Craig Fees is the founding archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre. Technically, the Archive and Study Centre doesn't celebrate its 25th anniversary until 2014; but the commission from the Trust, asking him to explore and lay out the options for gathering together archives and other materials related to the Trust and planned environment and related group therapies, came in 1988. This makes 2013 the 25th anniversary of an experiment to build an unparalleled research resource for understanding deeply troubled people, and communities designed to engage with and for them. It has been a rich and difficult adventure, and it all began with the help of the Folklore Society in 1984...

 

craig at end of project

In the long ago, pre-Internet world of 1988, Talking Folklore published a report I wrote for the Folklore Society of London on the outcomes of a research award they gave me in 1984 for a project called "Folk Memory in a North Cotswold Community". This £100 grant "basically gave me licence to behave like a community folklorist for a year" in the town of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. What is a community folklorist, you might ask?

Two years later, in 1990, Maladjustment and Therapeutic Education published "Reflections of a Folklorist in a Residential Therapeutic Community for Emotionally Deprived and Disturbed Children", in which I shared my understanding of what academics were for: 

 "The function of scholarship is to help illuminate the world, and to do so by exploring the way it works and why by jumping into a small bit of it and wrestling with what comes up."

By 1998's ‘”No foundation all the way down the line”: History, memory and ‘milieu therapy’ from the view of a specialist archive in Britain’ (published in a special issue of Therapeutic Communities devoted to "Boundaries and parameters with children and adolescents"),  we were nine years in to the life of the Archive and Study Centre, and I noted in "No foundation", as an archivist, that "as archivist for the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, I have handled the records of six therapeutic communities for children and young people which have been forced to close... none of which closed because of the failure of their therapeutic regimes or through internal administrative or organisational collapse."

 

The life, work and purpose of a community folklorist had become more serious. Being in among the memories of a community as it traumatically closes is not a laughing matter.

 "What makes the closure of a therapeutic community even more devastating" I said, with the operative word being 'devastating'...

 "is that a therapeutic community is the locus of more than simple community or belonging for people to whom identity by definition is itself problematic, and for whom belonging is both the start of therapy and sometimes its greatest triumph. The ‘continuity of care’ of a community which survives all that a disturbed child can throw at it, and which a growing young person and adult knows is there and can continue to refer to as needed throughout their life, is one of its greatest therapeutic assets and an incomparable therapeutic tool. When a community is closed this asset and this tool go with it, with consequences which continue to unfold during the lifetimes of all of the people involved and into future generations."

 

I also drew the painful conclusion that

 "had an established, vigorous and challenging culture of historical inquiry, debate and publication been in place over the past twenty or thirty years, these six places and probably others almost certainly would not have had to close – or if they had closed, it would have been for their own internal reasons...

The tools for such an inquiry - the collected, organised and accessible archives, personal memories, and literature relating to therapeutic communities - did not then exist. They do, to a significant extent, now.

 For the past 25 years I've been given the great opportunity by the P.E.T.T. Trustees to explore the role of a community folklorist. I have been given permission, with the help of many other people, to wrestle with whatever came up and to build a unique and unparalleled Collection, a comprehensive and integrated resource of national importance, and to put it to use - for example, in the extraordinary "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children" project, whose outline can be seen in the 1988 article, and which is essentially an exercise in applied public history.

We have shown that a place like the Archive and Study Centre can carry something of the continuity and belonging which are lost when a therapeutic community as an institution is lost, and can even help to gather continuity and belonging together from the fragmentation and dispersal.

We still have to show that a vigorous and challenging culture of historical inquiry, debate and publication can be created and sustained, which can help to ensure that future therapeutic environments are not only infused with the wisdom and knowledge which is within their history and heritage, and therefore help them to grow and flourish; but which can also help to protect and nourish their work through a greater understanding and wider knowledge in the world around them - in the public at large, and in the many bodies and agencies which act with, on, at and for therapeutic environments in our society. A major tool has been created; the fullest realisation of what can be done with it now will be the work of the next - twenty-five years? Or can it be done in ten? Or, with sufficient resources, resolution, imagination and momentum, even sooner?

It depends a great deal upon you, and upon your belief and vision in what is possible. I'm grateful for the past 25 years, and for the opportunity I've been given to take youthful ideals and translate them into an exciting demonstration of some of what is possible. How many of us get that? Looking forward to an even more exciting time to come - 

 

Thankyou, and Happy New Year. (27.12.2012)

 

The articles referred to: