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A paper presented to mark and celebrate 25 years of the Archive and Study Centre, crystallising the philosophy, experience and practice of an award-winning archive service
"Archive problems are fun problems": Building an archive service around traumatic experience: Continuity, change, and thoughts towards the future
A paper delivered at:
‘Survival of the Fittest: strengths, skills and priorities for 2014 and beyond’
Archives and Records Association Annual Conference,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, August 27-29, 2014
The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre was established in 1989 to gather and preserve records, memories and literature relating to a field of work with disturbed, delinquent and distressed people which is generally indicated by the post-war term "therapeutic community", and even more generally by "group therapies" and "therapeutic environments". 'Community' has the advantage of focusing on people and continuities; 'environments' on the dynamics of place.
It is a specialist repository created from scratch at a time of rapid and often traumatic change in the world of therapeutic environments; and was mandated by Trustees to be actively engaged with the various communities it served, as well as the wider lay and professional public. Through its engagement it was named "Most Impactful Archive" in 2011 by the Community Archives and Heritage Group; and "Archive of the Year 2012" by Your Family History Magazine.
2014 marks the Archive's 25th anniversary. With an eye on the future archive, this paper discusses the Centre's history and development, reflecting on some of the issues encountered and raised, including:
How is such a service created and sustained? How does it survive?
What are the challenges and skills required?
How do you engage people and organisations who are immersed in the day to day task of living out the therapeutic demands of children and adults with immense, immediate, and sometimes overwhelming needs?
How, why, and what are the implications of engaging with their former residents?
What are the implications of working with sometimes intensely distressing archives and memories?
Is an archive 'therapeutic'?
At the call for papers last year my younger self set me an ambitious task. With many hours and several hundred pages it might be do-able; but of course - and he knew this - there are only 20 minutes. So this is going to be a paper of beginnings and introductions, in which indication is going to have to stand in for explication. As the last paper in the last paper session of the last day of this year's conference, dedicated to thinking about the archive of the future, it is probably absolutely right to end with uncertainties and beginnings.
The first introduction is to the title. The Call for Papers coincided with the death at 90 of my old theater professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Dr. Omar Paxson. A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, a George Bernard Shaw scholar, and a deeply loving man, his motto was "Theater Problems are Fun Problems." It's a concept that generalises, and is the answer to just about every question that arises in this paper; the moral equivalent of which is the exclamation my Texas grandmother made when we crested the brow of the coastal range in California, and the immense Pacific Ocean was laid out for the first time before us: "Isn't that cute!"
The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre is a specialist repository created in 1989 by a small charity to gather archives and other materials related to people, places and organisations involved in 'planned environment therapy', a pre-War term largely supplanted since by 'therapeutic community'. There are therapeutic communities all around the world: devoted to children and adults; in prisons and psychiatric units; treating addictions; working with dementia - wherever there is trauma or difficult human experience, therapeutic communities can be found, using the power of engagement and relationships to effect amelioration and change. By definition, traumatic experience and attempts to engage positively with it are therefore at the heart of most of our collections.
Five years ago we crystallised 20 years of experience into a project called "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children: An oral history of residential therapeutic child care c. 1930 to c. 1980". It was HLF-supported, and won two awards. "The Most Impactful Archive" award by the Community Archives and Heritage Group in 2012 arose from a process of self-nomination. The nominations for Your Family History Magazine's "Archive of the Year" award in 2013 came instead from people who had used the Archive and been involved in the "Therapeutic Living" project, and in that sense captures their experiences of it. The magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Nick Barratt, wrote:
"It may be that you have never heard of this archive, but the work that it undertakes and collections it holds are inspirational.
"The Trust was founded in 1966 to support therapeutic approaches to the treatment of children and adults who have suffered severe emotional and psychological hurts. The archive and study centre was formed in 1989, and not only does it collect and curate 200 archival material collections, including 1,100 oral histories, but provides a space for people to share memories and experiences relating to environmental therapy, and so it is continuing to undertake therapeutic work today."
"This, to me, is the essence of family history - practical, small scale and life changing. All this is done on a small budget, showing that you don't need millions of pounds to make a difference to people's lives."(1)
This paper was inspired by Nick Barratt's comment: "and so it is continuing to undertake therapeutic work today": We don't, and I don't believe an archive can, undertake therapeutic work, and retain the balance of archival task and relationship to the community which makes an archive - if it is - a uniquely effective therapeutic tool: I think there is an important distinction between undertaking work which is (or may be) therapeutic, and undertaking therapeutic work.
The first questions set me by my former self were:
2. How is such a service created and sustained? And how does it survive?
In 1996-97 I led the Society of Archivists' 50th anniversary oral history project, "Celebrating Memory: An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its members"(2), in which we recorded and brought together interviews with 72 archivists, conservators and other Society members, and in which I had the personal privilege of recording interviews with a number of senior archivists, such as Len Macdonald of Pilkington Glass, Freddy Stitt of Staffordshire, Michael Willis-Fear of Newcastle. It was an education in being and becoming an archivist, and in establishing, developing, and sustaining an archive service, in which I discovered that our experiences were unexceptional: What distinguishes the creation and development of this or that service, including ours, is principally a matter of personality and context.
