The SPDN at Camphill Aberdeen on 18/19 October, 2012

With the theme for this SPDN meeting focussing on well-being we could not have wished for a better host than the Camphill Community in Aberdeen. Their vibrant holistic tradition of social pedagogy in practice made the event an unforgettable experience for just over 100 participants. Most importantly, all participants seemed to enjoy a sense of well-being over the 24 hours and felt very well looked after in the beautiful natural surroundings on Myrtle Estate and at Newton Dee.

Evening seminar - 18 October:

On the evening, participants were welcomed with a wonderful buffet supper and could take tours of the estate to see the Camphill Schools. The seminar began with a welcome by Tony Crabbe, the Chairman of Camphill Schools Aberdeen, who outlined the traditions behind the Camphill movement. Jean MacLellan, Deputy Director for Health and Social Care Integration at the Scottish Government, then provided an overview of how the government has aimed to make a difference through its policies for people with autism, individuals with sensory impairment, (young) carers, and adult survivors of childhood abuse in care, as well as its policies around self-directed adult care and support and engagement events such as the Careres' Festival and the Carers' Parliament. She then spoke about the connections with social pedagogy, arguing that its strong professional identity, knowledge base, and values fit well with person-centred services in health and social care and hoping that these links can be highlighted further in the future.

Following these encouraging words, Chris Walter and Manuela Costa presented the work of the St. Andrews Project and how they aim to create 'relational enrichment' and an ethical foundation of love for the world in its widest sense. They talked about the Circle of Courage™, explaining how their project provides children with a sense of belonging, nurtures their mastery, inspires a sense of generosity, and supports their independence. Importantly, their work is not just focussed on children but includes working together with families, schools, and other important people in the child's life, helping those to see each child as intrinsically good and exploring with them how they can change so that the child benefits. Their focus then turned to an outcome framework connected to the circle of courage called Outcomes that Matter™, explaining how this social pedagogical assessment framework provided an inclusive way to explore with a child their development, stimulate reflective team discussions, and improve communication in review meetings by illustrating what had led to or inhibited a child's development. You can listen to their presentation at Radio Edutalk via this link and Nature Nurture™ who spoke about promoting resilience through free play and nurturing interactions outdoors in stimulating natural environments. Using the narratives of two children who have been part of the Nature Nurture programme and succeeded in becoming happier, more resilient children and recovering hope for the future. She highlighted seven building blocks of nurturing resilience within the project: mental and emotional well-being, physical health and well-being, social competencies, talents and interests, knowledge and understanding, creativity and imagination, and positive values. Her fascinating talk is also available at Radio Edutalk.

The evening's final presentation was given by Tom Taverne, who illustrated life-sharing with adults with disabilities at Newton Dee. His emotional, and at many times hilarious, life story focussed on the relationship between him and Fraser, a person with disabilities living in the community, and how this relationship developed over the decades that they have been living as co-worker and villager (with a shared passion for Led Zeppelin, hats and blonde women). Tom captured the spirit of what this meant, revisiting their story at different times over the last 37 years, how Fraser's skills and contribution to the community have changed from being a farmer to working as a carpenter, and how his self perception has developed throughout the years - irrespective of policy changes and an evolving professionalisation in the sector meaning that Fraser has been referred to as 'mentally handicapped', 'service user', 'person with complex needs' at different stages, Fraser has continued to see himself as a villager and been made to feel like one. Tom's presentation, which is available here, also made the point of how signficant work has been to Fraser and other villagers at Newton Dee; by feeling able to make a meaningful contribution, to create value, to have useful skills and purpose Fraser and his fellow villagers have enjoyed working together for the community and sharing their lives at Newton Dee.

As the last point of the evening we then launched the International Journal of Social Pedagogy, a new open access journal. With emphasis on a theory-practice connection, the articles in the International Journal of Social Pedagogy reflect cross-cultural perspectives of a wide range of social pedagogical traditions and provide a greater understanding of social pedagogy in ways that are both relevant at a practice level and contribute to the body of theory and research. In this respect, the journal launch fitted very nicely into the wider context of the SPDN and was warmly received.

