The Mulberry Bush


Nicky Hilton - Senior Archivist

Nicky Hilton, Senior Archivist for the Mulberry Bush, talks about their interesting collection of therapeutic material. The Mulberry Bush is a not-for-profit charity with a mission to provide services to meet the needs of emotionally troubled and traumatized children, young people, their families and communities.

The collection of administrative records, oral histories and artwork documents health care treatments from the 20th century onwards, and provides a unique perspective on attitudes towards mental health throughout the years.



Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

hello and welcome to the max communications 2021 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by nikki hilton senior archivist for the mulberry bush hi nicky would you like to introduce yourself and talk about what you do at the mulberry bush yeah hi faith thanks for talking to me today inviting me along um so uh i've been an archivist for over 10 years now and i've worked in a variety of settings so business and university archives local government and national government and also kind of special collections of focus on communities which is which is roughly what the archive i currently work at focuses on so the archive itself is part of the mulberry bush organization that has a older history as a separate entity so it's called the planned environment therapy archives and they were established in the 80s by a group called the planned environment therapy trust so for 30 years they were run by the trust and they collected records on therapeutic living and learning in a variety of environments so schools and hospitals rehabilitation centers residential centers for youth offenders as well as kind of umbrella organizations who look after that sector and notable people and groups who have influenced therapeutic living learning and what therapeutic living and learning means i mean it has lots of different names historically you might call it planned environment therapy and today you'd more likely call it a therapeutic community or you might call it an an enabling environment which is another term we use and it's really about creating a community and a space where people can work through trauma or addiction or mental health issues as a group so rather than individual therapy which can often be a part of therapeutic living and learning there's a real sense of the group and the importance of the group and the group dynamics so that's what the archive focuses on on the moment and in 2019 the moby bush took on the archive and we've been looking to grow the collections and increase the use so where do you draw the material from is this in an english based project or is it uk or how wide a scope is at set up to collect from the whole of the uk and at the moment our collections are more heavily focused on england with some scottish collections but that's an area of growth that we're really looking at the moment is connecting more with the the whole of the uk and to start looking at um how we can link into similar projects internationally australia and canada especially have uh quite a large community of therapeutic communities so that's uh that's an area that we're developing into so how do you spend an average day working on the archive an average day crikey well you know what i say every day at the moment for me is a journey of discovery uh no matter whether it's a desk-based task or in the archive stores so i came to the role in august 2019 shortly after the moby bush took on the archive and one of the things about the collections is they're amazing fantastic and really diverse but they're listing quite a haphazard way so some collections have a great list and it's really easy to find things and some things aren't listed at all or any partially listed so there's a lot of rifling through boxes and trying to work out what things are and that means that every day i meet new characters i encounter new stories and that really sparks ideas for new ways to engage people with these collections and new ways to use them and new areas that people might want to research in as well so it's it's quite a fun job because it's really you feel like you're you're delving into history every day you've told us about the contents of your collection but what format does it take do you have sort of medical papers do you have interviews what kind of material you're dealing with yeah it's it's quite a range so like most archives in the country it's it's heavily paper-based and it's administrative records of those schools and hospitals and centers that we hold the records for and that does include some medical records not so much modern but if we're looking at post-war we have some admissions registers and admissions books that tell you about the people who were joining therapeutic communities there and the type of conditions people were presenting and also along with that the kind of minutes and the management papers of those organizations but then because these are really community focused we also have a lot of objects and artworks of community members art therapy is obviously a really important part of any any group living so we have a lot of those type of objects and artwork made by people going through their treatment at the time which gives a really different insight that you can't get from the management minutes into what it's actually like to live in that community but we also have around five terabytes of audio visual material including about 1000 oral histories which were collected over 30-year period with people who were practitioners pioneers in the field as well as people living and working in communities and that's a really invaluable and fascinating resource because as i said it really alongside the kind of administrative records these records these all histories of people's lived experience really brings a new color and a new way of looking at those records and the way the communities ran and then alongside the digital stuff which we love we also have a hell of a lot of obsolete media especially realtor reels which we think would be wonderful but we don't always know what's on them so we're on a bit of a