In 1982 I took a course which had been recommended by a friend. It was a two-weekend course which apparently was ‘guaranteed’ to change my life. I treated this with my usual cynicism. I didn’t need to change my life. I was a successful person. I was a university Lecturer, owned my own house and had a great social life. What was there to change. OK I had been married twice and they didn’t work out and I did feel as though there was something missing in my life, but I couldn’t think what that could be. After all I had everything anyone could want, didn’t I? I had set up a social group for single, divorced and separated people and had my first pick of any male who joined (since I ran it).
I had been through quite a few before I learned of the course. I was introduced to it by a guy I had met at an education conference. He invited me to an introductory evening. I went along with hope that this might develop into something. I had no intention of doing the course for the aforementioned reasons.
I disliked the woman presenting the evening. She was very posh and talked about going ‘orf to play gofe’. It raised my working-class hackles. I was just waiting for it to end when she invited people to ask questions. Why does it cost so much? What can it possibly do for me in two weekends? I found myself answering the questions. I pointed out that a holiday would cost more and not do a lot for the quality of your life when you returned. I also pointed out that it couldn’t do anything for you if you didn’t do it, but might do something if you gave it a try. In other words, I talked myself into it.
So, I did the course and it was ‘life changing’. Didn’t change the circumstances of my life, but changed the way I saw and interpreted things. Other people saw a change in me too. My students observed that I had been like a ‘threshing machine’ but that they thought I was now much softer and more approachable. Well that was a shock! Didn’t realise I was a threshing machine! I Whilst on the course I realised that I had, for the first time in my life experienced ‘unconditional love’ from a very large group of people and that enabled me to love myself, instead of thinking I was this ‘bad little bitch’ that my mother told me I was.
Because it had such a major impact on my life I wanted to become one of their ‘trainers’. I was not encouraged by the organisation. OK I thought, then I ‘ll invent my own courses and do that. This I did. I was able to design a course and put it on through the Open Studies dept. of the University of Warwick, where I worked as a lecturer in Education. I had 19 students for one evening a week for 20 weeks. It was a startling success. At the end of the 20 weeks I had retained 15 students. It was an all -time record apparently. Of the 15 all said they wanted more and would like to recommend friends and when was I doing it again. I did it again, this time with 30 students. I had to turn people away as the room would not hold any more. I was amazed at how powerful people found it.
I did not design the course off the top of my head. In the course of my work at the University I had carried out a lot of research into dysfunctional behaviour, including ‘Personal construct Theory (G. Kelly), Abraham Maslow on Motivation, Rogers (Person Centred Counselling and a lot of other reputable theorists covering areas like self-esteem, sub personalities, Emotional Literacy and Intelligence, Love (especially Erich Fromm) and numerous others.
Working under the auspices of the Open Studies Dept. was very limiting. Delivering a course once a week meant that students went two steps forward and 1 ½ back. So, I went for ten evenings and a full weekend and that worked much better. The next step was a two-weekend course, beginning on Saturday morning and ending on the Sunday evening, but where to do it? I hired a room at the University. That worked very well, but people began to ask me if I did it anywhere else in the Country. This led to me delivering courses in London, Bristol, Worcester, Bradford, Cambridge and Malvern. By this time, I had developed another course due to popular demand – Healing the Wounds of Childhood’. This required a residential aspect and so the hunt was on to find suitable venues. Find them we did, but travelling all round the country and working all weekend was not very satisfactory. Caretakers in some venues interrupted the proceedings to tell us our time was up. We had other interruptions and some curiosity about what was happening by passers-by.
In 1983 Tim and I got married. Tim was extremely supportive of my desire to develop and deliver my courses He has been an ardent advocate of my work and has helped in the development and delivery of them, especially the courses for young people. Tim was a teacher when I met him but has since became a Family Therapist. He did much of the research for the courses and provided a valuable source of knowledge.
