Transcript: Interview with John Diamond, May 2022

Transcript of Conversation between John Diamond and John Whitwell | The Mulberry Bush Organisation Archive, 15th May 2022.

A Note from John…

I had the pleasure of being invited to do a recorded interview with John Diamond on the occasion of his soon to be retirement from the role of CEO of the Mulberry Bush Organisation in the summer of 2022. I think I was asked to do this as I was witness to the beginning of John’s career in 1981 when he started work at the Cotswold Community, where he worked for the next ten years before joining the staff of the Mulberry Bush School. When I retired in 2014 I was by then a trustee of the Mulberry Bush charity and could see what John had achieved in his final role at the Mulberry Bush.

The recording is available to listen to here, on The Mulberry Bush Organisation Archive website. The link will open in a new browser window or tab.


Name: John Diamond (JD), John Whitwell (JW)
Date: 15th May 2022


JD: Hi there this is John Diamond speaking. I am meeting with John Whitwell today to talk through a paper I wrote back in 2003 called ‘Organic Growth and the Collective Enterprise’. This is part of my leaving the Mulberry Bush after 30 years and nearly 16 as CEO, so a big change, and I’m working with Richard and the trustees; we felt that leaving behind some sort of discussion about one of the formative papers would be a good idea. So, I’m just going to hand over to John Whitwell and then we’ll have a few words and start the process.


JW Hi, I am now retired. I retired in 2014, but my first major role was at the Cotswold Community where I became Principal and that’s also where I met John because I was involved when John first came and I remember him coming on a visit in 1981, I think it was at the end of 1981, and getting snowed in and needing to dig his way out. That’s always stayed with me. It’s one way of trying to entrap people into this work: arrange the weather! But no, it’s been a pleasure to know John over the years and also over a few years being able to be a trustee myself and actually seeing the Mulberry Bush first hand and what an incredible achievement that’s been. So, I’m very pleased to be here and part of this discussion with John.


JD Thanks John and just to say a few words about my Cotswold experience. Yes, so I started at the Cotswold Community on the 15th of March 1982, so that’s 40 years and two months ago, and I had pre-visited the previous November, ‘81, when we got snowed in and it was literally you had to dig our way down the drive, bank of snow either side of us. It was actually incredible. So I spent 10 years at the Cotswold and then moved to the Mulberry Bush in 1991 as Deputy Director, Head of Residential Therapy with Richard Rollinson as Director and I became CEO, sorry Director of the school in 1991 and CEO in 2006.

So, the paper ‘Organic Growth and the Collective Enterprise’ was written in 2003 and presented at the ATC Windsor Conference, which was the Association of Therapeutic Communities Windsor Conference. And then later published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities. And the paper was written as a working note for staff to discuss. I think we had just inhabited the new site, which Richard Rollinson, Director, had established through fundraised money. We had moved out of four dormitories upstairs in the school built for households and then converted the school itself into a school and offices. So, it really did redefine the parameters and boundaries of the work. And during the early 90s, when I first came, there was no sort of boundary between the dormitories, so kids could literally run round the top of the school or around the school and it felt as though, that the large group of the child population, up to 30 kids, could feel quite uncontained. And it was also a time when there were actually very few staff, I think a professional staff body of about 20. So, the development of the new site with four independent households and the school really meant we had to think about upping the amount of staff in each team and redeveloping the culture and tasks as well and moving away, I think from a culture which should be dominated by one-to-one therapy moving towards a more household and classroom group-based model. So that was really the discussion point for the paper. And there was a whole range of different influences from staff, from colleagues at the management level and also from Doctor Alejandro Reyes, who was our therapeutic consultant at the time, and I think proved very valuable in really challenging our understanding of the task and the sort of Dockar-Drysdale/Winnicott model as well.

So yeah, those are my initial thoughts about the reason for writing the paper and its use I suppose to develop more discussion across staff. And then are quite a few staff still at the working in the charity who do remember that time as well. And as a formative bit of work, so that’s quite nice to know that some people still remember the paper.


JW One thought that comes to me as you were talking John was the journey that the Mulberry Bush has been on, as an organisation. If I think back to the early days of Barbara Dockar-Drysdale when she would have had children living with her and being patients. I guess that’s kind of, reading your paper, that seems to be almost at the heart of the of the issue, really as to how much , I suppose putting some space between the people who are involved in leading and managing and thinking about the organisation as a whole and the real minutiae of the day-to-day work with individual children as well.


JD Yeah, that that’s a really good point and , I think you know, when, when we when we took over the Mulberry Bush in 1991, Richard and myself, we had to work very hard because the culture, staff were actually really at the margins of the work and I think that’s because beforehand Robin Reeves, the previous Principal, as a psychotherapist, had been actively involved in therapy with all individual children and we were very clear that we needed to move to a situation where management was at the boundary of the organisation supporting the task and protecting it to some extent. You know, from what Dockar-Drysdale would call impact impingement. And so we set about really authorising the frontline care workers and teachers to be the ones who had the relationships with the children rather than managers. And I was Deputy Director, head of residential therapy, sort of overseeing the care task and also linking with education as well and it was a very tough time because there were some strong individuals who were senior managers still who were really, I think enacting and maintaining that one-to-one relationship. They were, you know, quite still, , authority figures for the children. Just by raising their voices and entering a room children would suddenly calm down, so we really had a quite a job of handing down responsibility and authority to staff teams of younger, junior members of staff and that was really a 10-year piece of work and a very difficult piece of work, working through those dynamics and the different culture as well. So, by 2003 at least, we had a new environment, and we were working and engaging in a task which was a bit more differentiated with managers managing and you know, care workers and staff and teaching staff working directly with the children and their management supporting those processes rather than being directly… So it was a significant change in culture.