In our case, a small charitable trust founded in 1966 by three therapeutic practitioners who had worked together since the 1930s, and were intensely aware of the value of the records of the work, were succeeded by a group of practitioners who saw those records disappearing; and who in 1988 had the immediate problem of what to do with the archives of David Wills, a founder of the Trust, and a towering figure in 20th century therapeutic child care. He left an immense archive including correspondence with some of the best known names of 20th century child care, and the clinical and administrative files of a pre-War experimental therapeutic camp for young men. The Trustees couldn't find a repository to take this extraordinary collection; so after considerable research and discussion decided to work with an existing residential therapeutic school to build a dedicated archive and study centre on the school grounds, bringing history and research together with the living work. I was asked to kick things off, and became the founding archivist. Three years in, the school closed traumatically. The story after that involves a lot of time, energy, and physical labour, as we used limited resources to turn one of the school's empty accommodation buildings into an archive, with secure air conditioned storage, office, users' and work areas, and library. When more resources came in, we wrapped this in two additional stories of dedicated archive space. This new building, because it had not been factored into the architect's plans - and because we were low on money -, required my post-construction drilling of all of the holes for the air-conditioning ducts, through massive walls and floors; as well, of course, as assembling, upstairs and down, rack after rack of shelving; and other stuff.
So far, all of that echoes the crises, serendipities and manual labour you'll find in the origin stories gathered by the "Celebrating Memory" project. However, the new Archive had none of the formal institutional or organisational boundaries of a Pilkington Glass, Staffordshire County, or City of Newcastle. In a very real sense, the community to which the Archive was devoted had to be invented; and it has been a primary function of the Archive since its inception to try to facilitate a recognition of shared identity, history, heritage, and common interest among sometimes very disparate-seeming organisations, institutions, and people. Why do this? Because without a recognition of their very real shared identity, history and heritage they are individually more vulnerable to the repetition of the past: to predictable challenges and attacks, to unnecessary and traumatic closure, to loss of identity and direction; and because, with recognition of belonging, comes a larger and more diverse community to learn with and history to learn from, a consequent greater self-awareness and understanding, of confidence and creativity in responding to opportunities and challenges, of stability and resilience, and best practice: all essential for the people who matter most - the clients - the youngsters with disrupted and traumatic childhoods; the adults wrestling with addiction, loss of identity, disturbance of Self, and/or dangerous and destructive relationships to themselves and others.
As to how such an archive service is sustained and survives, the lessons come from the history and heritage of the field itself, and not least from those many organisations and institutions which have not survived, or which reached crisis-point but managed to revive focus and sense of purpose in time to re-establish their direction. Paradoxically for a field whose fulcrum of effectiveness is an unshakeable belief in the capacity for growth in even the most blasted personality or situation, one of the greatest dangers facing a service such as this is the loss of belief in the future; the taking on of the despair and fatalism which characterise so many of the people therapeutic communities are designed to serve. The lesson to be gained from sharing so much time with the archives of the field, and with the people who make it up, is that we are all vulnerable to this radical loss of belief; and that the cure, if that is the right word, is in the history and the people themselves: Survival is a consequence of healthy community and community processes, which can be actively engendered and facilitated. It comes through an honest grounding in history, and full engagement in the present; through fostering and encouraging open communication. And it comes inevitably, in predictable but sometimes surprising and unexpected ways that can be difficult to recognise and be prepared for, unless one is prepared to be taken by surprise. Essential to survival is knowing that fatalism and despair in however gentle and rationalised a form are not predictors of the future, but transient indicators of loss of identity, belonging and perspective which, left unchallenged, become persistent and self-fulfilling; that the best doctor is the community; and that archive problems are fun problems.
3. What are the challenges and skills required?
That aside, the basic challenges are familiar: cataloguing backlogs; inadequate funding; the digital avalanche; and so on. The skills are also familiar - resilience, resourcefulness, a capacity to juggle time and task and not quite lose the plot, and so on.
We have two specific challenges:
A high proportion of our collections are case records and associated administrative files, filled with individuals' names and details, and therefore closed to most researchers for most purposes for a very long time. This tightly restricts use, and ruthlessly constricts a key indicator of the value of the Archive to potential funders.
To compensate, we use the classic therapeutic community approach of identifying strengths and building on them, without neglecting deficits: Identify and reach out to potential users, proactively offering support, connections, and the encouragement of genuine interest and enthusiasm for their work; actively listen to researchers for the article, book or project crying out from within them to be done, and encouraging them to do it; promoting and encouraging the use of oral history through training, equipment, small grants, and giving a home to recordings and documentation; and if they visit, a warm welcome. Not every researcher cites our help, but we are acknowledged in at least 22 books and monographs, 9 dissertations, 12 articles, and a smattering of radio documentaries and live performances.
We also have the challenge of being surrounded - and sometimes immersed and even overwhelmed - by loss, simply by the nature of the field: punctuated by the closure of an institution; the death of someone who has become a friend through their involvement with the archives, or oral history interviews; the content of sometimes harrowing files that you are cataloguing or preparing for the subject who has requested access; the lifestory of an oral history interviewee; the visitor in the Archive for whom past loss comes forcefully to the present, or indeed never receded.
