In 1950, at the age of seven, I answered a knock at the door of our “family home” and with two carrier bags was whisked away by an unknown man in a car to I knew not where.
I had no preparation for this, and feeling abandoned, lost and bewildered was delivered to a grand house in the Kent countryside which was to become my home for the next eight years.
This was more than a house – a place apart – of great beauty architecturally and environmentally, with space to run, to scream, to laugh, to cry, to be heard. A Community of People, Place and Things. People committed to each other, Children and Adults.No matter affection was not expressed overtly – security mattered – this was love in action, unknown to me in my life before.
Security was created through the importance of discipline, time, rituals and most importantly, continuity of the members of the household, The Caldecott Community.We were educated creatively, through art, music, dance, books, poetry, drama, sport, animals, nature, the environment, the growing and preparation of food, and mutual respect.
I progressed from the “motherliness” of The Senior Study, to what seemed at first, the oppressive West Wing, a young eleven year old in a world of seeming giants, where intimidation and bullying was at times tolerated, perhaps to maintain order in an unpredictable group of boys and young men.Working through my confusion of identity and orientation with discreet and creative therapeutic help, and still vulnerable I was able to grow in the shelter of this extra-ordinary cocoon.
In 1958 I boarded the bus to London for the last time, with a heavy heart and overwhelming sense of loss. I returned to the South London suburb from which I had been rescued, and to some extent alienated.
This sense of loss and bereavement has remained within me to this day, and is now re-ignited as The Caldecott Community of Leila Rendel is no more. Despite the very real grief, I have been able to reflect on my experience and create some sort of perspective.It is my sincere belief that in the 21st century the need for such communities is as great, if not greater. Politics and budgets, not philosophy, dictate the system which has for many, and still is, suffocating and abusive.With no intended disrespect to to her successors, Miss Leila's vision of a Community was of one that was constant, rooted in a therapeutic environment – a place apart to heal and grow.
Small “family” group homes with often transient, salaried and ambitious professionals have not, and could never replace what we had. Fostering may be appropriate for some, but not all – its not a “quick-fix” solution or a less expensive alternative. I know I would have rebelled fiercely against it! “Communities “ however of course need well trained and skilled people, as long as vocation is considered as important as ambition!
Those of us who did benefit from a Community often led by intuition and vocational commitment, will have many and varied re-collections, but almost certainly will feel bereaved and mourn the loss. So much more than buildings, individuals, policy and qualifications. A vision which became reality and changed lives for ever. Maybe in the future another visionary will appear with the courage, backing and resources to stand up against the system on behalf of the many wounded, hurting and lost children, deprived of such a healing experience.
Thank you Miss Leila and those who came to you to serve, those who supported you with confidence and trust, notably the Knatchbull family without whom Mersham-le-Hatch could have never been home to so many, and of course those of our peers, who continue to support each other with time, energy and commitment through The Caldecott Association.
We are richer for knowing each other.
“Into my heart an air that kills
from yon far country blows
What are those blue remembered hills
what spires what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content
I see it shining plain
The happy highways where I went
and cannot come again.”
A. E. Housman