Ali Ronan

‘I am not out to make good little citizens. I am out to make rebels.’: The Riverside Village 1916-1917 and Fairby Grange 1921-1922: two radical and forgotten examples of self-governing colonies for the young ‘delinquent’.

There appears to have been a recent ‘loss of memory’ about radical, libertarian and experimental approaches to education and I hope that this paper might be a story about the enduring legacy of counter-hegemonic and revolutionary ideals while simultaneously arguing for the reinstatement of experimental prefigurative practices into the collective ‘memory’.

What is remembered about the past, how is that story re-told – and by whom- and therefore what constitutes ‘radical’ history?

Such an idea allows me to reflect on my own feminist, left-wing interpretation of the past and to examine the variety of influences on my own research. Of course, I can name the ‘history from below’ school, or the notion of ‘unofficial, social and cultural histories’ that created a wider frame for my research. But – I ask myself-is it the way that the ‘story’ is told or re-told that is radical? Or is it that the people within the past are deemed, by some criteria, to be ‘radical’ in themselves or as part of a collective? Is the telling of ‘radical history’ a necessary counterbalance to the often neatly packaged curriculum units that seem to comprise some contemporary ‘history’? I have always been intrigued by the ‘rebel’, the ‘outsider’, the people apparently on the ‘margins’ who play an seemingly unnoticed part in the making of a ‘history’.

Researching this paper has revealed a particular early twentieth century working practice with young people: a practice which, in the case of these Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) experiments, was not only underpinned by a notion of ‘utopia’ but was also questioning the function and role of ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ in the educational process. The Fellowship, founded at the outbreak of war in 1914, was itself was a mix of anarchists, pacifists, non-conformists and Christians. These ‘brave little’ experiments revealed constant tensions between the state and the ‘margins’, raising the very pertinent issues of how society deals with young offenders and how these approaches are interwoven with ideas about gender, education and critical thinking. These ideas are still current, and significant, in the current political and contested preoccupation with ‘free’ schools and the contested space between the state and the free market. Hoare’s yearning to make ‘rebels’ rather than ‘good citizens’ echoes the emancipatory politics of the Brazilian community educator Paulo Freire, with its links to radical youth and community work, and alternative curriculum work with those still deemed to be ‘unschoolable’

I have had two lives – one as a youth worker working in poor communities living in peripheral estates of northern towns since the early 1970s using the arts, music, and poetry to have fun and persuade young people that they have a legitimate voice and that they are full of creativity and resourcefulness. Generally, professionals regarded these young people as difficult, aggressive and without a moral compass. This has never been my experience.

I am a feminist and I have worked with young women and young men, challenging the laziness of everyday sexism, racism and homophobia. Lately I have been involved in developing an intergenerational project/archive called Feminist Webs, which gathers material about girls’ work in the 70s onwards and uses it to develop contemporary project ideas with young women. (www.feministwebs.com)

My other life has been that of a MA and then a PhD research student and finally as a ‘Doctor’, my research focused on the ways in which women, in particular, worked together to challenge hegemonic ideas of militarism in WW1, using Manchester as a case study. I became fascinated by the lives of ‘average’ Manchester women who were prepared to stand up for their anti-war beliefs and who in doing so risked humiliation and social isolation. I was dismayed that their voices had been forgotten or erased.

At least one unexpected thing happened during writing and researching my thesis that made me consider a number of ideas. These ideas include the complex and fluid connection between the past and the present, the sophistication and intricacy of local, national and international networks between women, the importance of women’s friendship and the way in which women and/or activists can be written out of the ‘remembered’ historical narrative. I discovered that in 1916, the local organiser for the Rochdale branch of the Women’s International League was a Miss Walmsley and that Miss Walmsley had lived in the same house in Spotland, Rochdale that now belonged to a woman colleague and friend of mine. My friend is also a staunch pacifist and feminist and it made me consider the complex and unknown relationship of the past to the present. This made me reflect on the connection between lives across time and space, how stories are told about people in the past, and how we make sense of their particular and lived experiences within the context of our own lives. It made me also consider the assumptions that I might make about the life experiences of Miss Walmsley in 1916 and also about the life of my friend in 2009. One life touches another.

Hoare’s was the Colony of a Dream, ‘I would like to try and imagine the start and progress of an experiment of our own, a new Commonwealth of boys and girls founded on trust and freedom and the power of God.’

Is this radical history?

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