John Cross (1931-2017) | An Appreciation – Personal Reflections

By Alan Fox, Trustee PETT, Former Vice President SEBDA (AWMC)

John’s support in times of stress was given from a person who had the ability to recognise the needs of others. There are many of us who have felt that reassurance, which was given in a gentle manner without the need of an acknowledgement. Throughout his life, John’s sisters, Sybil and Cynthia, gave him critical support which has been a welcome glimpse into his private and personal life.

I heard of John’s death when I returned home from watching a cricket match at Arundel – it was a Twenty 20 Thrash, a game somewhat indicative of the speed at which everybody expects solutions to the problems of today. John thought of the long game – rather like a 5-day Test Match – where the skills of batting, bowling and fielding play an integral part towards reaching a result – or not, as the case may be.

There are many vignettes surrounding John – some are happy, some are challenging and thought-provoking. Many are centred in and around the pioneers in the field of therapeutic communities, as well as the young people he worked for in a team of caring adults at New Barns, and in recent years ensuring that, through the Planned Environment Therapy Trust (PETT) Archive and Study Centre, support and education was still available to other ‘homeless’ therapeutic communities as well. This was achieved for the adults and young people at New Barns in recent times when as fellow Trustees of PETT he asked me to have a sensitive hand on the tiller of the emerging friends of Barns House. We started with residential Gatherings in May and September with the primary purpose of working and living together to maintain the fabric of the buildings and to care for the grounds.

Most of the pioneers have preceded him. Names that come to mind are David Wills, Otto Shaw, George Lyward, Fred Lennhoff, Father Owen, Keneth Barnes, Leila rendle, Marjorie Franklin, Donald Winnicott, A.S. Neill, POrtia Holman, Marie Roe, Robert Laslett adn ‘Pip’ Dockar-Drysdale to name a few.

John was born in 1931 and was considered to be very bright at his elementary school. He passed his 11+ and went to King Edward School in Birmingham. It was wartime and, after the Blitz on London and the destruction of Coventry, city children were evacuated and King Edward School went to Monmouth where, to quote, he “was not unhappy.” After eighteen months, he returned to a rump of a school in Birmingham and started to take days off and spend more and more time in the local library.

He was interest particularly in Politics, Psychology and Philosophy. There was one occasion when a particular master asked if there was anybody from the school who would act as their representative on the Anglo-Soviet Society – his peers immediately replied, “Cross will do that!”

He left school at 15 and his interests led him into Politics and Volunteering, and at 16 he became secretary of the Moseley Branch of the Labour Party. It was here that he met Hilda Rees who was a ward secretary. He was 18 when he became an attender at a Quaker Meeting and later became a Quaker by Convincement – a path I was to follow later and shier his thoughts of “speaking truth to power.”

He was accepted to read Politics, Psychology and Philosophy at Durham University, and in the meantime, Hilda Rees, who was also Secretary of the Birmingham Society for the Care of Nervous and Invalid Children which had been founded by Frank Matthews, suggested the he should spend two or three weeks with David Wills who was the warden at Bodenham Manor which was the Society’s therapeutic community in Herefordshire. Within a week John had decided that his was the path to follow for the rest of his life. So. he never went to Durham University.

His contact with David Wills opened up new vistas and they became founder members of the Association of Workers FOR Maladjusted Children. Otto Shaw was Secretary, David was Treasurer (on Otto Shaw’s insistence because “Wills is a Quaker and he won’r run off with the money!”). John was asked to audit the first accounts and soon became Membership Secretary. In the early 1960s, he formed the Liverpool/Merseyside/Manchester branch. In the creation of the Constitution the ethos was that the National Council made the decisions and the Executive carried out those decisions.

My initial contact with John was at the 1966 AWMC Conference at Keele University. That meeting was the start of the many times our paths crossed until his recent illness. It was also the year when the Planned Environment Therapy Trust (PETT) was founded –

“To investigate and study, publish results and expositions, and train workers and carry out in practice methods of treatment of emotionally disturbed, maladjusted or delinquent children, young persons or adults, by means of a Planned Environment Therapy especially in association with specialist psycho-therapy.”

Those were the days when it was financially possible to run five day conference during which there was time to develop a sense of community and where workers, whatever their profession, could unwind and unburden themselves in a caring atmosphere of trust and shared responsibility. IN the October of the previous year, New Barns had started with two boys, and the AWMC conference were an integral part of team building.

By 1971 our paths had begun to cross more frequently. John was Secretary of the AWMC, and at the Edinburgh Conference, I became Treasurer. For six years we met and worked behind the scene with David Wills, who was Editor of the Journal of the AWMC. One of our tasks was to stimulate interest in the regions and branches. There was one memorable time when John’s enjoyment in, and ownership of, cars played a vital role. He drove the two of us in his Allard to Darlington to meet Hugh Davies at Red House School. During the journey, he took evasive action by taking to the central reservation of the A1 – the speedometer was registering over 100mph. We arrived in time for a N.E.Branch meeting and lunch, after which he drove us over the Pennines to attend a meeting of the N.W.Branch in Lancaster that evening. By the time we returned to Toddington, we had travelled nearly 600 miles.

We were involved in the amalgamation of the AWMC and the Association of Teachers of Maladjusted Children (ATMC) – which had been founded by former students of Dr Edna Oakeshott who was the director of the Advanced Diploma Course in the Education of Maladjusted Children at the Institute of Education in the University of London. Just before the amalgamation took place, the ATMC changes its name to The Association for Therapeutic Education (ATE).

He head a keen interest in penal affairs and sat on the Friends Penal Affairs Committee. It was at this time that, with David and four others, he contributed to the publication Six Quakers Look at Crime and Punishment – a testament against punishment. He became a magistrate and chaired the Magistrates’ Juvenile and Family Courts, and was Vice Chairman of the Gloucestershire Probation Committee.

On two separate years we were elected by our peers to chair the Special Education Needs National Advisory Council (SENNAC) and, together with Ronald Davie and others, including John Visser who played a leading role, we eventually helped with the formation of NASEN (National Association for Special Educational Needs). The two of us, with Tony Lonton, administered the closure of the Leo McDonald Fund which had been used to set up the forerunner of SENNAC, namely the Joint Council for the Education of Handicapped Children. we distributed the funds to students on university Special Education training course. John was also a founder member of the Charterhouse Group, as well as Young Minds, where he spent six years on the first Management Committee, working closely with Marion Bennathan.

The words that others will express in tribute to John are but fresh windows opened to let in the light from which many young people have benefited. Indeed, many adults have also gained insight into the events surrounding them personally or in in their profession.

Will we ever know how successful he has been? Otto Shaw was once asked, “How do you know you are successful with a young person in your care?” The answer was, “Show me the grandchildren of the children I have taught and then I will know.” So too with those of us who have known John.