JW I was very interested in your note about the paper where you talk about Doctor Aleyandro?


JD Alejandro


JW Alejandro, yeah, how he, referred to the unconscious need in the staff for those behaviours to keep them busy here to organise their work. And I was fascinated by that and I mean, I guess all of us have probably got some unconscious need which draws us to the work, but you’re actually writing about it in a very day-to-day sense. Almost a need for people to be in crisis, so I was getting a sense that the crisis itself was a motivation in that even though obviously not conscious because everybody probably wants a quieter, quiet life at one level. But at the same time at another level the need to be needed.


JD Absolutely, I think that’s right. I think Alejandro brought in a very astute sort of analysis of behaviours and it’s a fine balance isn’t it? Because I’m not sure whether Alejandro deeply, you know, really understood the depth of deprivation and trauma and some of the children. I think he got towards it later on. And I think there was something about you know, even though we’re working with this very troubled population of children. Both the children you know would literally appear outside windows when we were having holding a staff meeting, and it was a case of them, you know, wanting to be noticed and not wanting to be forgotten.
Having said that, there was also John Harrison our gardener, would also appear outside meetings with his tractor on, cutting the grass as well, so there was always some sort of background disruption, and I think you know, as we sort of bedded down the culture, there was more of an ability to stay with the not knowing and true and to be a bit isolated and and stay with teams rather than have the excitement or the children being drawn into something around disruption and creating that sort of impingement on staff work as well. So yeah, I think he was something important in our communication and staff teams I really did think did work on their own dynamics quite formidably after that; and the place did tend to settle down and become more task focused, but it was a long overhaul and those times would come and go as different groups of children passed through.


JW Because that’s also linked in my mind with something else that you said I think in the paper as well about finding the right sort of emotional distance. It reminded me that when I first entered the work, I worked in a probation hostel, I was told by the by the person managing it ‘keep your distance’. Now I know that’s not what you were meaning here, because actually you do, I mean there does need to be a level of emotional involvement, but I think I understood from what you were saying there’s a balance that’s got to be reached somewhere between being emotionally tuned into the children but not getting so completely drawn in that you lose perspective.


JD Getting enmeshed. Yeah, and I think that was a real learning curve and a process as well, because when I was working at the Cotswold Community with Barbara Dockar-Drysdale as consultant, the idea you know of the task was that people needed to make deep relationships with the young people at the Cotswold, it was only through deep relationships that the child would learn to you know, work, attach trust and work through some of those traumatic experiences. And I think with Alejandro and at the Mulberry Bush, we were working for a much younger group of children and I was thinking, well, you know, if we’re working for adolescents in that way, how does that translate to younger children who you would think and believe really needed that close proximity? And I think what we did give the children in terms of that closeness was, you know, a very clear sense of being contained by the adults. But I think there were some members of the staff team, uhm, who were there to be needed and did you actually get quite enmeshed with some of the children. So it was really a case of trying to help the staff rather than get so close in that the child would sort of manipulate them and you know, make use of the relationship that we’d be more observant and thoughtful about what we were observing and use that then to think about the appropriate treatment of each child.

And I think in the paper I use an example of what I’m talking about. I think [redacted], who was aged 5 and I remember when [redacted] arrived, he was one of the few 5-year-olds we did work with over my time, probably two or three kids who were referred at the age of five. I remember people saying, you know ‘wasn’t it cute having [redacted] and he was really little’ and people got really involved with him and then a few weeks after the honeymoon period when he started to settle down he started to mete out quite extreme violence to the same people and then they found it difficult to know how to separate out from that violence, how to become more, uhm, conditional in their relationship with him. So that was I think, a good example of how not thinking and just jumping into a relationship with very traumatised children can actually work against you, and the importance of observing, keeping, thinking, and maintaining what I later called emotional distance regulation rather than just thinking ‘I’ve got to be near the child to meet his attachment needs or her attachment needs’ jumping in. So it was a case of taking a bit more thought, thinking distance, before we worked with the child to, you know, defined what the child needed, and I think later and over this period of time the team started to become much more engaged in sharing perspectives with the child and we developed what we call the internal case conference, and the internal and, the treatment plan for each child as well. So there was a lot of sort of background work to support this move towards a more thinking observational and relationships that were more more thoughtful about countertransference I suppose. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


JW It’s only when you referred to Alejandro that you mentioned, he’s got a Kleinian perspective on things as well. That reminded me of the tension that existed at the Cotswold Community between the Barbera Dockar-Drysdale approach and the more Kleinian perspective of Isabel Menzies Lyth and Eric Miller to a certain extent. Isabel was very keen on the way, for example, scarcity was managed, which seemed at odds with Mrs Drysdale’s thinking about special things and special use of food, which you also refer to whereas Isabel was very much ‘we gotta work at this together’. The reality that we’ve got a budget, the reality that you can’t provide everything all the time, was quite an important tension to wrestle with.