The skills involved? In her groundbreaking 2006 article "The Role of Archives in the Perception of Self", Judith Etherton noted the advice she was given that archivists dealing with potentially distressed researchers should have training in counseling(3). I spent ten years living and working in a therapeutic community for disturbed children, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that what I gained thereby has not been immensely helpful. But short of specialist training, a great deal can be done in meeting and managing distress in client and staff through the organisation of the service as such. In "Therapeutic Living" we had three members of the project team - archivist, oral historian, admin/transcriber - who did not have specialist training or experience in the area, and yet created a difficult, award-winning project. How? There is a fuller discussion in the project's Final Report(4), but in brief it required a team, meeting regularly and working closely together, developing a vigorous culture of open communication, and the time for it; within a background framework of Trustees and Advisory Group members whose expertise was available if needed: In short: Informed and supported teamwork, and vigorous open communication.
4. How do you engage people and organisations who are immersed in the day to day task of living out the therapeutic demands of children and adults with immense, immediate, and sometimes overwhelming needs?
These are extraordinarily busy people and institutions who can't come to you, and have at best racing-past windows of opportunity to think outside their own work and survival: so, you have to go to them.
Where meeting places exist you join them - in my case becoming a Trustee of the Association of Therapeutic Communities, and Reviews Editor for its journal, for example. Attend conferences; join email groups.
Where forums and opportunities for meeting don't exist, you create them:
In 2001 in the absence of a common news and information channel we brought together the Association of Therapeutic Communities - a charity primarily for adult communities - and the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities - a charity for children and young people's communities - to publish a Joint Newsletter, later including the Royal College of Psychiatrists's "Community of Communities" project as well. Edited and published from the Archive, four years and twelve issues and a brief hiatus later we transferred the collaboration from print to the Internet, joined there by the European Federation of Therapeutic Communities in the still broader umbrella of the Therapeutic Community Open Forum, whose RadioTC International, managed by the Archive, translated the Joint Newsletter's news and features functions into podcasts.
We created their first websites - for the Association of Therapeutic Communities, the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities, the Child Care History Network, and others - a prison therapeutic community, an NHS psychiatric therapeutic community. And we created more than a dozen email discussion groups.
With the Centre for the History of Medicine at Birmingham University we created the Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments, based in the Archive. With current and former practitioners and care leavers we helped to create the Child Care History Network.
We organise conferences and seminars; record conferences and events; record oral histories; and more.
Each involvement generates additional work, but creates opportunities to raise the profile of the Archive, brings history of the field into decision-making, illustrates the nature and practical utility of archives, and amplifies the role of the archive as an information and community/networking hub. The Archive in return gains a knowledge and understanding which is unique, and feeds back into its effectiveness in service of and to the field.
5. How, why, and what are the implications of engaging with their former residents?
The principal implication is Time. Time, for out-of-the-blue hour long phone calls, in the middle of cataloguing or more typically lunch, perhaps leading to a series of phone calls which may extend over weeks or months, and are seen as part of the work, not an interruption or distraction from it; Time woven into the fabric of the work to build relationships with people for many of whom relationships are by definition problematic, and more difficult where authority and gatekeeping to information about them are concerned; Time to listen; Time to think; Time to question; Time for difficult emotional encounters, including joy; and Time to recover.
In their short book "On Kindness" psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor say:
“Bearing other people’s vulnerability – which means sharing in it imaginatively and practically without needing to get rid of it, to yank people out of it – entails being able to bear one’s own." (5) [my emphasis]
This hits the nail on the head.
6. What are the implications of working with sometimes intensely distressing archives and memories?
In 2007 we created a PhD studentship with the Centre for the History of Medicine at Birmingham University. The successful candidate, Elaine Boyling, began by cataloguing the archives of what we called, for anonymity's sake, "MacGregor Hall": a residential therapeutic community for sexually abused and/or sexually abusing young men. "The work of archiving the documents" she wrote in her PhD thesis "was emotionally gruelling."
But she then went on to say: "While becoming aware of residents’ case histories was often distressing, this was usually offset by learning about the strength and resourcefulness that residents showed in coping with difficulties, and by learning about the effectiveness of the support that ‘McGregor Hall’ offered them." (6)
The impact of working with intensely distressing material and narratives should not be under-stated. There is a kind of secondary trauma which can distress and debilitate; in attending to the vulnerabilities in others, one's own vulnerabilities come to the surface. A management framework which doesn't support this - and that can range from simple lack of interest in what is involved through to active hostility - will compound the difficulty.
It should also not be over-stated. Distress is one stage in a movement of Self towards understanding which, if it is not arrested, impeded, or diverted from its course by a need to ameliorate or change it - or interrupted by management demands - Arrives: It is not unusual to emerge from an encounter inspired by the resilience, intelligence, and creativity of human being - lifted by the joy of what people can experience and do with and for one another, and for themselves.
As for the final question:
7. Is an archive 'therapeutic'?
Of course, when not being anti-therapeutic. A growing literature tells us that simply engaging with archives as such can increase feelings of wellbeing, confidence, and grounding - basic elements of "therapeutic" (as opposed to "therapy") (7).
More actively, Susan Beckley notes that the term "archive therapy" was coined in West Wales as long ago as the early 1980s for purposefully taking archives into the community to work with the elderly, delinquents, and others, for whom the engagement with archives as such, and with other people in and through the archives, was therapeutic. She links it to bibliotherapy and local history therapy, with an obvious cousin in reminiscence therapy (8), all of which Thomson et al have wrapped into the rubric 'heritage-specific therapeutic interventions' (9).
