The Planned Environment Therapy Trust's Open Day on Sunday 1st July was an exciting and thought-provoking event attended by over forty people.
Designed as a series of 'taster' sessions - behind and around which people could explore the place and talk with one another - we hoped that the informal presentations, exhibitions and displays would give visitors a better idea of what we do, and what the Trust is involved in. By bringing people together we also aimed to strengthen connections amongst those who already know us, as well as meeting and introducing new friends; and saw this as the ideal opportunity to learn from visitors and share something of the people and places we work with and alongside. As Executive Director Rich Rollinson noted in his welcome address, 'The action's in the interaction!'
Throughout the day our guests were invited to look around the Archive and Study Centre, where a number of exhibits were on display and where archivists Dr. Craig Fees and Matt Naylor were on hand to comment or answer any questions. As well as material on permanent display (and in practical use every day - the desk of Mulberry Bush founder Barbara Docker-Drysdale, the refectory table from Peper Harow, Margaret Lowenfeld's desk, given to Alexnder Gobell of Hengrove School…) Matt had created large displays featuring the recently catalogued Richard Crocket Collection, and material about John Armstrong, former Head of the Mulberry Bush School, whose life will be celebrated and remembered at an event on Friday, July 6th. There were also oral history exhibits and audio-visual displays, including several digital stories created as part of the 'Other People's Children' project and a short film by 'Moley' whose wonderful painting of the 'Beech Tree' at the Caldecott Community was brought to life through her engaging commentary and clips of archival film footage.
Guests were invited to wander the idyllic grounds (and challenged to 'find the hippo!'). Wonderful food and lots of cake were enjoyed, provided by the equally wonderful kitchen team, Vicky, Steph and Libby. Jenny and Sue of 'Sparkle Jewellery' had a small display and talked to people about their father Arthur 'Bunny' Barron's involvement in founding the Trust and their own memories of the work. Several wall exhibits charted the evolution of the prize-winning 'Other People's Children' project, and another featured oral histories and archival images of the communities involved. Several 'former children' from different communities came, and for many, it was the first time they had met one another. One noted the striking similarities between them all, which led to all sorts of fascinating discussion and ideas...watch this space!
Throughout the day, invited speakers gave short talks or presentations – 'tasters' - lasting around twenty minutes each, with time for questions, comments and lots of informal discussion afterwards. In the morning session, Dr. Tom Harrison from the University of Birmingham talked about his earlier research into Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital and his current PhD. interest in the recently catalogued Richard Crocket Collection. He spoke about his long-standing relationship with the Archive and described the ways that it, and his use of it, had evolved over the years. He remembered a time in 1985 when he recorded an interview using a radio-cassette player - this caused a 'shake of the head', and resulted in him being interviewed by Craig himself, and an upgrading in his equipment! The road to good oral history practice!
Phil Hawkins, from HMP Grendon's B Wing, gave an insightful talk about therapeutic community work in the prison setting. Outlining the various difficulties, challenges and opportunities they face and citing several examples of this in practice, he described how the therapeutic community works and the impact it has on those involved.
PETT's Archivist and Development Officer Craig Fees closed the morning session, speaking with great enthusiasm about the treasures of experience that the Archive holds, the extremely valuable role volunteers play (and the benefits they gain), the need for funding (anyone have ￡6,000 to help digitise the 105 reel to reel recordings of the 1967 Dialectics of Liberation Congress?), and the huge opportunities for understanding, growth and stability which an Archive and Study Centre contains.
In the afternoon session, John Diamond, Chief Executive of the Mulberry Bush School, illustrated the history, the work and the impact of the Mulberry Bush community through a case study of one particular child. He showed how a clear focus on the emotional and social well-being of children leads to many other positive outcomes, including educational attainment; and stressed that although the community has changed during its history, the ethos remains the same.
John Gale and an international group of colleagues from Community Housing and Therapy in London, talked about their work and especially about their Home Base project, working with homeless former service men and women with social, emotional and other difficulties. Reflecting on the previous speakers, John Gale noted that although the presentations came from different organisations working with different groups - traumatised children, prisoners, and homeless ex-service personnel - , they were essentially talking about a similar group of people, and that a common ethos and aim united them all.
Dr. Linnet McMahon, PETT trustee, author, and retired play therapist, talked about play therapy and even brought props to illustrate her presentation. We were encouraged to 'squiggle', as Winnicott recommended; and as she held up a piece of string threaded with bobbins, we were told of a mute child, who through this aid had been prompted to declare 'Snake'. She reminded us of the value of play for all of us, young and old, and said that surely the Open Day was proving a great example of this!