JD I think it’s interesting, isn’t it? There’s something about a maternal role, the ever-giving mother. I think Alejandro was also a bit like Menzies Lyth a bit more critical of being, sort of spoiling the children almost and taking much more thought about what we were engaged in, and the difference between, I think what I call in the paper [pause] conditional, sorry conditional and unconditional work. Yeah, so I I think Alejandro’s was helping us become a bit more unconditional and it sounds as though Menzies Lyth in a similar way was saying, well, hang on you know you can only give children food if the budgets are there to give them food. What happens, you know, in a significant time of scarcity? So, and I think by doing that, Alejandro, and I presume Menzies Lyth, were also talking about, you know, staying with the not knowing when you’re not sure of something how do you stay with those difficult feelings of not having an answer? Or not having a response which is immediate.


JW I guess one of the other things that evolved and you’ve talked about a treatment plan the way that’s developed, which I guess that moved on from Barbara Dockar-Drysdale’s need assessments and the way those work as well.


JD Yeah, absolutely. When I first arrived at the 1991 at the Mulberry Bush, on a Wednesday evening, the staff would sit around in the downstairs staff room, while two people settled up the children upstairs, and we would go through a need assessment on each child, the Dockar-Drysdale need assessment on each child. And I think also Alejandro, to some extent became a critic of that as well. And it was, it was a bit instrumental and rigid and so we moved away from that and over time we created our own internal case conference, and by then we’ve moved from a whole school institution where all the staff team all met together to devolved smaller group living so staff teams were then working in smaller groups with the children they worked with, using our internal case conference and integrated treatment plan and I think, you know, the ideas were borrowed from the Dockar-Drysdale but it was probably a probably a bit less Dockar-Drysdalian in terms of the category: was the child frozen or unintegrated? We moved away from those terms which felt a bit archaic by then, but we were just thinking about how the child related to the adult, you know, what were the key issues around food or getting up in the morning or boundaries or school as well? So we, we’d modified the Dockar-Drysdale model, I think to be the model to meet the more modern need, I think really, at time.


JW My experience is the most creative bit of the needs assessments, and I agree with you about that sort of feeling archaic these days, probably the most creative bit was the recognition that children, a child, will present very different parts of themselves to different people and the coming together of those people, so you are bringing together, getting a rounded picture of a child, was probably one of the most beneficial things about the way they could work.


JD Absolutely. I think the internal case conference did that in a different way. So rather than all the staff in the school, you know all how many, 20 staff? When we moved to small group living, the charged key worker, the household manager, the teacher, the therapist the school nurse might attend as well. We have more of a multidisciplinary model of teamwork, and they would all come together to discuss the 360 perspectives on the child and then we would capture who was, you know, the good object or the bad object or who was at a specific role in relationship to the child. So I think we, we maintained that, those perspectives, the group perspective. It was just done in a different way. In slightly smaller group.


JW One of the things that you mentioned in your paper is the big difference that the Mulberry Bush was facing having to embrace the outside world. Maybe embrace is almost too strong, but certainly acknowledge that there was a world out there which you needed to relate to, which in the past hadn’t been the case or wasn’t so needed or even going as far as to say the children need to be protected from it, almost completely if possible.

Now I think, as an outsider to it, it seems to me one of the great successes of the Mulberry Bush, is the way you’ve done that and done more than that really, because you’ve actually gone out and educated them. You’ve actually taken steps to go out, whether it’s training, whether it’s the setting up of the MB3 that you have more recently done, the writing, the fundraising all those things are probably very different from most other therapeutic communities which did have, do have a reputation for being, or did in the past, being very inward looking.


JD Insular, yeah I know. Absolutely I think you know, I remember working at the Cotswold Community when we, you know might see a social worker once a month and the children’s families were very, very distant, and the move to Mulberry Bush, there was a much more regard for involving the family, which certainly grew over the years as well. We established the family team in 1999 with help from some lottery funding, and that was two social workers, Lindsay and Margaret I think, at the time they established, you know, working relationships with all the parents and carers of the children. So that was, and I think I remember that you know case conferences and the visits of social workers and families, which were more regular too as well, including, we ran an annual Family Day in May and we had this sort of education open day as well. So, my guess is the sort of The Children Act 1989 and then consequently the different inspection regimes were forcing us to open up. But we weren’t just sort of responding to those inspection regimes, we wanted to create a culture which was beneficial to the children, and certainly I think, you know, the work with the family, of the family team, with therapies and networks team really did cement the importance of a partnership with the family and the referring authority. I remember I used to go out and talk and talk about, you know the triangulation between the school, the family and the referring authority as being a really important triangle. If one element of the triangle breaks then placement doesn’t work, if you don’t have a family on side, or the local authority on side, the child feels it and the child will act out. So I think we had a, you know, a deeper understanding of the dynamics around the child and the containment of the child using different systemic links.

And as you say, when Dave Roberts developed Mulberry Bush Outreach in about 2007 and the foundation degree, that’s when we really opened up to the outside world, because we were having to bring in people to the foundation degree, take our consultation and training out to schools in the Thames Valley area and so we took the core principles of the Mulberry Bush out as well and that sort of created a better flow of exchange, both internally and externally, going in and out, and I think that’s the way it’s continued to grow since then and it’s strengthened, certainly strengthened, the charity’s role, function, definitely.


JW How would you say this links to the charity? How important have, over the years, the different generations of trustees been, how supportive or how much of a hindrance?