miss at the moment to try and get different parts of the archive digitized so we can see what treasures are hidden in these old realtor rails you've mentioned that most of your material is post-war do you have anything from earlier than that sort of like the birth of psychotherapy things like that do you have any older periods that you've managed to collect we have a few things from the 1930s so the idea of therapeutic communities really started to gain traction in world war ii especially around the idea of treating post-traumatic stress disorder and there was a move towards this in the 30s but it was really the second world war that that pushed that movement forward and sent money towards it obviously people were ready to experiment you had young men and women who were presenting conditions you'd previously only seen in lunatic asylums and when you have such a large proportion of the population who suffer trauma there was a real kind of move towards looking at different ways of treating those conditions and helping people back to health so it's it's really post-war so it's quite a modern archive collection that's really interesting you mentioned that period of time as being leaps and bounds forward for the understanding of mental health i think we're in a period of that right now i've been reading recently about kids who are having mental health issues that have just not been as widely reported as before are you dealing with adding to your collection from this culvert period as well yes we're trying very hard it's it's it's a tricky balance for an archivist because you want to collect contemporary collecting you want to move forward with that but the same time a lot of the organizations that we work with and we collect the archives from are going to a really difficult time at the moment because as you say a lot of their clients are are facing really quite serious mental health issues but also the staff you know we're all going through the pandemic together and if you are in a very high pressured environment looking after say young people who suffer trauma but you've also got this black cloud of covert over the top of you changing the way you normally work changing maybe your staffing patterns and who's who's available to be there so it's quite a a difficult and sensitive time so we're at the moment we're focused on collecting the kind of official records of how these organizations are responding to covert but as we move into 2021 we're doing quite a lot with umbrella organizations that work with all those communities to start to talk to people to reflect on their experiences of of being a member of staff at this time and how it's affected the way the community's run and how it's affected them personally so it's collecting we're going to continue to do throughout 2021 and and onwards because i think people's perspectives on the pandemic and as you say awareness and mental health issues will change quite considerably after this period so it's it's a really exciting area to collect and also an area i think there's quite a sensitivity around us we're still in the pandemic who accesses your collection mainly so there's several streams of people who access the access the collections so there are researchers who are doing current research into mental health and working with young people and people with mental health issues and who are looking to do kind of longitudinal studies so comparing practices over time and because we have a large amount of case files for different organizations you can get a really good idea about how practices have changed things that have stayed the same as i say the different treatments people are going through the different conditions they're presenting and that's a really interesting way to kind of look back at history and practices now and do a really long term study and also there's the usual group of historians medical historians people studying criminology psychoanalysis social reform are all very well represented in our collections and we have a number of former staff and residents contacting us because of those case files we hold people can access their records for a time they were in the communities and also former staff who are interested to kind of take a trip down memory lane and and see you know remember the place they worked because these are such tight-knit communities when they are when they're active it means that people often have really fond and interesting memories of working there and we're seeing increasingly more and more current practitioners wanting to connect with that heritage and to understand kind of why their community operates the way it does or where these some of these theories and ideas come from so we're seeing a growing number of people currently working in the field starting to access the archives oh wonderful that's great that there's such great engagement with current practitioners yeah it's quite a new area and it's i think it's really interesting to see and i think especially as we you know as things get older as as we're looking back on the second world war and as you say as we're dealing with trauma from the pandemic in the way that people had to deal with trauma from from the second world war there's kind of a feeling of being to understand the heritage as well are there any particular challenges you think that come with managing this archive in particular i think one of the big challenges is balancing confidentiality with transparency we do have a lot of records that are closed to research because they are they do contain personal information about people and they will remain closed for for quite a while yes but there's also a need to be transparent away around the way communities operate and the good things and the bad things that happen within communities that are tight-knit in that way and i think that also there's just a huge amount of stuff you could collect i think that's always a challenge for a lot of archivists is is you always feel like you could be collecting more and bigger and uh need to kind of balance your priorities on that front and and also the outcomes themselves are in quite a rural location we're based in the cotswolds which is a beautiful