The Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments: What is possible, and what makes it possible?

The Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments: What is possible, and what makes it possible?The Planned Environment Therapy Trust

In 1989 the Planned Environment Therapy Trust set up an Archive and Study Centre in the rural village of Toddington, Gloucestershire, “to gather, care for, and make available in a professional and appropriate way archive, library, audio-visual and other materials related to planned environment therapy, therapeutic community, milieu therapy, and related group therapies; and (for historical and philosophical reasons) progressive/democratic/alternative education more generally”.

Why? The spur was the discovery after the death of his widow in 1987 that there was no obvious home for the extensive personal and professional papers of David Wills, the pioneer of residential therapeutic child care, who was given an OBE in 1974 in recognition of his services to the field, and for whom the Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children (now SEBDA) established a celebratory Annual Lecture during his lifetime. Nor for the records of other people and places in the field.

The solution, for the Trustees of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, was unprecedented: To set about creating a place where the full richness of the field – from a brass whistle used to call children into some kind of order in the 1950s; to personal diaries and letters from the early 1900s; to interwar photographs and case files; to post-war gramophone records, films and videos; to books from the 19th century and journals from the 21st , as well as statues, World Play toys and even furniture if it told a story – could be gathered, cared for, and made available to the widest possible general and specialist public, now, and – to the extent that this means anything in this ephemeral world – forever.

The Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Birmingham

The Centre for the History of Medicine was established at the Medical School of the University of Birmingham in December 2000, to support and promote teaching and research in the History of Medicine and help develop the reputation in this field of one of the UK’s major research universities. The aim of the Centre, beyond its undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research, is to raise the profile of the History of Medicine within the whole of the School, the University and also the community at large.

Together – What could they do?

Together they have established the Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments – IHWTE. It is a research and study centre of the University of Birmingham, hosted by the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, based in the Archive and Study Centre. Its aim “is to promote research into the history and work of therapeutic environments, and to promote ways of improving, and demonstrating, their effectiveness”.

Together, they have established a PhD project investigating the history of a therapeutic community for young people, within the context of the Society of Friends, and Quakers’ involvements in schools and planned environments generally. A second PhD into the life, work and times of one of the pioneers of therapeutic community in Britain is in development, as is a post-doctoral research project on children’s mental health-related voluntary services in Birmingham. A small team from the Centre for the History of Medicine is already examining the archives and work of the late Harold Bridger, who began his career as a secondary school maths teacher and grew into an internationally respected, psychoanalytically informed organisational consultant.

An inaugural conference has been held, entitled “If it works…”, in which service users and practitioners from a broad spectrum of therapeutic enterprise joined with academics and others to examine the history and presence of threats to the life and work of therapeutic environments, as well as the factors that have assisted therapeutic communities to survive and thrive, and the strategies and adaptations adopted to ensure successful growth and service into the future.

A publication series has been initiated, in which one of the first volumes will be a major study of Birmingham child care philanthropist/social worker Frank Mathews, whose pioneer work with tubercular and disabled children, and later for ‘maladjusted’ children, has largely been forgotten. The Institute is taking part in the Oral History Society’s 2008 annual conference (entitled “Who Cared…?”), and developing seminars, including “I Am, They Are, We Will Be: sustainability and therapeutic environments” with ESRC and Institute Fellow Andrea Wheeler to be held at Toddington during 2008.

It is supporting the creation and development of the Child Care History Network.

What more is possible?

These are early days for the Institute. Thanks to the belief and commitment invested by many people we have already come a long way. We have an active Committee. We have a lively and growing group of Fellows. We believe that the Institute offers an environment and an opportunity in which practitioners and academics, students and beginners can explore and develop their interests in and understanding of the work of therapeutic environments, on their own and in connection with others. We believe it is a project which can be a stepping stone for some, and a home for others. We know it is a project which will grow around, and through, the people who choose to become involved with it; especially at this early stage.

We invite you to become involved, and help us to discover what is (and is not!) possible. And perhaps even why.

The web-site:

The physical address:

The Institute for the History and Work of Therapeutic Environments

Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre

Church Lane

Toddington, near Cheltenham

Glos. GL54 5DQ United Kingdom

01242 620125

For more information: Contact the Honorary Director, Dr. Craig Fees, at the above address, or [email protected]

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