In the 2006 article I've already mentioned, Judith Etherton further drew attention specifically to archives related directly to the personal history of the researcher, which can be distressing - if they hold secrets, or misinformation, or if they are absent, for example; but can also be, in effect, healing: people can fall into place on discovering information about their families and themselves, however painful; incapacitating feelings of guilt can be resolved through the counter evidence of recorded fact. There is a growing literature in the role of archives in therapeutic discovery of identity, belonging, and grounding of the individual in Self and the community. (10)
Where the archive of the future is concerned, Nick Barratt indicates a direction of journey in his comment that the Archive "provides a space for people to share memories and experiences". The primary task of an archive is gathering, organising, preserving and cataloguing material to make it accessible; that is its brilliance. But the Archive itself can be so organised that relationships with the community and its needs are integral to the organisation, and not added-on; structured to ensure the work it undertakes is therapeutic; and that Archive problems are - as they should be, fun.
1. Barratt, Nick (2013), "The Last Word: Archive of the Year 2013", Your Family History Magazine, April, p. 74.
2. For "Celebrating Memory: An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its members" , see the original project website http://web.archive.org/web/20060615000919/http://pettarchiv.org.uk/fsg/ (accessed 26.8.2014), and the British Library Sound and Moving Images Catalogue, http://cadensa.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/?ps=V6O4mPqypQ/WORKS-FILE/326900064/18/X087/XNUMBERS/C1181 (accessed 16.8.2014)
3. Etherton, Judith (2006), "The role of archives in the perception of self", Journal of the Society of Archivists 27:2, 227-246. See also, e.g., Marshall, Karrie and Tilley, Liz (2013), "Life Stories, Intellectual Disability, Cultural Heritage and Ethics: Dilemmas in Researching and (re)presenting Accounts from the Scottish Highlands", Ethics and Social Welfare 7:4, 400-409.
4. Fees, Craig with contributions by Geldart, Gemma (2011), Final Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund: Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children: An oral history of residential therapeutic child care, c. 1930-c.1980: HG-08-16728, Covering the period January 2010 – October 2011, 3rd edition. Planned Environment Therapy Trust.
5. Phillips, Adam and Taylor, Barbara (2010), On Kindness, Penguin Books, p. 10.
6. Boyling, Elaine (2012) Quakerism and therapeutic environments: dynamic resources in the management of a therapeutic community 1962-1995, Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, p. 19.
7. See Neal, Colette (2012) Can creative engagement in museums improve the mental health and wellbeing of people experiencing mental distress? A mixed methods pilot study. Final Report,Welsh Museums Federation; James Northway (2012), "Collaboration" Archeist/An Archives Blog, http://archeist.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/collaboration/ [accessed 30.8.2014. Reporting on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Richmond, Virginia: "for those who are struggling to integrate back into civilian societies or are dealing with traumatic stress from combat, often recording an oral history or speaking with an archivist can have therapeutic benefits".]; Thomson et al (2012), "Quantitative evidence for wellbeing benefits from a heritage-in-health intervention with hospital patients", International Journal of Art Therapy 17:2, 63-79; Thomson et al (2011), "Evaluating the therapeutic effects of museum object handling with hospital patients: A review and initial trial of well-being measures", Journal of Applied Arts and Health 2:1, 37-56; Cox, Richard (2006), "A 'Therapeutic Function': Personal Recordkeeping", Records and Information Management Report, 22, 1-13;
8. Beckley, Susan (1983), "Archive Therapy in Carmarthenshire", Journal of the Society of Archivists, 7:4, 245-246; Beckley, Susan (1987), "Archive therapy in Carmarthenshire: Some further developments", Journal of the Society of Archivists, 8:3, 199-201; Beckley, Susan (1989), "The use of archives with disadvantaged groups in the community", Conference Supplement, Literary Association Medical Health and Welfare Libraries Group...Initiatives", LA: MHWLG Weekend Study School, 29 September to 1 October 1989, University of York, 114-115.
9. Thomson, Linda J et al (2011), "Evaluating the therapeutic effects of museum object handling with hospital patients: A review and initial trial of well-being measures", Journal of Applied Arts and Health 2:1, 37-56; Thomson, Linda J et al (2012), "Qualitative evidence for wellbeing benefits from a heritage-in-health intervention with hospital patients", International Journal of Art Therapy, 17:2, 63-79.
10. E.g., Humphreys, Cathy et al (2013), "Improving the Archiving of Records in the Out-of-home Care Sector", Australian Social Work, DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2013.856453; Kertesz, Margaret, Humphreys, Cathy and Carnovale, Cathy (2012), "Reformulating current recordkeeping practices in out-of-home care: recognising the centrality of the archive", Archives and Manuscripts 40:1, 42-53; Cushing, Amber J. (2010), "'I just want more information about who I am': the search experience of sperm-donor offspring, searching for information about their donors and genetic heritage", Information Research 15:2 paper 428. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/15-2/paper428.html]; McEwan, Cheryl (2003), "Building a Postcolonial Archive? Gender, Collective Memory and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa", Journal of Southern African Studies 29:3, 739-757. See Andrew Flinn's and Mary Stevens' querying discussion in Flinn, A. and Stevens, M. (2009). "'It is noh mistri, wi mekin histri' . Telling Our Own Story: Independent and Community Archives in the United Kingdom, Challenging and Subverting the Mainstream', in Bastian, J. & Alexander, B. (eds.) Community Archives. The shaping of memory. London: Facet Publishing; Trivers, Julianna (2005), Writing Wrongs: Archival Theory, Therapeutic Writing, and the Proposed Child Abuse Survivor Archive at the University of Manitoba, MA thesis, Department of History (Archival Studies), University of Manitoba.