JD Sure, I think generally they, you know, they’ve always been supportive. I can think of a few times when, over the years, when the trustee group felt a bit sort of suspicious or anxious about our management. But those times are fewer than, are quite few really. Generally I think the trustees, the trustee body, they were thinking, thoughtful, caring people. Uhm, I think they did challenge us in the early 2000s by saying, well, you know, if you, if you think you know what you’re doing really well, why is it confined to 30 children at the school? And that was one of the one of the sort of challenges to see how we could expand the work of the charity and take the core principles of therapeutic childcare out through training and consultation, and we did that as well. Yes, we did that over the years. So you know, I can never think of a time when the trustees, trustee group was actively undermining of our work. I think at times they were challenging, slightly at times hard work, but on the whole, I think very positive, and you know have been a support, the right kind of support to the everyday tasks and of the growth of charity. And we did move from, you know, calling it the school to the charity. So we call it the charity now, whereas at one time would’ve been the school, you know and we add equal weight to whether we’re talking about the school, outreach, research, or MB3. There’s a certain equality of concern and thought that goes into each of the departments and how they combine to offer a trauma informed charity to the outside world as well.


JW When I think back to when the Charterhouse Group of therapeutic communities was formed, which was very much I think in response to the concerns that different therapy communities had about the Thatcher government basically, and a lack of money and worry about referrals coming from local authorities and how therapeutic communities could cooperate together.Now when I think back to those days most of those therapeutic communities have gone.


JD Gone, have gone.


JW And often I’ve thought to myself ‘how have the Mulberry Bush done it, how? What has been the difference?’ I mean it does seem to me, obviously your independence.


JD Yep, our charitable status.


JW The fact that you’re freestanding, you’re not beholden to anybody else. I mean the Cotswold Community was owned and managed by Wiltshire, which was really difficult at times. Other organisations were part of larger charities in some cases and the tensions that could exist there. But it couldn’t be the only thing but one of the things must have been your independence, that the Mulberry Bush charity has had and the ability to, to make your own decisions and decide how you want to go.


JD Absolutely no, but that’s right and I’m very, very conscious of you know, at the Charterhouse and then ATC. And then it became TCTC in 2012, how fragmented the last 30 years has been in terms of the sector has been very fragmented. We went from the Charterhouse days when there was a small group of therapeutic communities who would meet together, to invasion of the sector by the big venture capital groups really. And we’re, uh, we’re very small fry now within that.
But I always felt that because we had our, you know, 50, 60, 70-year history, there was something really significant about that. There was a real bedrock to our history coming out of World War Two, and I think, you know, just keeping that story alive and ensuring that we got good referrals, this is before we before the charity took off, when it was still a school, so keeping our history true to our foundation, believing in our relationships with local authorities, the good reputation we had, I think we just went about exploiting that best we could have really establishing the school as something special.

I think you go out into the education area under Andy Lole, we were far more Ofsted proof by the time Ofsted came along we’re getting it better at fighting inspection regimes, being confident about our saying and doing so, there’s an element of confidence in the in what was the CMG, the Conducting Management Group, and the Conducting Management Group, actually, that was a name that Alejandro helped us think about because we were like an orchestra. It was a conduction of the orchestra, different people, different people in the management group and the CMG lasted for the best part of 10 years. It was a solid management group from which we established the school, and we started the outreach growth as well, which Dave Roberts and other people then took out. So I think it was just, you know, having the right people, complete belief in the task, acknowledging our history and acknowledging that we felt we knew what we were doing and doing it well, which kept us going whereas I think some people lost their way, just didn’t survive over that 30 years. So yeah, a lot of lot of places went under, didn’t they?


JW I think it was a tendency, certainly there was at the Cotswold Community, of ‘keep your head down’ and actually, you’ve done the exact opposite.


JD: Yeah, yeah, we’re quite bold.


JW You’ve raised your head and gone out there. And of course, the risk is the more you advertise yourself, the more you pronounce what you’re doing, somebody, somewhere, is going to have a go, but you overcome that and that’s I think much to be admired.


JD Thank you for that. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think you know we have been confident, and we’ve always tried to confidently project something about the charity. When I became CEO in 2006, you know, for the next ten eleven, twelve years actually, up until just before the pandemic, I was out probably 2-3 times a week and I went to as many places I could just to talk about the work which was up until 2007 at school, but after that the outreach as well and then research and MB3 eventually. And I think just being out there, trusting that the CMG would adequately support the school in my absence, I was able to get out and cement that that sort of reputation I think, and also support the growth of, you know, other services like outreach and MB3 and research as well. So that became the growing sort of work I did, just trying to promote all aspects of the charity and I think It worked well, you know, looking back and with a bit of good luck and pure determination and belief, we did it.

We did it and got to our 70th anniversary in 2018 with the opening of the Burrow and that’s important, isn’t it? Because I think what the Burrow then represented was what Doctor Drysdale did during the holidays. You know 70 years before that would just take children into her house. There was a 24-hour, a 52-week element to the task. But I can imagine that the cost on the Dockar-Drysdale family must have been huge, as we institutionalised that in 2018 with the opening of the Burrow with up to six children being able to stay on the site all year round. In fact, the Burrow has been full since we opened it.


JW Right, now I was curious to ask you about that because when I was a trustee it was just at the beginning stage.


JD Yeah, yeah, yeah, since the beginning it’s been more or less full at all times, and in fact Lee is also now talking about having more flexible provision with more 52-week access, which I think is the way it will go.


