"Therapeutic Living with Other People's Children:
An oral history of residential therapeutic child care, c.1930 - c.1980"
An integrated oral history, archive, Internet-based, and person-to-person approach to gathering, preserving and sharing a neglected aspect of the nation's industrial, cultural and social heritage.
A project led and guided by former children, young people and staff from residential therapeutic environments, involving them, together with family and friends, as interviewees, as interviewers, and to help carry the project forward generally.
What is the Planned Environment Therapy Trust?
The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, founded in 1989, is the only archive facility in Britain devoted to gathering, protecting, and making available the national heritage related to residential therapeutic environments for children and young people.
What is the "Therapeutic Living with Other People's Children" project?
With the funding and support of the Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund the "Therapeutic Living with Other People’s Children..." is a major oral history-centred project relating to life and work in therapeutic residential environments for traumatised, deprived, and delinquent children and young people between about 1930 and 1980. The core project covers eighteen months until September 2011, and involves a part-time project director, a full-time oral historian, a full time archivist, part-time secretarial/administrative help, with the support of current Planned Environment Therapy Trust staff, but especially - volunteers.
What does the project involve?
Collecting oral histories and archive material from these communities will allow us to build a unique archive and resource. Members of these communities are actively engaged in archiving material relating to their school as well as recording oral histories and finding ways to promote and preserve their heritage.
This web-site in which audio, visual and documentary materials are brought together to tell the story of residential therapeutic child care generally through this period, with more detailed concentration on five residential communities for children and young people, the archives of which are held in the Archive and Study Centre. New archive material will be sought, and one of the aims of the project is to create a model for online presentation which can be replicated for other therapeutic environments.
Alongside new and innovative use of Internet resources, we will be seeking other creative and effective ways to share more widely the heritage which the project gathers. A mobile theatre piece based on the memories and archives will be taken to current therapeutic environments, schools and other accessible performance venues. Visits to current therapeutic environments by former children – men and women with a long experience of life beyond the therapeutic environment – will bring a sense of future and connection to staff and children. A DVD-based exhibition has also been suggested, which could be sent to current therapeutic environments, for use and input by staff and children.
For more information about the project and what we do, please see the What We Do section of this site.
Why is the project important?
The project will concentrate its attention on the period from the early 1940s, when the national evacuation scheme led to the creation of a new generation of experimental therapeutic hostels for difficult-to-billet children across Britain, to the early 1980s, by which time most of the early pioneering figures had either died or retired and many of the pioneering institutions had closed or changed nature and direction. Those institutions which retained their pioneering roots and ethos had either begun or were about to begin a rapid adaptation to meet the radical demands and challenges of new social, economic, and cultural conditions, which included new and rapidly changing legislation and regulation, and the changing public perception of childhood, vulnerable children, and the residential approach to working with them.
Although largely unacknowledged, many of these changes were a consequence of the contribution which therapeutic residential environments made during this formative forty year period in the history of the nation's relationship and response to vulnerable, disturbed and delinquent children. During this period workers for children in therapeutic community environments forged a new body of professional knowledge and understanding, established new organisations, shaped and informed new legislation, and fundamentally helped to change the nation's approach to child care practice and training. Much that is common sense and even part of legislation today was trialled and proven in residential therapeutic environments then; and much that was common sense at the time was shown to be inadequate for the task in hand, and in some cases actively damaging.
This is an immensely influential and fundamentally important area of the nation's heritage, but it mirrors, in relation to the national heritage, the marginalisation and social exclusion often suffered by the children and young people themselves. It is characterised by the invisibility, by the inaccessibility, and by the destruction and loss of records, of memory, and of objects of memory relating to the children and the places and people who looked after them, as well as of the wider work itself. It has, in a sense, fallen out of the national heritage.
This absence, loss and destruction of memory and heritage is reflected in the lives and memories of many of those children and young people themselves, who, as adults - and however creative and productive their lives may have become - retain a part of themselves which does not belong to the mainstream community around them, or have a safe and valued place in the wider heritage. In the absence of memory by, about, and for them, their personal histories remain hidden, or protected, or simply unspoken, unknown and unarticulated; but in any event detached from the mainstream history and heritage of the community.
It goes beyond this, however, and here the project can play a particular role. For many former children and young people the loss, invisibility, and inaccessibility of records about them, of people who remember them, and of significant places in which they lived, translates into a corresponding lack of personal foundation and certainty about themselves and who they are. In the absence of being remembered, and enjoying an ongoing dialogue with familiar objects, places and people from key stages in childhood, they have a lack, to some degree and at some level, of a coherent and connected understanding of their own place within the scheme of things, or even a firm understanding and knowledge that they have such a place. Once again, through lack of certainty and belief in their own personal heritage and its value, and the ability or opportunity to experience, articulate and share it, they are effectively excluded and estranged from full and confident membership in the heritage of the nation as a whole; and whatever they may have given back in their lives, it remains difficult for them to feel entirely as if they belong, and as if the riches of the nation's heritage truly belong to them as they do to others.
Which communities are involved?
The Archive and Study Centre holds the archives of, or significant archive and oral history material relating to thirty different therapeutic schools and communities. To ensure that this project remains manageable, we will be concentrating our attention on five (The Caldecott Community, Bodenham Manor, Red Hill School, Shotton Hall School, & Wennington School. But we will also be working closely with, amongst others, the Mulberry Bush, Barns Hostel and School and the Cotswold Community. For more information, please see the Communities section of our website which each community is working on independently.
The Archive and Study Centre currently holds material relating to these communities but maintains an interest in other schools. Our Archive has a wealth of material on various therapeutic communities and you can reach its website at http://www.pettarchiv.org.uk/archive.htm
For a detailed PowerPoint Tour of the project and its background, click here.
For a brief but detailed guide to the project and its activities, click here.
To download the current Project Newsletter, click here (Adobe pdf required)