The Mulberry Bush building project (and a historic convergence). By John Diamond



The Mulberry Bush School Cottages

At the end of this month the cottages at the Mulberry Bush School are due to be demolished to make way for our new 52-week house and accommodation for our gap-year students who come to us via Latitude to learn our methods and to help us to teach and care for the children. These agricultural workers cottages were originally built in 1814, as a row of six, in a ‘one up one down’ design. In 1980 they were partially renovated and converted; four were ‘doubled up’ as staff accommodation. They were built with no real foundation, no damp course, and with two external stone walls, the cavity between which was filled with earth for basic insulation. Until the early 1970’s water was drawn from a well in the back garden !

The middle cottage was the home of Mrs Coombes who was a resident on the school site until her death aged 93 in the late 1990’s. Her home was later converted to school meeting rooms and renamed ‘Coombe Cottage’ in her memory. Mrs Coombes had lived on the site at least since the school opened in 1948! That would have been an interesting conundrum for OFSTED to understand in our current highly regulated school environments.

Despite us looking into whether the cottages themselves could be redeveloped and form part of the new building works, all architects advice has been that they are structurally and spatially unsound, and that if we were to keep them, we would be incurring high maintenance costs into the future, as they become increasingly damp and dilapidated.

Since the early 2000’s the cottages have been used as accommodation for our ‘gap student’ volunteers. Each year eight students mainly from South America and Europe have arrived from the volunteering organisation ‘L’attitude‘, and spent a valuable year with us, being deployed as support workers in the residential houses and classrooms. The new volunteer accommodation will have eight bedrooms, and offer our hard working ‘gap students’ a much improved living environment.

Before the cottages were used for our gap-year students, they were residential accommodation for school staff. Over the years these included former Director and our current Chair of Trustees Richard Rollinson and his wife Lesley, who lived in the end ‘Number 1’ cottage (to the right of the photo) when he arrived as a student from York University in 1974. Robin Reeves (School Principal) and his family from 1980-1991. Anthony Dawson (Art therapist) and his family until the early 2000’s, and myself and family from 1991- 2000.

In a brief communication  to me Richard Rollinson wrote: ‘My other memory besides Mrs Coombes, is that Harry and Nell (can’t remember surname) lived in the cottage next to Lesley and me. They were very elderly by then but had raised 3 boys in that small space. They told us that as often as possible they ate and lived outside in their little yard, near to the well which they still used. When the school offered to install running water they refused, saying they liked the well water and didn’t want the disruption. Harry had worked in farming and with horses all his life, travelling everywhere by foot, often leading the horses to fields or to Oxford [for market?]. During WW1 he told us that he was in Mesopotamia, looking after the horses of the officers [“Oh, they were gentlemen, /Richard, real gentlemen]. Unbelievably his troop ship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean on both his journey there and back, surviving to live a long life back in Oxfordshire. In WW2 he helped out at Brize Norton Airfield as a ground support worker, again walking there. They both died in the mid 1970s’.

Number 1 cottage also became the base for our training department in 2007 and later included our ‘MBOX’ outreach team, as well as housing the school library. The team and the library moved back into the main school building in about 2012.

At the start of this September, as we were preparing for the demolition, Dawn Davidson (our Principal Training Officer and Librarian) and I went back to ‘Number 1’ cottage to salvage any remaining books that had not been brought over to the library.

At the very back of one of the shelves, I came across a copy of a book called ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him’ by Sheldon Kopp, (an American psychotherapist whom you can read about in the next article). The book was written in 1974 and described as ‘a modern pilgrimage through myth, legend, zen and psychotherapy’.

I was quite excited by the find, which is really a book of its time, emerging out of the ashes of the American post hippy counter-culture. At the very end of the book Kopp includes his ‘Eschatological Laundry List: A partial register of the 927 (or was it 928 ?) Eternal Truths’. This was something that I had first read, and was part of the more informal cultural ‘light reading list,’ when I joined the Cotswold Community, a therapeutic community for severely traumatised adolescents in 1982.

I re-publish ‘the list’ as the next article, as I think it offers some really important philosophical and existential tenets, many of which I remember and still find valuable as guiding principles, and which are still very relevant to ‘in the moment’ therapeutic community work today.

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