At around this time a group of people who had taken courses with me formulated the notion of setting up a Centre for Emotional Education. We called it the Harmony Centre Project. It was very exciting but it took 4 years for it to become a reality and by then we had found a couple who were willing to put their house on the market to buy the place we wanted. It was perfect for the delivery of the courses we wanted to provide. It took
A bit of finding. First of all we explored the Yorkshire Dales but places were too off the beaten track. Then we began to explore Derbyshire – this county being very central but near to major conurbations like Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester. It is also close to the M5 and M6 motorways and Derby Railway station (12 miles)
We looked for weeks but nothing was quite what was required. I had done some visualising of what this centre would look like and where it would be. This is recorded in my book Behind the Masks; Discovering the true self. Then one day I wandered into an estate Agents in Ashbourne, told them what I was looking for and was met with a negative by the person behind the desk who clearly had closing time in her sights. I was on my way out when I spotted a description of a property on the wall. It sounded very promising.
The next day Lynn, Phil, Tim and myself were off to view Atlow Mill. This was a converted Corn Mill which lay in the bottom of a secluded valley about 6 miles from Ashbourne and 12 from Derby. As we drove down the very steep and very long drive we became very excited. We proclaimed in unison – ‘This is it!’. It was perfect for our needs. It had been a Music Education Centre. It already had dormitory accommodation in the converted Mill Building. It had a central lounge a small kitchen and a shower – yes only one shower for up to 16 people. It had an old milking parlour which was breeze-block built and had been used as a pottery complete with kiln and sink. But the room was large – over 30 feet long and almost as wide. It was ripe for conversion. We were very excited and managed persuade Annie Sutherland to join us I the venture. We all put our houses on the market and hoped desperately that we would sell them I time to put an offer in. Annie sold hers, Tim and I took out a bridging loan and Lynn and Phil managed to raise a sufficient amount to buy Atlow Mill.
" Back in the late 80s and 90s I participated in several self development courses run by the brilliant Jean Bond. The experience quite simply changed my life. The first of many courses in which I took part was called “Discovering Your Potential”. I most certainly DID discover my potential I left my job at the age of 50+ and went on to later become an Art Therapist/Counsellor, successfully working in prisons and at the Royal Marsden cancer hospital, as well as running my own private practice. So captivated and impressed by the positive effects achieved by myself and countless other course attendees, I took an enormous leap of faith, joined Jean and husband Tim together with another couple, and agreed to co-found the Atlow Mill Centre for Emotional Education in Derbyshire in 1994. Many varied residential course were developed and run, mainly by Jean, with increasing success over several years. So when I learnt recently that an online version of the courses run at the centre was now being developed, I was very excited. This initiative will doubtless offer enormous opportunities for so many more people. Having access to this wonderful work will most surely enhance peoples’ lives as it certainly did mine."
We had a little money - £14,000 which I had saved from my weekend courses. (It took a long time to save this as they only cost 35 per person). I ploughed it all into the venture which enabled us to install two more showers in the Mill building and do other alterations. This left no money to develop the milking parlour which we had in mind for a large course room and dining facility. In the mean time we held courses in the top floor of the Mill building and fed people in the cottage which was attached to it. We were up and running, albeit with nothing in the kitty. We took no salaries and invited people to volunteer to help out. We got lot of help even in those early stages. People were inspired by the whole concept and impressed by the work we were doing.
To run the Centre we needed staff and we could not afford to pay them so we offered accommodation and food to people who wanted to volunteer at the Mill. We accommodated them in our cottage, so Tim and I shared our 5 bedroomed house with sometimes up to five people in order to staff the Centre. (We did this for 18 years)
In 1998 we were joined by a guy called Vince Southcott who had a very remunerative job in a big National Company. He came in as a volunteer and put most of his salary into the central kitty so that we could function. We achieved Charitable status with his help. We. had many ups and downs. All three of the original purchasers of the property pulled out and Tim and I had to find the money to refund their original purchase investment. Our financial outlay rocketed! There were days when I thought I could not go on and days where the whole venture seemed doomed to failure. Vince decided he would put some money into the venture and we also managed to obtain a grant from Rural Derbyshire for half the cost of the refurbishment of the milking parlour. This provided us with a large course room, dining facility and kitchen. We had our facilities!
This was only the beginning however. We lacked expertise in marketing and were extremely ignorant about running a business. Thanks to Vince however we secured funding from Derby City Council to run two courses for young people at risk of exclusion from 2 Derby Secondary Schools. It was a substantial amount of money. We also now had the facility to house it.
