A brief history of New Barns School. By Cynthia Cross

The site at Toddington, Gloucestershire, which is now part of the Mulberry Bush Organisation was bought by the Homer Lane Trust in 1965 in order to set up a therapeutic community for what were then called maladjusted children.

The Homer Lane Trust was founded by some members of a pacifist community (Roy Frye, Cynthia Cross and Roy Schama) together with John Cross who wanted to continue the work of David Wills.

David Wills, Frank Dawtry, Gertrud White, joined the people mentioned previously as the first Trustees of the Homer Lane Trust;  Godfrey White (Gertrud’s husband) who was a solicitor drew up the trust deed. Roy Schama was the treasurer/accountant

New Barns School was established at Toddington in 1965 with John Cross as Principal, Roy Frye, Helen Frye and Cynthia Cross were the core adults. It operated successfully as a therapeutic community for up to 32 children for over 25 years.

Some of the key features were:

  • All adults lived in.
  • Adults were on the same pay scale regardless of their profession – they were a team.
  • Some children spent their evening (or part of their evening) in an adults room; the adult co-ordinating the evening would know the whereabouts of all the children and from time to time pop in to make sure things were ok.  Other adults would also call in to collect children for baths, supper etc.
  • During the day, groups sometimes collected in adults rooms for activities. Friday was a day when most adults offered special activities. These activities were part of a planned programme.
  • Special relationships were encouraged and supported.
  • Almost no doors were locked.
  • There was an opportunity for a community meeting after each meal; chaired by a child.
  • Adults and children could be censured by the meeting and when appropriate asked to make reparation.
  • Children were allowed to express opinions and differences were accepted and valued. Everyone’s views were listened to and respected.
  • The community always tried to look behind the behaviour; to understand what was being communicated and respond accordingly.
  • There were no punishments only appropriate consequences.
  • Everybody was equally accountable and responsible for everything taking into consideration their abilities and
  • The community put things right and repaired things when required rarely bringing outside help. A lot of building work was done by community adults and volunteers.
  • The children were offered as many opportunities for choice as possible.
  • Adults and children paid a tax to the meeting fund to pay for special events, equipment etc.
  • Committees were formed to manage things like, the tuck shop, keeping hens, looking at menus etc.
  • The community strove for the impossible aim of being non-violent, both physically and emotionally.

In 1978 the Homer Lane Trust was incorporated into the Planned Environment Therapy Trust ( PETT) as the aims were almost identical and they had a number of trustees in common.

When New Barns closed due to allegations of abuse, of which all defendants were cleared at Bristol Crown Court, part of the Toddington site was sold. The proceeds of the sale were used to establish the archive and study centre. Robert Laslett who was at the time Chairman of the PETT became responsible for the considerable amount of papers from David Wills after Elizabeth Wills died: these became the initial entries into the archive in 1989.

The Planned Environment Therapy Archive  has since become known internationally, it holds several hundred archive collections of individuals, organisations, societies, schools, units and other places related to group and therapeutic environments and progressive/alternative education. There is also a library and a collection of oral history and audio/video recordings.


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