Archives and Oral History
"How do we know who cared? and what they cared for?" A life story approach to archives of therapeutic environments and a celebration of the people who saved them
[This mini-celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre was based on a paper prepared by Craig Fees for the Oral History Society's 2008 annual conference, "WHO CARED?
ORAL HISTORY, CARING, HEALTH AND ILLNESS:
Marking 60 years of the National Health Service"
held in the Medical School of the University of Birmingham,
July 4-5 2008. Recently re-discovered, it is presented here in celebration of the 25th anniversary as well.]
Innumerable therapeutic environments small and large have come and gone leaving no trace, except in the rapidly disappearing lives and memories of those who were in some way associated with them. When even some extremely important and influential places leave virtually no surviving archives for key periods and episodes - Summerhill School and the Cassel Hospital for their pre-war manifestations, the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital for the whole of its pioneering war-time existence - , and considering the conditions of therapeutic work in pioneering environments and the events and disasters affecting them over the last hundred years, the miracle is that some archive collections do survive. The question is How? Why? What does it mean? And does it matter?
In this celebration, I will focus on the archives of the Q Camps organisation. Why?
1. The significance of Q Camps in its own right:
In its brief life (1935-1948) the Q Camps organisation brought together some of the 20th Century's seminal names in group and residential therapeutic work particularly (but not exclusively!) with children and young people, including Marjorie Franklin, David Wills and Arthur Barron, founders of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust; Denis Carroll, Director of the Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Delinquency (ISTD), now the Portman Clinic, and Commander of the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital during the Second Northfield Experiment;Otto Shaw, founder of Red Hill School; Hermann Mannheim, a founder of the British field of Criminology; Donald Winnicott, the eminent paediatrician and child psychoanalyst; artist and therapeutic art teacher Arthur Segal. In its two camps in rural Essex - Hawkspur Camp for Young Men (1936-1940) and Hawkspur Camp for Boys (1944-1946), the organisation pioneered a way of living and working with disturbed and delinquent people which stands at the beginning of the history of therapeutic community in Britain, and is still influential.
2. The origins of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust.
The Planned Environment Therapy Trust was the formalised product of a long-standing collaboration among Founder Marjorie Franklin and founding trustees David Wills and Arthur Barron. It began in the first Q Camp at Hawkspur Green in 1936 where the three first met, and culminated in the creation of the Trust in 1966 to explore, research, build on, and communicate the therapeutic approach they had developed in communication together over the intervening thirty years. In a very real sense, P.E.T.T. is the successor organisation to Q (which "stands for 'Quest', according to Marjorie Franklin writing in 1938).
3. As part of the David Wills Collection, the Q Camps archives led directly to the founding of the Archive and Study Centre in 1989.
David Wills, awarded the OBE in 1974 for his contribution to the field, died in 1981. Elizabeth, his widow, was killed by a lorry at the end of 1987. All of David's extensive personal and professional archives – going back to his childhood and up to correspondence just before he died - went to his literary executor, Robert Laslett, a senior lecturer in the School of Education here at the University of Birmingham.
Robert began to sort and annotate the papers, but quickly realised that the task was a massive and specialised one, and that the papers were of immense historical significance and needed to be made available to researchers as fully and professionally as possible. His quest for a solution led ultimately to the decision of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, of which he was a Trustee, to establish the Archive and Study Centre, which remains the only facility of its kind devoted to therapeutic environments in the world. The David Wills Collection, including the Hawkspur Camp/Q Camps records, was the first of what are now over 200 large and small archive collections, with over 7,000 volumes in the Research Library, and over 1,500 audio and video recordings in the oral history collection (not all of which are interviews. Recordings include conferences, seminars, events).
4. As an illustration of the theme of the talk on the vulnerability of archives.
Of the records relating to their work originally held by the three founding trustees, of huge significance and accumulated over many years, only David Wills' have survived. Marjorie Franklin's, including the records of the post-war Arlesford Place School and all her own personal papers, were destroyed after her death in 1975 by a helper whose father had been a doctor, and who had been taught that a doctor's records should be destroyed after their death. Arthur Barron's were destroyed in the early 1990s after a severe stroke, and included the records of the second Hawkspur Camp, for Boys.
Oral history has been a central pillar of the Archive and Study Centre's work from its inception, and one of the things we have attempted to do, where we can, is to record with people as we go over and through their archives or the archives they are placing with us. A part of one of these, with Dr. Anthony Rees, regarding the Frank Mathews Collection – Frank Mathews was a Birmingham philanthropist who founded the Birmingham Society in Aid of Nervous Children (1937) and the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid Children (1923) - is on the Internet, on RadioTC International. Last week I recorded an entire day with the daughter of the late Richard Crocket, a psychiatrist with a strong sense of the written record. But despite a remarkable set of surviving archival materials, professional and personal, which are now in the Archive and Study Centre, she was able to tell of an immense amount that had been lost. A fire destroyed the Scottish cottage where many records were stored. An earlier group had simply turned to pulp in the damp underground coal cellar of their house. His war-time diaries, a key period when he served as an RAF psychiatrist in Britain, and then in Europe, preceded by a locum period at the pre-war Cassel Hospital – had gone, leaving a gap in a remarkable series. And a sad set of papers turned up as we were going together through his material – a few pieces of random family material stapled together in the centre, with a paper wrapped around saying that this was all that had been recovered following a break in and theft from his car in Edinburgh.