JW Another aspect of the success, it seems to me, linked to what we’ve been saying, was the way you’ve been able to grow your own managers and leaders. I know you have also brought people in and that’s generally worked pretty well, it seems to me, and that’s not an easy task, but somehow the continuity of the culture has been through, uhm…


JD Osmosis


JW Yeah, well something like that rather than, rather than, very abrupt changes to leadership. And again, part of the reason why some of the therapeutic communities failed was because people were brought in because they had, say, business skills and didn’t really understand the therapeutic task. Whereas that’s always been a core Mulberry Bush, and business has always been important, but at the same time, the core understanding has been crucial, I think, to the managers and leaders.


JD I think the title of the paper organic growth that has run true right across, you know, from 1991, well probably since we first started in ‘48, certainly across my time from 1991 until 2022 today, and I think most of the people who took up senior positions did come from within the culture. There’s a few exceptions to that. Claire McCarthy, we brought in from Childhood First as Head of Group Living when Carol Day left, Lee Wright in 2017 as Director of the School and a few other people, but generally we’ve been staffed, our senior staff have been homegrown and I think, you know, there’s benefits to that in in as much that the culture is carried forward by those people and they are, you know, sort of carriers of that culture. At the same time, you also risk becoming too insular, so I think every so often bringing in an external person just to change the dynamic has been important, but generally you’re right John, I think most of our staff have come up travelled on the journey with us really, yeah, from junior ranks upwards, and that’s worked well for us really; it’s served us well.


JW Also, I suppose that how your own role has developed over all the years you’ve been a part of it, Mulberry Bush, has enabled people to stay with the organisation as they feel the need or feel it’s appropriate to move into the next stage of their own career. I mean, you mentioned Andy. I know that he does quite a lot of work with schools, other schools, and….


JD Yeah, consulting.


JW And Dave Roberts, in terms of the training and so on, all those people who’ve all been able to move into roles at the right time for yourselves as well as the organisation.


JD Absolutely, and John Turberville as well, so I think that that evolution… I think we’ve always ensured that, you know, there’s sort of a strong deputisation behind the leader at different levels of the organisation and that served us well both in terms of the households, education and outreach as well. So there’s been sort of a similar pattern of modelling of leadership roles across all services, I think, which again served us well.

And it’s also, you know there wasn’t. You know when I first became CEO I was really the main person making contacts across the boundary into the outside world. Over the last few weeks, over the last few years, you know, Dave Roberts, Andy, John T and Caryn have had made their own relationships as well, so the leadership has got much more distributed over the last 3-4 years, and that’s another reason that, you know it’s less need for me as a single, for the CEO to be there now. It’s much more, it’s much more shared, the leadership of the organisation and charity, and again, that’s a strength because you’re reaching more people than you would with a single CEO doing that sort of connecting work as well. So yeah, it’s been a real, a real, experience of positive growth really. And of course, Marya now at MB3 is making her own connections as well, and so we have a huge sort of network now of other organisations we either can partner with or get advice from or support or work with and that just grows and grows and that also, you know, cements the role of the charity in a network or a web of communications and contacts which strengthen as well. So yeah, it’s been a huge bit of work growing over the years.

I’m sure, you know, Mrs D would have been so involved 60 years ago that, you know, although she made connections, she would have been much more insular, looking inward, and it’s a very different world order, I think.


JW You also refer I think in your paper to the role of her husband, Stephen Dockar-Drysdale, providing some sort of security around her so that she could do her work, and certainly when she was a consultant to the Community, I can remember him driving her there and picking her up.


JD That’s right, I remembered that it was…


JW He was very much, uh, it felt as though he was very much a sort of caring authority figure for her as well, I guess that was mirrored to a certain extent in how the… his involvement in the Bush in the early years.


JD Yeah, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Because, you know, Mrs D was a matriarchal figure and incredible pioneer and a real leader as well. I remember Alejandro talking about, you know, very much about this sort of Winnicotian/Dockar-Drysdale tradition being very maternal and although Klein was, you know, a woman, there was something a bit more paternal, or, or, put into the system as well or challenged in the system about, you know, is it forever unconditional love for the children or do we have clear conditions and authority involved? And I think we did move to a more conditional set of relationships where if a child was, you know, OK, badly behaved for whatever reason, we’d understand the reasons, but you know, there were sanctions about their behaviour as well. We didn’t just let, you know, anything go simply because the child had a traumatic background. I think that sort of culture grew holistically as well, there’s a better, better sharing of male-female roles in relation to the children. So that’s an interesting point as well, more of a sort of, combined parenting of children rather than it being a one to one I think came to be embedded as well.


JW I guess thinking of the long history of the Mulberry Bush, which means that you also got a very long history of children who have grown up and some would be, thinking of the age of the Mulberry Bush, which must be quite elderly and that’s another thing that I think you’ve done. You’ve kept in contact and encouraged contact and had open days to…


JD Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.


JW Certainly we weren’t able to do that at the Cotswold Community, and I guess there are quite a number of places that haven’t and don’t.