site and wonderful for research because you can come it's really quiet and peaceful and you can have a lot of time kind of dabbing into those records but it does also mean that we have to be mindful of people who can't travel to see us and there's a real push to make sure we digitize staff that we have a real online presence and that we can present the stories of these communities in a way that's accessible for more people than just those able to travel to see us so you said that accessibility is important you said earlier that you're interested in linking up with some international organizations and projects but what are your hopes for the future of the archive i'd like to see it continue to grow and develop i think at the moment it's not used as much as it could be i mentioned earlier about those kind of areas of history medical history criminology psychoanalysis social reform and i think that we could see more use of the collections in those areas and i'd also like to see more people who aren't within therapeutic communities use the archives because actually that there's so much content in there about the way society approaches trauma and mental health issues the different methods and experimental methods and people you know really trying to outside of government work together to find ways to help people and i think that's incredibly interesting for our social history and our culture around mental health today and i'd like to see it be used more by people who used to be residents of these communities because they said there's just such a wealth of information there for people to understand their own histories understand the time they spent there as well so i think for me the future will see the archive become even bigger and better than it is on that note what is your favorite part of the archive what is your your most interesting item i think it's such a difficult question because as i said at the moment every day for me i discover new things so i think every day i have a new favorite a new thing that i found that i love and it's just so varied and interesting it makes it quite difficult to pinpoint but i think one of the first things i found that i really thought wow this is this is quite special and important is a prospectus from a kind of an experimental community called q-camp and the the cube camp had two forms so his first one was in 1936 it was set up to help young men who were showing social behavioral problems and it was based in essex and the idea was that these men would come together and work as a group and have a lot of responsibility themselves and that would lead to self-discipline and self-growth and that camp was quite short-lived but it opened again in the same place in 1944 but this time focused on young children so this is a direct response to the evacuation program of the government because they were finding that there were a lot of children who were being sent for inner city areas who couldn't be placed with families because of the social behavioral difficulties they had and families will find it too difficult to cope they didn't understand the children so the queue camp was set up in essex 1944 to provide a home for these children and it was based on the same ideas that they had applied with the young men it's the idea of self-responsibility leading to self-discipline so actually the camp was self-governing it was democratic and both children adults were responsible for running the camp so the kids cleaned the rooms as well they helped cook the tea they put the laundry out wasn't always smooth sailing sometimes there were fires sometimes windows got smashed but the children themselves would have to make the repairs with the help of adults and there was a real sense of that social responsibility and throughout 1945 uh inspectors were constantly trying to close the camp down because they weren't sure about the methods it was so radical and so new this idea that the children were so involved in their own care and uh in the the running of the community they lived in there was actually a fire that eventually closed down the camp but the fire kind of destroyed a lot of the company didn't have enough money to keep going but this this prospectus is just so wonderful because before all that it lays out what the community could be and the and really appeals to the child it's not written for the parents it's written for the child to tell them what they could expect at the camp what they'll be asked to do when they're there what it might lead to and how it might help them and i think that's so interesting because it's one of those early examples of rather something being written to the parents and the adults talking about the children it's directly appealing to the child to say you know this this will be a good thing for you to come here you know you'll you'll get some self discipline you'll be responsible for yourself and actually that's a really interesting shift in the way we think about childhood as well so that's that's probably my favorite at the moment ask me next week faith it'll be a different one right now but no you're right that sounds like a really positive step forward and i think that your archive must be full of stories like that people taking charge of of their health and it's it's not kind of all locked in the asylum there's more positive stories throughout history yeah people really trying to make a difference and working together and working really hard to to find a different way of doing things for sure thank you so much nikki for taking time out of your day to talk to me about your collection it's very interesting quite a niche topic that i think a lot of people probably haven't thought about and but it sounds like you have some gems available for research yes yeah it's wonderful so are some of it available online for people to look at yes so on our online catalogue we have been busy throughout the pandemic putting up a lot of the oral histories that i talked about so every week we put up new ones that we've edited and made available and they're available there for free for anyone to listen to and download the transcripts fantastic thank you so much nikki lovely thanks for talking to me cheers