The miracle of archives is that any of them survive. If they are paper, from the moment they are born they are subjected to things that destroy them – finger grease, food smears, coffee spills, dirt, grime – this is true of tapes, disks, film and photographs as well. Paper, as an artificial matting of fibres, is always working through temperature change and humidity change to tear itself apart, and if the acids used in its production have not been leached out sufficiently in the manufacturing process, or if it is cheap wood pulp as opposed to fine rag – and how many therapeutic units running on a shoe-string, perhaps in wartime austerity conditions or their equivalent – can afford fine paper – it is actively destroying itself. The inks fade in light and run in water. Film seeks to separate into its various constituent components – and generally almost everything we create to make a record of our lives or business is actively working to destroy itself.
And that precedes the external influences – the rodents who make nests of it and insects which eat it; fire; flood; theft; mould; inadvertent loss or destruction.
So, the lives of archives are punctuated by a series of crises.
In their youth, as Records, they are politically charged; are handled as transitional and ephemeral objects, gaining and losing value in daily transactions; subject to loss and subject to envy, curiosity and fear. One of the first members at Hawkspur Camp gained access to his records and private correspondence about him, which focused minds in the Q Camps organisation on the lack of locks at the Camp (there were no locks on principle), the need for records to be held locally and therefore useable but also safe and therefore the need to return them to London far from the camp in rural Essex where they could be locked up. It is a recurrent theme in therapeutic environments, certainly in the oral dimension. Two boys in a school whose archives we hold held staff captive in the staff room at knife point, and went through their papers, and such things have happened elsewhere.
But these crises focus the mind on archives when they are still alive and young, when they are Records. When they cease to be current they become Problematic. Very few places make a specific provision for non-current material. In a therapeutic environment where the care and treatment of the individual and the group is the primary and overwhelming task, it is generally no one's specific business to look after records which are no longer current. If they are not disposed of, then spaces out of the way are found for them. If it is no one's specific task to look after them, it is also no-one's specific task to get rid of them. They accumulate.
A nurse manager will leave the Cassel Hospital and several generations of nurse manager later one will mention the records still stored in an awkward upstairs cupboard. Visiting a therapeutic community for children there is a pile of old log books stacked almost ceiling high in an old disused bathtub. Non-current records are placed in outbuildings, in lofts and cellars and garden sheds, where birds, rats and the other processes of nature go to work.
And here in this no man's land of temporal silence, human things occur. Stored in black bags to protect them, archives of the founder of Hengrove School – one of the earliest to arise out of the Second World War, when so much innovation was needed and bloomed – are mistaken for rubbish and thrown away. Contrariwise, a new head of another special residential school, which also arose from the ashes of World War Two, throws everything out, and the little that now remains – a photograph album from the 50s with little else – was pulled surreptitiously from the skip by staff. Archives themselves rarely tell their own story directly. Their history is contained to a certain extent indirectly, in their absences and structures. But more fully and exclusively their story is contained in the oral testimony of those, and about those, who have cared for them. Without that recorded recollection, we often know nothing.
Archives which are able to go on living in the home or around the buildings of a person or place to which they belong - and in which they have proximal meaning - have one set of possible stories. When a place closes or a person dies, or the records are moved elsewhere for someone's convenience, another set of stories enters. The old ones remain in place, but the archives now become orphans. And then who cares?
A house with wall-shelves full of personal records where I go to record an interview is refined by the time they come to the Archive to a suitcase and a box. An academic specialising in Education, who spent part of her childhood in care, is visiting a residential school, and to her surprise discovers the head destroying records relating to the place where she had been, which had been left at some point presumably for safekeeping. Collecting archives and recording about a recently closed school, the former Director takes a phone call about another therapeutic community, a place for mothers and children, which is closing. He mentions the Archive and Study Centre to them, but the metaphorical line, as it were, subsequently falls silent and the records disappear. Over a decade later I am gathering the archives of the Cumberlow Community, in London, which has closed, and out comes a pile of salvage bags, material from the lost community, put together hurriedly in its closing and left at Cumberlow for safe keeping. The Wennington School Archives went with the school's last head to his new school at Great Ayton, where they were looked after, and from which former Wennington students intent on ensuring their permanent welfare could give them a further temporary home, carry out research into possible placements, and ultimately bring them to the Archive and Study Centre.
Several years ago another collection from another residential special school was loaded off the back of a van on a rainy night into the vaults of an accommodating city archives, where they remained unaccessioned before coming here because they really didn't belong there. Remaining school staff had brought them in before the school and its people evaporated entirely into the aether, almost literally: The wall of absence of information about a place and the children and staff who were there is almost fully impenetrable once the place is closed and the archives disappear. A West Midlands county official phoned me once to find out whether the County had responsibility for an old closed children's home mentioned on our web-site. They themselves didn't have any records. We had a single sheet of letterhead among the correspondence of one of our archive collections, which showed that, yes, it did, or at least the County's old Education Department had. The loss of archives creates an impenetrable silence, which can only be pierced, when it is pierced, through oral history.
