One of my students very sweetly nominated me as a ‘Mulberry Bush Women of the Year 2015’ and I was duly invited to lunch at Balliol. I was surprised and grateful to be nominated as the nominees are chosen as a mark of admiration for the way they have improved the lives of others and inspired them.
This was the fifteenth Mulberry School Women of the Year lunch which in the past has featured speakers such as Baroness Scotland, Nicola Horlick and P.D. James. The event is a way of fund-raising for, and raising awareness of, the achievements of the Mulberry Bush School which gives hope to children who have experienced high levels of domestic violence and neglect.
The first speaker, Rachel Kelly, spoke about the importance of acknowledging mental health problems such as depression and not treating them as taboo. She herself used poetry as a therapeutic way to help herself recover. She was followed by the impishly funny Jane Garvey of BBC Woman’s Hour who said when she is asked ‘Why do we still need Woman’s Hour?’ replies ‘Because we still need Match of the Day and Test Match Special.’ Touché!
Based in the Oxfordshire countryside, the school was set up in 1948 by Barbara Dockar-Drysdale, one of the world’s pioneers in children’s residential therapy. Inspired by the work of Donald Winnicott, the paediatric psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dockar-Drysdale took in evacuee children during the second World War and went on to study emotional deprivation and trauma in early years.
The school is home to 40 profoundly traumatised children who have such extreme and destructive patterns of behaviour that three members of staff to every child need to be on hand to contain their violence. The school has an admirable success rate, in that 97% of the children who come to them go on to be placed in a suitable school where they can learn and be taught, and 93% of them can be placed long term with a family. The school is funded mainly by donations.