On The Cotswold Community…

Received from Graeme Kerridge | Added to the site December 2020.

“Dear John. Firstly, congratulations on the impressive collection of papers on your website. It is an extraordinary archive and resource, particularly for those of us who shared some of the experiences that you write about. Your diligence to documentation is extremely valuable.

Susan Ellery and Stephen Topple provide me with updates on Community members from time to time when we have a chance to see each other and it has always been interesting to follow the different paths people have trod. The Community experience continues, for so many of us who worked there at various times, to have been a source of inspiration, and you and others who took leadership roles can be immensely proud of the flow-on impact that you had, not just to the boys, but also to the staff who moved beyond the Community to work in many fields.

My own path after I left the Community in mid 1979 and returned to Australia was into healthcare/hospital management. What had particularly interested me from the Community experience was a view of a systems approach to managing caring institutions, and I thought that there was scope to apply the approach to hospital management. (Indeed, as you would know, there has been extensive research, particularly in the UK, of systems analysis to hospitals.) Keeping that framework in mind, and despite all the very challenging power and culture battles that characterise the healthcare industry, I worked at senior levels of the public healthcare sector in Australia for over 20 years till I finally got a chance, once my daughters had finished school, to move into international health development – long a passion of mine given my initial Economics training. I then worked in international health development in about 26 countries around the world – Anglophone Africa, South and South-east Asia, the Pacific and the former Soviet Union, primarily supporting programs for HIV, TB and Malaria. This included a period based in Washington DC managing and mentoring teams of consultants around the world for development programs of the US Government (under the previous US administration!) which was a fascinating, challenging and very personally satisfying experience. So, I have been very fortunate in my career, getting to work with people in vastly different settings/cultures/complexities to progress programs which create social/community value. Obviously, the pandemic has changed my activities significantly, but it was about time I focused on other things anyway.

However, what I wanted to share with you was a note that I received last week from AB (not his real name) who was one of the boys we worked with while I was at the Community 77-79. About 2 years ago, I received a message on my Linkedin account asking whether I was the person AB remembered from the Community, and, after I had replied that I was, AB said that he would send through his story at some stage. While I was very keen to hear what had become of him over the past 40 years, you would know better than I that frequently nothing comes of those communications, given that, for so many boys, their lives will have been very difficult and telling their story opens up pain they would prefer to move beyond.

Last week, 2 years after the initial contact, I received another message in my Linkedin account from AB which totally blew me away. He provided me with his personal story since leaving the Community, including several very difficult years where he floundered, but then gradually found that he had skills that he could use and the capacity to pick himself up when life’s fortunes knocked him down. Despite ups and downs, AB appears to have actually “done it” – breaking out of that cycle of deprivation, and managing to grow into a person with an enviable range of skills, personal insight and resilience. He appears to have even managed to have a stable relationship and fathered two sons who, reportedly, are doing well and undertaking tertiary studies.

I remember having to take AB to Children’s Court several times for the things he got up to when he was at home in his early days at the Community, including breaking into kindergartens to steal soft toys. The family situation he came from was, like for most of the boys, one of multi-generational deprivation and inadequacy – you would know the situations only too well. (Susan Ellery tells me that AB described to her how he would walk around London, looking at adult men and wondering whether they were his father.) So, making his life into what appears to be a healthy and fulfilling one, albeit with challenges that he is still working through, is a phenomenal achievement. It was wonderful to read that he considered that his experience at the Community was a turning point for him (even if he left under somewhat messy terms which you would presumably have information about). It was an extraordinary privilege to have him share his story so candidly, including that he continues to work through some of the damage of his early childhood.

His story is a very impressive one of resilience, and a positive outcome for which you and others at the Community can be very proud. Receiving it from AB was a wonderful gift.

Very best wishes for your work, John. I will try to keep informed of the “ex-Community community” through Susan and Stephen. I hope you find this story of AB of interest. Best wishes for the Christmas period and may 2021 be a better one for all of us.”