Academics, former staff, researchers sometimes hold onto material after a place closes with the intention of doing something with them; and those too, more often than not disappear; and reappear, if they do reappear, through the connectingness of oral history.
That any archives survive is remarkable, and that they survive closure more remarkable still. So the Q Camp records, and the people who saved them, are even more significant.
But does it matter?
A Brief history of the Q Camps archives
The conditions in Hawkspur Camp itself ought to have prevented their survival. When compared with the fate of places which had their own buildings, in cities and towns, many of which are still standing, the improbability of this rural pioneering venture securing its records - living in tents and building their own wooden huts and meeting rooms, trying to grow their own food, living in rain and mud, nearly closing before the end of the first year due to the lack of funds, taking a wide range of members, from neurotic to psychotic, because the Camp could not fully choose their intake - and passing them through the beginning of war to our own time is awesomely impressive.
The breach of confidential files early in the life of the camp meant that confidential material had to be sent and stored in London; Marjorie Franklin said she would resign otherwise. There were several postal deliveries a day in those days, and the Camp Chief, David Wills, was inundated with correspondence from the Honorary Secretary, Marjorie Franklin, in her dreadful handwriting. She would write two or three letters a day, each day, sometimes repeating herself, demanding responses, sometimes forgetting answers, and, of course, with the crossing of posts. David Wills had no secretary, and himself seems to have had to produce the duplicates which case conferences and such like required ('4' she notes in one letter) not always with the benefit of carbons. "The Camp Chief is sometimes called from his office by "crises" which can prevent documents being copied by a definite date," Marjorie Franklin helpfully explained in a 1936 letter to the administrator at the ISTD (Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Delinquency - now the Portman Clinic) "but the work does get done eventually and will be sent you for the files."
With the beginning of war the Essex camp came to an end, and briefly relocated to the poorhouse in Bicester, Oxfordshire, where a new intake of unbilletable boys mixed with the rump of older disturbed campers, in bare and unfriendly buildings and with a bit of a hostile local police force thrown in. After several months in which the old campers were found alternative accommodation and the initial chaos settled into a kind of therapeutic milieu, David Wills moved up to Peebles in Scotland, to open a hostel and school for unbilletable boys for the Edinburgh Society of Friends. It was 1940, and with bombing in London, and with the danger of damage through damp, the Q Camps Committee agreed to send the case notes and other Q Camps records up to Scotland for safe keeping. Their train was bombed near Birmingham, the package containing the archives was burned and then doused with water. But the records had been insured, and were therefore given special handling, dried, returned to the Q Camps Committee where T.C. Bodsworth (who had been instrumental in arguing that damp and bombing would damage the records; described as the 'resident camp bursar' he had previously and subsequently been on the staff of the Lingfield Epileptic Colony. Given that David Wills' mentor, Stuart Payne, was also on the staff there, and that David Wills had first met Arthur Barron there, it must have been a dynamic and progressive institution), fully dried and repackaged them again, and sent back up by what turned out to be an anxiety-inducingly series of slow trains. That it was a right decision is laid out in a letter Marjorie Franklin wrote to David Wills on May 6, 1941:
The West Central Jewish Girls' Club and Institute and the day settlement (and of course Q Camps office) attached had a direct hit from a land mine and are now a heap of stones. The 27 killed include Miss Paynter (Secretary) and Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson (caretakers) and 2 of their children - a third was evacuated.
Records of 50 years social and other work have been lost.
Well, good bye
Then the Q Camps records as identifiable entities disappear. There is an early note suggesting that when David Wills moved he boxed the files and included them with his personal furniture. From Peebles he moved in 1945 to Woodbroke, the Quaker study centre here in Birmingham; had several short-term appointments while waiting to open a new school for maladjusted children for the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children, in Herefordshire; was finally able to start there in 1949 and stayed till 1961, his plans to retire from Bodenham interrupted by intractable disagreements with the governing body; and then moved several times again in short-term appointments before finally retiring and moving to Hook Norton in the Cotswolds. He died in 1981, and his widow Elizabeth (who had once been Head of Occupational Therapy at Yardley Green Chest Hospital, in Birmingham) in 1987. The records of Q Camp then resurface, in the hands of David Wills' literary executor, Robert Laslett. At that point they had an enhanced meaning, as the records of a place, a generation, a man, and a team which directly and indirectly had an immense influence on 20th century residential child care and policy; and (as outlined above) led to the founding of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre.
In his 2002 notes to Oral History Society trainers, Rob Perks quotes Dr. Johnson on the origins of the term 'oral history' – "You are to consider that all history was at first oral." And he notes the work of the Venerable Bede, which brought oral and archival stories together into the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Oral history is defined by the presence and absence of archives, and archives-based history. The absence of archives makes oral history absolutely necessary. Their presence – archives and oral history together – gives our understanding of life and the past a much greater fullness than either does alone. By and large archives – except in their structures and absences – are silent about themselves. They are an essential part of the story, but it is a largely occluded part of the story.
It does matter, and this is a plea to oral historians, when conducting oral history, to record the story of the records and those who care for them. It is the story of the memory of community.
