“You never leave the villa” – so said Andy Thorpe, manager of the Lothian Villa, a residential home for challenging and vulnerable teenagers in East Lothian. I was privileged to visit the “Villa” a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to write up my experiences since that time.
What Andy means by “You never leave the Villa” is that it becomes part of you and you become part of it. This chimed for me with the ideas which I came across during my visit to the U.S last year when Norman Kunc talked about belonging . For fostering a sense of belonging in these children is at the very heart of what they do at the Villa – this is demonstrated by the fact that adults, who were in the school years ago, still return to their “home” to speak to staff and keep in touch.
A lot of the work being done in the Villa is based upon the work of Sally Wassell and attachment theory – I’m doing more reading in this area at the moment so won’t go into any detail save to say that I think it forms a rich resource for all of us involved in the care and education of children and young people.
The Villa – in Andy’s words – provides “emotional nutrition” for kids who have often been emotionally malnourished throughout their lives. “They deserve the best” and the Villa sets out to provide it. I spoke to some of the kids and was blown away by how positive they were about the place and the way that they are treated. Yet don’t get the idea that this is a soft regime – quite the opposite in fact – “We care enough about you not to let you be out of control” is a characteristic which permeates the collective approach. They “love” the kids and “tough love” seems to be something to which the young people readily repond.
I had an interesting chat with Andy about how they deal with extreme behaviour – which can at times be violent. He explained how they often have different consequences for the same behaviour – this intrigued me as schools so often get trapped by having to be “fair” when dealing with misbehaviour by always matching a certain consequence with a certain from of behaviour – i.e. if a pupil swears at a teacher they must be excluded. Andy explained that their consistency comes through judging the reasons behind the behaviour and that consequence will be consistent for the person.
It was a humbling experience visiting the Villa and seeing a group of people who are so fully committed to an approach. Andy is a remarkable leader and has developed a culture where everyone valued and seen as a part of the family – staff and children. So often “Children’s Homes” are associated to negative connotations but I found it an enriching environment which is changing lives for the better.
I recommend a visit!!