I’m taking things a little broader this time looking at community relating because there is a lot to be said about socialisation whether it is imposed or not in the way we relate as individuals. Personally I enjoy digging around in research on peaceful cultures to look at their collective values, often these are cultures from a distant past or mostly isolated from westernisation. In the end, it almost seems to be an idealistic fantasy that such ways of life can exist in today’s society.
There is though a phenomenal social experiment that took place in London from 1926 – 1950, called the Peckham Experiment. It was kicked off by Dr. Scott Williamson and his wife Dr. Innes Pearse who had an usual inquiry even by today’s standards, they wanted to discover the causes of health. That’s right, the cause of health, not of disease.
The experiment took place in a community health centre built for recreation and other communal activities for local people. Families paid a membership fee to make use of the facilities and agreed to be monitored by the doctors. Throughout a 15 year period over 1000 families made use of the centre and the doctors made meticulous notes.
The conditions at the centre included:
- access to a range of facilities like a pool, gym, dance hall, snooker room, theater etc.;
- glass walls where all activity areas were visually accessible;
- freedom to choose activities;
- minimal supervision and non-judgmental feedback;
- the centre was governed by the members (not the doctors);
- self-service organic cafeteria;
- annual “health” audit as a family;
- supportive unintrusive staff;
- specific support for significant life matters like puberty, sex education, forming primary relationships, preganacy, birth etc and
- access to essential information like talks, referrals, networking, interest-groups,
While there was an initial period of chaos as people adjusted to the values of freedom the centre held and they began to live from a more empowered way of being and became more proactive.
Some of the significant findings of the study included:
- no marriage breakdowns;
- there was no bullying and only one accident;
- families including children had a low interest and involvement in competitive games;
- there was a high-level of collaboration and taking part in joint projects;
- high skill acquisition;
- people thrive when they are given the freedom to make choices about their activities and choose those that support their well-being;
- when people are given resources to enable them to grow they will be active in their community for the benefit of that community;
- improved health and wellbeing; and
- increased creativity.
Sounds like an idealistic fantasy community set in the modern world – so what happened? Because the radical approach of the health centre funding became difficult. Ultimately in the end because the Peckham Experiment’s “Pioneer Health Centre” did not have treatment facilities and had a focus on family and community well-being the government run healthcare did not see enough benefits to support it any longer. Ironically, if it were a centre for disease, it probably would have received plenty of funding and support, just a thought !
Isn’t it amazing what can happen when people are supported in community and how they choose actions that not only enable their own well-being but that of the whole community? The implications from the findings if they were widely adopted would benefit our collective well-being enormously, the findings show our health, happiness and relationships would sky-rocket.
What stands out for me is the degree of freedom, support and non-judgmental values that contribute to the healthy dynamics of community relating, and thereby the individuals, families and children’s – I mean no marriage break downs, not instances of bullying recorded, high levels of collaboration and the children’s low of interest in competitive games. It is no surprise then that we have little place to grow and evolve socially in our current highly regulated social institutions, intentional communities, social clubs, schooling and work places, or even relationships that have a lot of restrictions.