JD No, I think we have got a, sort of a, good network now of ex-pupils, and John Turberville and Rich is involved in that as well more than I am, and Marya, and they meet here every so often. I think it’s a, it’s a fascinating area, isn’t it? Because I’m still in touch with [redacted] from the Cotswold Community, he lives in [redacted]. And, you know, as a household manager at Cotswold I was also [redacted] key worker and looking back that was a really impossible role, to be the household manager and have one child who’s very needy and dependent on you as well because you have to sort of fight the child off in order to look after the group. But I found a way to do that and I think we were very clear at the Mulberry Bush that, you know, household managers wouldn’t be, you know, key focal people to the children that, will be delegated to the what are called Therapeutic Care Practitioners, TCP’s or senior TCPs. So again, I think there were things I learned from experience of the Cotswold that found their way into the culture or became discussion points and we learned a lot from them as well and now the household managers at the Bush are the treatment team leaders, they oversee the treatment of each child with, you know, the therapists and teachers as well, so they don’t get pulled into the one-to-one like we used to in the old days and that again that’s a sort of a an evolutionary sort of aspect of the work and how you move out from that of one-to-one pull as well. I think Alejandro used to call it the regressive tug. Something about being pulled into, you know, that it’s almost like a force field where where the child needs you and you find yourself pulled in, but you have to keep thinking well, what’s the pulling in about, you know, is this child trying to manipulate me? Does he or she need me? What’s the meaning of the tug? And by thinking about that, you become a bit more attuned to ‘am I being manipulated or is it meeting genuine need’ and trying to separate out those bits even though it’s a tough thing to say isn’t it? Can a traumatised child balance pre-manipulation and need is very fine I think. It’s something, you know, trying to get past pathological drives to something more meaningful is the issue.


JW Do the therapists in the Families and Therapist Team. I’m not sure the title you give it, but do they?


JD Therapies and Networks Team, yeah.


JW Do they offer support and advice to the to the group living teams for example?


JD Yeah, they do. So basically, whenever a child is now referred, and the family referred, the therapies and network team will be involved in the referral process to have a think with the group living team about what therapy the child might or might not use. And they also certainly think what does the family need? Does the family need intervention or are they functioning enough to get on with things OK, and in a small few cases, I don’t know how many, some children will have individual psychotherapy if they’re assessed to make be able to make use of it, but we moved away from the one-to-one model whereby generally music therapy and speech and language therapy is more educationally based. Music therapy and drama therapy were available to all children as part of the daily activity out from education, so drumming circles or drama therapy was part of the curriculum and then the team would decide if a particular childhood might benefit from individual psychotherapy. So we’ve certainly moved away from, you know, children having individual psychotherapy, although I did set up the psychotherapy department back in 2004, but that morphed into the therapies and network team, and the more we thought about individual psychotherapy, for many, many, most of the children, it wasn’t relevant actually. And that was part of our learning, and I think we also, around about 2009/10 became interested in some of the sort of scientific stuff as well, so the role of rhythm and music therapy, drumming. Drums became part of the culture and embedded in the culture as well. As well, we are all the time looking for external influences which would add to the therapeutic culture, and I think we did some good work bringing new ideas in as well and exploring and experimenting with them. Certainly, the therapies and networks team now is, a huge amount of their work goes into supporting families. We have, you know, families, family weekends for foster families or adoptive families on the site as well.


JW Yeah, that’s the other thing that I remembered was just starting when I was finishing as a trustee and…


JD That’s right.


JW It sounded fascinating.


JD Yeah, absolutely, and I have no doubt one day we’ll have an outreach programme family team. That’ll be the next stage in the evolution, having some team that could go out to maybe work with families who are, you know, pre-referral or something just to support them. I think there’s a huge amount of work we could do with a, you know, uh, probably a family centre at some point in the future as well, so I’m sure that’ll, that’ll evolve.


JW One of the things I wanted to ask you about when thinking about today, as you’re coming towards the end of your time at the Bush, was to really go right back to the very beginning. I’m aware of the fact that you did a fine art degree and so it wouldn’t have been obvious that you would have started out in this work then. If you think back to what it was that drew you to the work, both consciously and unconsciously, is there anything you would be willing to say about that?


JD Oh, I’ve got quite a clear memory actually, so I remember finishing my degree in Leeds and looking at The Guardian one day and I saw an advert. I’d actually applied for a few community artists posts in Manchester, one in Hulme as well, mural painting. I quite fancied being a mural painter in the city, but I got no work, got nowhere with that and one day I saw this advert in the Guardian saying ‘are you interested in working with therapeutic communities and children with chameleon like, erm, personas’. So I thought this sounds fascinating and in my head I thought ‘I can go and paint with these kids’; I’m sure I’m going paint pictures with them and teach him to paint. So I went to the Cotswolds with this idea that I would use art to form relationships and help kids grow and change. And in fact I did do quite a bit of painting with kids so over the years. We did murals in the house in Larkrise and at the Mulberry Bush as well, I painted a few murals on different walls as well. So it was always in the background but never really became, you know, something like… I never trained as an art therapist or anything. So I, my life became a manager in therapy, residential care and the charity rather than artist but I’ve carried on painting as a hobby and I do really enjoy painting, and I think it’s such a fascinating, you know. I think, I’ve always thought the process of painting right from scratch when you get the blank canvas and you start, it’s a bit like psychotherapy because you don’t know what’s going to emerge, and the thing that does emerge is never as you imagine it will be anyway. So something different always emerges on the canvas, and you might love it or hate it, but it’s been a process and a journey and when I do paint now, I can get lost in paintings and the process of paint. I get really lost in it and the flow, I think, and I really enjoy that in the same way I think you know there’s something about being a therapeutic community, you’re deeply immersed in the process. So I think there’s two similar processes, creative processes, one of which is about putting stuff, paint, on canvas and one is about creating relationships and you go through all the same doubts and uncertainties as you do when your with a child for the first time, you know, ‘is this going to work or turn out OK or not’, so there’s something whereby those processes, yeah, have followed me all my life in different forms I think, and I’m looking forward to my retirement to do a bit more painting and see what that leads to. Haha.