The project was a huge success for one of the schools whose management team were strongly behind it. The other school was successful in terms of the student outcomes, but did not have the full backing of the management team, the main reason
being that the staff felt threatened by it. We worked with the first school for 4 years, receiving funding from the school. In all 50 pupils attended the courser which consisted of an introductory half day, a mentoring training for sixth formers and staff and a five-day residential experience. This was staffed with volunteers (ex course participants), Atlow Mill staff and volunteers for the kitchen, cleaning, set up etc. In all there were 12 mentors (one per student), 4 on the teaching / management team and three or four in the kitchen.
We proceeded from there to present several more residential courses for young people aged from 8 - 18. They ranged from Children in Care, young people leaving care, primary school children from the Derbyshire Coal Fields area, (with a grant provided by the North Derbyshire Coalfields), Primary School children from Derby City and young people who were in at risk of criminal prosecution, teenage pregnancy etc. The latter was funded and run in partnership with a Nottingham based charity for young people at risk. The Mill was thriving but the accommodation, especially on young people’s courses was becoming inadequate.
We had a derelict building on the site that was ripe for refurbishment and would have doubled the accommodation, so we applied for a grant / loan from Futurebuilders (a government initiative to build capacity in the Charitable sector.) We were not successful in our bid but did receive a grant of £50,000 to employ a CEO and carry out an exploratory study to see if we would manage to attract sufficient interest from local authorities etc. to enable us to repay the loan.
Sadly, at this point we had lost some of the people who had been the driving force on the management team, in particular Vince and the outcome of the study was not satisfactory. By the end of the year for which the grant was awarded we had lost our CEO and not replaced her. From here it was a downhill struggle. We had started the venture with insufficient funding to employ people and this continued. If we couldn’t build the business we couldn’t employ people and if we couldn’t employ people we couldn’t build the business side of the Charity. It was a vicious circle.
In spite of financial and staffing difficulties we kept the venue and the course going. We had help from the trustee board who were determined we should keep providing the courses. Most of them had benefitted from participating in them. We also had a loyal group of supporters who were ex course participants and volunteered to help set up the Centre, staff the kitchen and assist with the facilitation. They are too numerous to mention here, but I will be eternally grateful to them. A group of them even started to renovate the stable block but it was too mammoth a task for a volunteer force and they started to drop out.
The final straw came, when after 12 years of collaborative partnership the University of Derby had a change of Vice Chancellor who decided our programme was not sufficiently remunerative to justify the University carrying on the partnership. Since this was our main source of income and our flagship programme this was the end. We had given it everything financially and energy wise and it had been enormously successful in providing life-changing experiences for a great many people aged from 5 – 80+ from all walks of life and from a diversity of ethnic and class backgrounds. However, Tim and I were finding it more and more difficult to sustain the Centre. We were on our own with a skeleton staff in the office (and only one skeleton at that). The site consisted of 7 acres plus outbuildings and it became too much for us to manage. By this time, I was 80 years old and had attempted to retire several times. I had managed to pass one of the courses to Joanne Barry who had apprenticed herself to me and was doing a lot of teaching on the PGCEE course, as did Jade Murden.
In 2019 Tim and I sold Atlow Mill and bought a house near Ashbourne.
And now just when it seemed it was all over someone has come forward with the intention of carrying on the work and the spirit of Atlow Mill Centre. So here I am again. Will I ever retire? Probably not. What would I do? Go on cruises and ‘enjoy myself’. There can be no enjoyment greater than contributing to others and feeling you are making a difference in a world which certainly needs people to devote themselves to that end. I didn’t save the planet, or work to end poverty or wars or any of the other great and wonderful causes that people espouse, but I think I did influence the lives of people who themselves have gone on to make a difference to others. And while the narcissistic side of me would like to have been Prime Minister or Queen I think I can settle for what I have accomplished with the help of others.
I will always be hugely grateful to the hundreds of people who allowed me to carry out this work with them and for them. They have given me an opportunity to pursue my purpose in life and feel that I have contributed to the World. There cannot be a gift greater than that. So, to all the people who put their money where their mouth was, to all the volunteers and staff and to all the course participants and of course last and not least to Tim, I want to say a massive ‘thank you’ from the bottom of my heart.
I am now 82 and feel that I will be able to shrug off this ‘mortal coil’ knowing that I put my heart and soul into my work and that it actually contributed to a great many people. Thank you again. You were and are amazing.