Overall, the presentations highlighted how to connect head, heart and hands by showcasing practice in the different Camphill projects as highly professional and theoretically informed, as well as strongly underpinned by Camphill's philosophy and guiding vision based on mutual care and respect. It was hugely encouraging to see that, even within the current social-political context, excellent and ethically congruent practice is still possible - and has the potential to transform lives. This overarching message was carried over into Friday's event at Newton Dee.

Friday's event - 19 October:

Friday's gathering took the presentations from the previous evening one step further by creating lots of space for dialogue and meaning-making about social pedagogy in practice. Kicked off with a brief welcome by one of the residents, the day began with a drumming welcome from the Newton Dee community, which included the audience in the rhythm and provided an energetic start to the day. Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, then welcomed participants and described the importance of Camphill for people with disabilities. She was followed by Prof. Do Coyle, Head of School of Education at the University of Aberdeen, who mentioned in her welcome the university's continued support for the BA course in social pedagogy run in partnership with Camphill. Next on the programme were some of the participants in our Leonardo Mobility project. The six practitioners from Lancashire County Council and Care Visions described their experiences of working alongside social pedagogues in a range of children's homes and daycare centres in Copenhagen. Focussing on how the Danish professionals created an atmosphere of well-being on a day-to-day basis, they also outlined the impact this had had on them and what they had taken back with them in order to further develop their own practice. The full reports of their learning journeys are available online here.

Participants then had an opportunity to get involved in learning forums to explore how different organisations have developed social pedagogy within their culture and practice. These were hosted by the Dundee Early Intervention Team, a group of young people from Sycamore Services, the Edinburgh Families Project, Camphill Community Aberdeen, Derbyshire County Council, Robert-Gordon-University, and the Swansea Young Single Homeless Project. The learning forums proved highly inspirational and helped share social pedagogic practice examples, thus enabling participants to learn from each others' experiences and to find joint solutions to common challenges.

The theme of well-being, which was also represented during the breaks with freshly baked cakes and a delicious lunch buffet, continued in the afternoon with a group activity called the 'Sound Inspiration'. Within a matter of minutes all participants joined in and created a very focussed and equally relaxing atmosphere. This was taken over into the workshops, which focussed on well-being from a range of perspectives. Participants could choose to learn more about the Outcomes that Matter framework, about sharing lifespace with adults run by villagers at Newton Dee, pupils’ perspectives on lifespace and well-being run by children and young people from Camphill Schools, creating an atmosphere of well-being from a co-worker's perspective, working creatively with loss and bereavement, clay modelling, and another practical activity called the 'Water Inspiration'. Following these workshops we collected participants' thoughts on what is important in developing holistic well-being and came up with a highly detailed mind map that was very much informed by people's reflections, learning and experiences from the day, thus bringing the SPDN to a great conclusion.

The well-being mind map developed at the SPDN meeting

We were again overjoyed with the enthusiastic resonance from SPDN participants and would like to warmly thank the people at Camphill for everything they did as hosts in order to help us make this a memorable event. One participant stated: "I enjoyed this event immensely and was struck by all the joy and laughter of participants. I never felt we wasted a single minute of the day. Somehow it felt relaxing too, even though it was packed with contributions, experiences, stories and inspiration." Another commented: "What a marvellous experience it was being at Camphill. I feel energised and renewed." And one participant summarised: "We had a great time in Aberdeen. The SPDN was brilliant, all the workshops were inspiring. It was good to mix with other professionals and learn how social pedagogy is being implemented in other settings." Another participant expressed his learning as follows: "In particular I took away thoughts about how I can really put a strengths-based approach into practice, about working inclusively with young people in the way that I witnessed some great examples of during the two days." If you would like to see some photos from the event please visit Newton Dee's Facebook page.