"Community Voices: Oral History on the Ground", Manchester Metropolitan University, July 18-19, 2014
1) William Eiduks and Len Clarke,
Early Pestalozzi Children's Project
The Early Pestalozzi Children Project: Recovering a Lost Community
The Early Pestalozzi Children Project is about using oral history and archives to recover the lost story of a group of deprived European and Tibetan children who were taken into care between 1959 and 1965, and who later became estranged from their care community.
Our project was established in 2013 to recover a lost history and rebuild a community to which we belong, as early Pestalozzi children ourselves.
This presentation describes: how and why we came to create the project; our approach in general and, specifically, how we are encouraging our community's involvement in oral history; what we have experienced and what we have learned in the process so far; and the consequences, issues, and outcomes for ourselves and the wider early Pestalozzi community.
The Pestalozzi Children's Village was opened in 1959 in the village of Sedlescombe, East Sussex, as a surrogate home for children from deprived backgrounds: European refugee children still in German Displaced Persons camps following WW2, and a small number of British children. In 1963, a group of Tibetan children was accepted from northern India.
By 1965, the Pestalozzi Children's Village Trust had made the decision to focus its work exclusively on children and young people from Third World countries, and the existing European children's program was phased out. In some cases these European departures were managed with unseemly haste and insensitivity.
There was very little follow-up to check on their well-being. For many of them this separation meant that they had, in effect, lost their home and surrogate family. Subsequent articles and books mentioning the early years of the Pestalozzi Children's Village compounded this loss through inaccuracies and mistakes, distorting the history.
2) Craig Fees
'No Foundation All the Way Down the Line' Revisited: Analysis and reflections on 30 years of working with and building community processes through oral history
In 1984 I was awarded a grant by the Folklore Society for a project entitled "Folk Memory in a North Cotswold Community", in which I was given licence to discover what it might mean to be a community folklorist in a small market town in rural England. Five years later the Planned Environment Therapy Trust gave me the opportunity to explore the role in greater depth in a different setting, when it asked me to establish from scratch an archive and study centre devoted to therapeutic communities, group therapies, and alternative education communities more generally. The work of that project was crystallised in the 2010-2011 HLF-supported "Therapeutic Living With Other People's Children: An oral history of residential therapeutic child care c. 1930 - c. 1980", which eventuated in two national awards.
This paper marks the 25th anniversary of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre by looking at "Therapeutic Living" and examining what it means to be a 'community folklorist' - an archivist and oral historian - for a communities-based field which, by its nature, is defined by traumatic personal and family experience, dispersed and exploded identities, obscured histories and heritage, huge humanities, and the immense possibilities in human being.
The reference in the title is to a 1998 paper entitled '"No Foundation All the Way Down the Line" History, memory and ‘milieu therapy’ from the view of a specialist archive in Britain". Written at a time of sweeping closures of residential therapeutic communities for children and young people - which continued, and extended to communities for adults; and which, in fact, has a long history for children in care generally - I remarked there:
"What makes the closure of a therapeutic community even more 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."
In my experience oral history and the doing of oral history has a role it can play. I discuss this, situating the discussion in the context of the history of the Archive and Study Centre.
Paul Turney, Mastering and Archival Engineer at Sirensound Digital UK, at work on the PP/JB/IPS collection of reel to reel audio tapes.
Funded by a Research Resources in Medical History Grant from the Wellcome Trust, the "Opening Locked Sources in the History of Radical Psychiatry" project will see 148 reel to reel recordings not heard for almost fifty years being conserved, digitised, re-catalogued, and re-introduced for contemporary audiences, research, and discovery.
Monday June 9th through Friday June 13th.
The latest in a series of annual and sometimes bi-annual residential "Archive Weekends" in which former students of Wennington School explore and share their history: Reading, scanning, cataloguing, talking, website building...the array of documents on their Wennington website tells a story of what goes on, and the passion with which it is done:
This year, on its 30th anniversary, Wenningtonian Richard Pemble serviced and fine-tuned a clock made by Donald Garrod OBE in 1984 in memory of New Barns School co-founding team member Roy Frye, which had been sitting in store unmoving for umpteen years.
Over 170 new scans of images and documents were made.
Hundreds of photographs were searched and selected for a projected new online edition of Kenneth Barnes' book, Energy Unbound.
And then there was "Common Roots" on June 11th
Mid-week, Wenningtonians hosted a small conference to explore the wider horizons of sibling institutions and cousin organisations; an essay in common and divergent heritage: How are we alike and different? What do we have in common?
22 people took part, from varied backgrounds: free/democratic/progressive schools, children's therapeutic schools and communities, adult therapeutic communities, related organisations - Forest School Camps, Brazier's Park.... Much meeting and talking and the traditional very nice lunch (with beautiful strawberries at the end).
Before lunch Len Clarke and Will Eiduks of the Early Pestalozzi Children Project trialled the presentation they're giving at the Oral History Society annual conference next month. After lunch PhD student Emily Charkin focused on children's participation in building and shaping their environment, building on the presentation she gave at last November's Child Care History Network conference in Dorset (a talk punctuated by Wenningtonians, who recognised their childhood selves in photographs in Emily's slideshow going on behind her - black and white Wenningtonian childhoods of building sewers, wielding shovels, making things grow).
"I feel less tolerant of the status quo than I did a week ago", said one participant. Other reactions: "a brilliant opportunity", "Good day, interesting discussions and nice lunch", "exciting to experience the generosity of the whole group"...
And a surprise
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