The band, [The] Espedairs, striking their equipment, with the help of experienced roadie, John Diamond.
The 15th annual peer review cycle completed.