Pericles provides supported housing, work, adult education, and therapy for adults with complex needs. It is one of many of its kind around the world. Each one of these is different, but all share an ethos and worldview.
Pericles was founded in 1997, in response to an advertisement placed by West Sussex Social Services: looking for housing-opportunities for people with learning disabilities, who had been living in mental health hospitals, sometimes for many decades.
It soon became apparent that for a person with complex needs to move out into the community and experience true inclusion was an ideal that needed some working on. “The law could open doors but not hearts”(1)
The adults who moved in did not only want community involvement, they were able to initiate it. They wanted to learn new skills, do meaningful work and find friends. They became interested in their surroundings. They had needs that prompted learning in those around them and the development of new skills and environments. Carers needed to stop judging and open up, learn to listen and understand, be tolerant and overcome prejudices. The organisation needed good business sense, but to be set up to serve those living, learning and working in it, if wishing to be a success.
This is how Pericles developed: often when a new tenant or student joined, new areas of work, learning and therapy were added and – as a result – new partnerships: with local community farms, recycling projects, local colleges, small local businesses and other care-providers. Developments had to be viable but primarily needs- rather than profit- based.
Hoathly Hill Gardens was started in 1992 to provide fresh produce for the table of the local elderly lunch club, bio-dynamic care of the land going hand in hand with trainees’ skill development and environmental awareness. Fruit preserves became a speciality.
Out of this grew the Sharpthorne Organic Café, purchased in 2002, providing training and work in all aspects of hospitality for youngsters and adults with learning needs as well as volunteers and apprentices. Apart from serving fresh, local and responsibly grown food it has become a successful social hub.
Pericles Craft Workshops and the Arts Curriculum.
For many hundreds of years the handcrafts were an essential part of societal development. Since industrialisation many have worked for the preservation of hand-crafts (2), but more recently their educational and therapeutic benefits have been the subject of neuro scientific research into brain development in childhood as well as in those with complex needs.(3) The sense of achievement, the discipline of the craft and the ability to make something that is both useful as well as beautiful, also play their part. (4) Much has been written about the benefits of movement, the expressive and visual arts, music and poetry, either artistically or as therapy and the work with these at Pericles have borne this out.
Pericles Theatre Company was initiated as a millennium project in 1999, integrating artists with complex needs into professional theatre and partnering with Vasile Nedelcu’s Atelier Theatre. It won the ‘Best Family Show of the Year’ award at the Brighton Fringe in 2015.(5)
Social Paradigms: Three concepts have dominated Social care over the last decade or so: Inclusion, Independence and free choice.
Inclusion is the buzzword and a fantastic concept. However, it is not enough and - as long as we feel we can include - it means that we can also exclude, which is often the attitude that people with a difference meet out in the wider world. They are looking for laws that make them equal, not the same.
Independence is also a word much used and is important. But who is really independent? Are we not all inter-dependent? This is the basis of life and the way Pericles learned to operate: everyone has something to contribute; every single little thing we receive or do is dependent on others.
Choice is a third much- used concept. But often the person with a learning disability finds a predetermined answer to what his choice should be, either through lack of availability of real choice or through the most recent prescribed social paradigm or preference. But choice does not mean that all must live in their own flats in towns, or in rural areas working on the land, in shared accommodation, alone or in large institutions. It surely means being able to choose: whether to live or work with others or alone, in town or in a village, in an intentional community or in a shop or factory. Some people with a learning difficulty chose to live and work together, and we may ask why this is: maybe because they do not feel judged, assessed, in need of care or thought a burden. They may like to have other relationships than only with professionals, and wish to be enabled to form friendships regardless of ability.
Our worldview defines how we look at each other. We give names to differences, conditions and isms etc. These may teach us much but do not suffice to help us understand the unique individual who faces us: with whom we can relate, and who can change us.
There are many people around the world who are now trying to do just that, and who recognise in Rudolf Steiner, William Morris, John Ruskin and a wide group of modern thinkers, scientists and artists a source of inspiration for these newly developed sciences and its practical applications. They are challenging the present materialistic paradigm. (6) Underlying all these practices and think-tanks is the Science of Meditation (7). Meditation can inform whatever it is we do, and can widen our hearts and our ability to think outside the box.
Although computers can help with facilitated communication, no machine can teach anyone the Art of Conversation based on an Open Heart, an Open Mind and an Open Will (8) as many children and adults with complex needs can and do every day. No machine will gift one the feeling of gratitude that their smile can give, or the beauty of a unique art-or craft-creation; no machine will prompt the encouragement to create a warm and welcoming home-environment for others or a beautiful and productive garden; or to forgo something for the sake of another, in the way that people with complex needs often give an example.
1. Professor Hans Reinders, Chair in Ethics at Amsterdam University until recently
2. John Ruskin: 08/02/1819-20/01/1900; Prominent Social thinker and draughtsman
William Morris: 24/03/1834-03.10.1996; Poet, Writer, Arts and Crafts Movement
3. Aric Sigman: Practically minded: The Benefits and Mechanisms Associated with a Craft based Curriculum
4. RMT Ruskin Mill Educational Trust, founder Aonghus Gordon
5. Pericles Theatre Company.co.uk
6. Roger Nelson: “The Global Consciousness Project” and Christopher O Hermaes: Science and Transhumanism. and Epigenetics: ed. LM Hernandez and DG Blazer: The Institute of Medicine (US) Genetic Factors in Health, Genes, Behavior, and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature/Nurture Debate, Nicanor Perlas: Humanity’s Last Stand.
7. Arthur Zajonc: Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, When Knowing becomes Love
8. Otto Scharmer: Theory U.