For the first time since leaving their community in the 1960s, last week original Pestalozzi children spoke to current students and staff at the Pestalozzi International Village about their early experiences.
Presented by William and Leonard of the Early Pestalozzi Children Project, the address outlined the general background of the first children and what it was like for them to live at the Pestalozzi Children’s Village. It was also important to identify the sadness experienced by many of us: losing connection with what had been designed to be our surrogate home – and seeing the loss of our story and our community’s early history.
There are obvious differences between the Village then and the Village today – but some significant similarities remain evident. Most importantly, the aim that young people should develop tolerance and understanding towards others of different nationalities and cultures.
We are delighted to have contributed to a link between the Village’s early community and its contemporary organisation. It is hoped this will stimulate recognition of the earliest achievements of the first organisers and care workers. We also hope it will help to evolve a bond between former Pestalozzi children and alumni across the decades, past and future.
Our appreciation goes to CEO of the Pestalozzi International Village Trust, Susan Walton, for her interest and encouragement. Our thanks, also, to the Pestalozzi students and staff for their sincere and keen interest.
Last month William and Len attended the UK Oral History Society’s 2014 annual conference in Manchester to present a paper about the Early Pestalozzi Children Project.
In February this year, the Society invited us to contribute a paper to their conference, the theme of which was “Community Voices: Oral History On The Ground”.
This was our first chance to present our Pestalozzi story and Project to a large audience with a specialised interest in oral history. Primarily, we would explain how we have approached establishing an oral history project from scratch – particularly as a group without experience in this type of research.
Obviously, this was an exciting opportunity for us: not only could we promote the project but we would also discover the reaction to it.
Additionally, it was a chance for us to engage and to learn. A concentrated group of oral history specialists and enthusiasts from across the world could provide us with invaluable knowledge, guidance and motivation.
The OHS conference,
held at Manchester Metropolitan University, was a two-day, packed event. It included two keynote speakers (from UK and USA), several workshops on the practical aspects of oral history and almost 50 presentations about a wide range of oral history projects. 140 delegates attended from across the world, including Australasia, North America and various European countries. The international involvement highlights the level of regard that researchers hold for this annual gathering. We realise that we had been paid a significant compliment to be asked to present our paper.
Arriving on the first day, we encountered a well-organised event and received a cordial welcome. The hardest thing for us was to choose from the wide range of presentations that we could attend. Parallel sessions were arranged in order to fit in the large number of papers.
To take full advantage of the conference, we set up a small display about the Early Pestalozzi Children Project and handed out flyers, business cards and promotional bookmarks – chatting with anyone who gave us so much as a sidelong glance! We were delighted with their reaction, discovering not only sincere interest in our endeavours but also some offers of professional assistance.
As ever, among the older English delegates, we found several who remembered the Pestalozzi Children’s Village and its ladybird emblem from the early 1960s.
The focus of our presentation was two-fold: to explain the background of our Pestalozzi experience and subsequent estrangement; and to relate our experiences, so far, establishing this oral history project.
It had become obvious, well before the conference, that we would only have time to cover these topics quite briefly. We needed to make sure the audience appreciated that, as children, we had experienced a unique opportunity which profoundly affected our lives and left many of us with a wish to see that story recovered – for ourselves, our families and for the record. It became apparent that all the historical points which we knew were vital to explain this were simply not going to fit into the available time.
Eventually, with the aid of visual images to portray what we did not have time to expand on – and some severe (but cautious) pruning, we had condensed our presentation into the allotted time. The time flew by and we finished feeling that we had done a worthy job.
As we concluded our paper, several people in the audience showed a lot of interest in our background story. While, among some older delegates, there was awareness of the early Pestalozzi Children’s Village and its ubiquitous ladybird, the interest from others revealed how unfamiliar most people are today with this small but important moment in history.
The audience reaction was thoroughly positive and encouraging. A senior Scottish researcher approached us and immediately told us how important it was that we recover this story. Other delegates expressed interest in learning more about our project and one offered her services to assist us with our research. To cap this off, a US delegate then invited us to write an article for the American Oral History Association.
At this stage, we felt that we had definitely achieved expectations!
We departed Manchester feeling proud of our achievement. We had hoped to find some interest in the Early Pestalozzi Children Project and were not disappointed. But it did not end there.
We have had further emails from delegates expressing their enthusiasm – and even one invitation to make a presentation at the Scottish Oral History Centre. And, a week later, we were invited to make an adapted presentation to a regional meeting of the Archives and Records Association in Gloucestershire.
Some of the comments we have received since the conference;
“Your project is really so worthwhile – I hope HLF wholeheartedly supports you as this is a story that has to be told.”
“It was a pleasure to talk to you and William. . . It is definitely a story that needs to be told and more people made aware of it . . . Am very happy for you to contact me if I can be of any help. I would love to hear about the project progress. If I come across anything related to your project, I will let you know.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with William and yourself . . . I think the work you’re doing is very interesting and clearly very important for you.”
As a result of our involvement with this conference, we feel that our project has been provided with a significant endorsement from a specialised group with an extensive and supportive network. The experience has reassured us that we are starting off on the right track and in a healthy state of preparation.
The enthusiastic interest shown means that we can seek out more ongoing advice and support as we grow into this project.
We have also gained valuable insights into the experiences of oral historians from around the world.
Finally, we wish to express our sincere appreciation to Dr Craig Fees of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust for his support and encouragement during our preparation for the conference.
What we would like now is to get some comments and thoughts about the future of our project – what would you like to see come out of the research that we are undertaking? Let us know!
For further information about our conference presentation or additional details about the Early Pestalozzi Children Project, please contact us here.
We were invited to to join the Wennington School old scholars’ “Archive Weekend”last week, on 11th June 2014, and present an introduction to our Pestalozzi history and our experiences to date establishing our project. The gathering was held at the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre (PETT) in Toddington, Gloucestershire, tucked away in the idyllic Cotswolds.
Along with some former members of the Caldecott Community, Red Hill School and Forest School Camps, we were also fortunate that a range of other people attended with practical and academic interest in our story.
It was inspiring to hear the enthusiastic reaction of an audience that really understood how strongly we feel about our history. Their thoughts and contributions have given us much useful information to move forward in explaining our background and promoting our aims to others.
We are indebted to Dr Craig Fees, PETT archivist and oral historian, for encouraging our activities and facilitating this recent visit.
And our thanks to the brilliant and generous Wenningtonians for their hospitality and support.