JW Now the other thing I was doing, partly linked to today, was looking back at some photographs I had of the Cotswold Community. The other thing I noticed was a feature. A lot of the photographs with you in, were you making music.


JD Playing guitar, I know.


JW Playing guitar and drums, and I’ve had quite a few photos of that, and so music has also, I imagine, been quite an important part of your life.


JD Yeah it has. I’ve played in bands all my life really. My brother did too, my middle brother, because my Eldest brother went off to college and my middle brother was at home and he brought a drum kit and his guitars and he had his friends around so I was always surrounded by older teenagers playing music and I’d just sit in and listened. I learned to play as well and then I went to university and I played in a lot of punk bands at the time, which was great fun. So I’ve always had that in me and I still play guitar and got some drums at home as well. It’s less in the foreground now, although my sons play music and I’ve got another friend in Swindon who does music as well, so I might pick up some guitar and drums again. So arts and drums and guitar, so these things have never really gone away; just go around in circles. ‘Come on, leave it aside’, I think. Richard Rollinson used to call it hoeing your row, I think, you hoe your row and somehow the row never gets cleared, you have to keep going back to it and starting again so.



JD Just going to stop it there because that might be a good place to stop and get a bit of energy.


JW I’ve probably run out of questions.


JD But that was quite like, that was quite going full circle, back to the music and guitar.


JW Well, yeah, I thought, you know it’s great to reflect on all your achievements, but also there will be people wondering ‘How did you get into this world?’


JD Yeah, absolutely. I mean I should… I did the reading MA course as well and I did my ‘Tavi’ Consulting MA as well.


JW That’s the thing.


JD I’ll just say that as well, then we can carry on. That should be about it.

Just thinking John actually, the Fine Art degree that was in 1981 I think, but the other two formative courses in my life, which were more directly related to Cotswold and Mulberry Bush was starting the Reading MA in Therapeutic Childcare with Adrian Ward and Linnet McMahon back in 1989. In fact, I started it at the Cotswold and finished in ‘91 at the Mulberry Bush. So I think the MA translated across 2 experiences as well. That was a fantastic course and I think, you know, Adrian and Linnet and the staff were just so skilful in creating experiential course which really brought theory and practise together, and a number of people at the Mulberry Bush, Dave Roberts, Angus Burnett, John Turberville, a few others as well also did the course. So in the Senior Management Group, we did have four or five people who had worked and had that embedded in their learning as well. Certainly, it’s certainly influenced Dave Roberts in setting up our Foundation Degree as well, that model; so that’s sort of another sort of bit of history which found, you know, emerged and found its way forward.

In 2004 to 2006 I did the Tavistock D10 Consultation in the Organisation, which again was a fantastic way of really starting to apply psychodynamic ideas to organisations as well. So that was a formative bit of training for me as well. I did some bits that were longer like the [?] training. I mean psychoanalytic psychotherapy ‘the Tavi’ as well. Those things really did help in… help thinking about the development of the charity; relationships across and between, too…


JW Sure, probably helped you, again, sort of embrace the wider world, because I can recall…


JD Absolutely.


JW I mean I did a couple of courses while I was at the Cotswold Community, and they had that effect on me. The first one I did was the Advanced course at Bristol, which Chris Beedell was running, and of course Chris Beedell had the link with the Mulberry Bush. Chris Beedell was a very different personality and character to Richard Balbernie.


JD Absolutely, very warm, wasn’t he, Chris?


JW And that was good for me to experience those differences, because if you just stay in one place in one organisation, you can get very narrow.


JD Absolutely


JW I think I’m sure those courses must have widened as well as deepened your horizons actually.


JD Absolutely. I remember shortly after arriving at the Mulberry Bush, or maybe just before, I remember meeting Rich Rollinson, and I remember meeting one day with Chris Beedell as well, who, I think, just before he retired, and he died just a few years later after that, so those people are really formative in my experience. Chris was a really warm guy, wasn’t he? Alejandro was much tougher with us, you know, Chris was one of those warm people.


JW Yes, he seemed like almost a big Father Christmas figure.


JD Yeah, that’s right


JW And he, indeed he rather looked like him too. There was a generosity, and also he was very artistic in his background too.
How long have we been going?


JD Nearly an hour. That’s probably about long enough actually; let’s just the sit here and see what else emerges. At the end I’ll just say ‘thanks very much, John’ or something.
And I, I mean other people like Judith and Chris; so, Judith did work at the Mulberry Bush as well, and at the Cotswold, so over the years there have been people like Andy and Judith who have translated into both areas as well. Interesting.


JW There’s quite a number of people as well; Jennifer and Stuart.


JD And Stuart, yeah, Richard Hartwell. A few people have made it to the Bush as well.
I just need to stop.

I’m also conscious there are quite a few people who worked at both the Cotswold Community and the Mulberry Bush. I was thinking Jennifer and Angus, Stuart Harrigan, Richard Hartwell, Andy Lole and Judith, I’ve forgotten her surname, Judith Phillips, who was a psychotherapist for us at the time, so I think, I’m sure, all those people also helped, you know, develop something about injecting that culture as well also. Interesting those different experiences of people take…


JW I think one of the good things is the sort of the cross fertilisation of ideas that you get through being in different organisations, bringing something but also moving on and developing and evolving those things. I think any alive organisation has got to be, has got to have that.


JD Absolutely, in order to stay healthy in their lives.


JW And when I left the Cotswold Community and moved to ISP, a fostering organisation, my ambition was to try and take some of those ideas and try to integrate them. It was a terrible shock to realise that not everybody wants that and the resistance to that and the inherent difficulties of doing that, so it’s good that the Mulberry Bush has been able to absorb people and help them to grow and develop and use those ideas in a good way.


JD And I’m sure it will continue to evolve and, you know, share ideas and create new ideas into the future too, I’m sure. [pause] Haha, good!


JW You’ve got a leaving do coming up?


JD Oh great! July the second, yeah, it’s a celebration of my time and then a bit from the Service Leads about the future and John will talk too. So yeah, something I have to do, but you know, I don’t particularly like…


JW Is that the one on the Saturday?


JD Yeah, Saturday the Second of July


JW Ann (my wife) and I are going to come.


JD That’s good, it’s going to be a good turnout, I think, a lot of people. So yeah, it’ll be interesting. I am dreading it. I’ve been thinking about why I’m dreading it. It’s not so much because it’s a final part of the ending, it’s just that, big events, you have to… Such a public display you have to work so hard to project something; I’ll have to look cheerful at the same time as thinking ‘oh God’.


JW I think most people would. There’s a bit of everybody before that wants to just quietly move away.


JD Yeah, yeah, that’s right, that’s right.


JW At the same time it deserves a celebration, probably for the sake of others as much as for yourself anyway.


JD I think that’s right and then at the very end of term as well I’ll be saying goodbye to our staff group on the last day of term as well, so there’s a couple of events to go. And it feels like, you know, it’s a very short time, but it also feels like forever, 2 1/2 months, and you think ‘this and this and this’. So it does feel a bit like a death by a thousand cuts at some level. But it’s important, as you say, just to work through.


JW When you went to the recent commissioning conference, did you go to that one?


JD No, well, the next one is coming up in June. So I went, I’ve been to it every year for the last 10/12 years, now I’m not going to the next one.


JW So they might have acknowledged you there as well.


JD Yeah, yeah, yeah. Angus, Angus and Lee are going to the next one, and Jess, our headteacher, she’s doing a talk there as well. It’s been a good relationship with them. I was on the organising committee and that would that got us right alongside the Commissioners. So I think a few of those strategic relationships really did help us over the years, being part of something, an organisation, gets your name out. Hmmm.


JW Because you’ve actually taken on responsibilities, haven’t you? Obviously on a part time basis, but they’re quite significant. A bit like the…


JD Chair of NASS, chair of CSP.


JW I was thinking of Dartington in particular, but also ATC.


JD Yep, yep. Shall we call this bit? Let’s restart the conversation.


JW We’re just talking about the commissioning conference and how you got involved in the…


JD Yeah, and over the years, I suppose being strategically involved with organisations like the National Commissioning Conference got us alongside commissioners and then we became sort of quite well known, in that, in that organisation every year and, you know, accepted as influential people; and then I was also Chair of NASS, Chair of CSP being involved in TCTC. So I think, you know, being involved in strategic roles also helped our engagement with the outside world and new bodies and the sector as well. So that’s been an interesting bit of time as well. I’m actually quite looking to shed, looking forward to shedding some of that as it’s quite a responsibility too, holding all that stuff.


JW And I guess time consuming, and also the preoccupation with it as well because, I mean in some cases you took on the chair of those roles.


JD And a fair amount of international work going out to the Learning from Action Conference, which is the Italian sort of TC group relations conference every year for 10 years, so that was fascinating. I was organising the Windsor Conference for about 10/12 years as well. So yeah, there’s quite a few things. Ours are used strategically to project Mulberry Bush into the world. Yeah, it’s funny that all those things suddenly come to an end, hahahaha.


JW And do you think after you’ve stopped at the Mulberry Bush, others will pick up that baton, to the same degree?


JD I’m, I’m sure I’m sure, because people will do different things. I think we were coming to the realisation that we probably need to expand, you know, not just preach to the converted and some of those organisations, over the years, I’ve started to preach to the converted, so there’s a lot more people out there, so I’m sure people will find new avenues and ways forward. But they were important as building blocks to experience, I think. We’re doing a lot of work now with the justice sector, so we’ve got a possibility of delivering a foundation degree to the new Oasis Restore Medway. Medway Secure Training Institute is becoming the secure school, secure therapeutic school and charity, so we’re hoping next year that will be able to deliver the foundation degree to them as well. So I think we are growing and moving into other sectors as well. I’m sure that will continue over the next 5-10 years too.


JW Thank you.


JD OK, well that’s about 2:30, so shall we give it a rest? Thanks very much John, it’s, ha, been a trip down memory lane.


JW It’s been a great pleasure, and it’s great to think that from very small beginnings of the Cotswold Community, it’s grown into an amazing career that you’ve had, well done!


JD Thanks very much that’s great. Cheers!
OK, well I think I think that’s more or less finished, haha. Grand, thanks for that, it was good


JW Pleasure. [pause] Do you think Rich will continue as a trustee?


JD Oh yeah, for a few more years I think, yeah.


JW He’s so involved.


JD In some ways he’s never left the Bush has he, really? So you know, and he’s always fascinated by the school, but especially I think yeah, yeah.


JW He’s somebody I’ve always enjoyed conversations with, meeting up from time to time and having a coffee at the Costa Coffee at Faringdon. It’s a great thing to do, and I do it from time to time with Patrick Tomlinson on Zoom.