It has been nearly two months since my last blog during which time Kath, her mother, and I have moved from Suffolk to the village of Blackness on the Firth of Forth to the west of Edinburgh. A big shift, with preparatory internal building taking 3-4 times as long as expected as ancient challenges were uncovered.
Until mid-July I will be commuting weekly to London to continue as Head of the MA in Creative Producing at Mountview, during which time I will hand over to one of two shortlisted candidates. New work, employment and freelance chapters will start in my life as I become a Scottish creative/theatre practitioner and coach.
It is glorious to be back in/around the city which Kath and I both called home in the 1980s, although we didn’t know each other then. Blackness is a hauntingly atmospheric place complete with castle, flights of curlews, and already a steady stream of creative artists working with us in our Studio space.
Mairi Campbell’s Auld Lang Syne is in rehearsal for the Storytelling Centre in August. Kath Bruce’s new piece about mental health is making use of all the wrapping paper from all our moving boxes. And I’m about to start the first r&d with actors on Revelation – The More Show as part of my clothing optional theatre research.
On top of the craziness of moving, I have been pulled back to my childhood as I read and understand more about the accusations, arrests and now sentences, of some of the staff from my old school. Throughout my time there, and it seems for another 20 years, a group of male staff were abusing their positions and abusing their charges. Some have now gone to prison. It has made me re-evaluate my own childhood and question the firm foundations I had felt my adult life was grown on.
I was not abused, save a bit of corporal punishment which went with the territory if you broke rules a bit and grew up in the 70s. I had two fair but firm, kind and supportive housemasters during my seven years, and the school kindly built me a theatre exactly like the Young Vic whilst I was there (well I think it was meant for other boys too), and that set me on the path to my professional life.
I grew up with no father, a weekly-commuter mother, and a caring grandmother. I went off to my first boarding school at eight where I had a good formative time, and then my main boarding school from 11. Suddenly I was in a big community of other children from deprived backgrounds, poor families, and mixed up homes. We were equally treated and encouraged – or so I thought until a few weeks ago.
Last week I was supporting a friend at a meeting where I learned even more about the systematic abuse of young people in the school’s care and the way it led to so much being covered up. I am only now realizing how much this ruined the life and love opportunities for my childhood friends.
It is very strange to re-assess the bedrock of my growing up. It is disconcerting to wonder how many of the staff and teachers at my time there knew what was going on, and chose to stay silent. It is horrible to realise that young people buried the trauma of their abuse deep inside themselves, and that I as a 11 or 12 year old living around them knew nothing of what was happening behind their very different closed doors.
It has taken 40 years for this to come out sufficiently for cases to be brought, trials to happen, and sentences to be given. In all that time former teachers and my childhood colleagues kept silent.
It is hard to be sure, despite all the Safeguarding policies, that this has not continued with young people still in the care of my school and others. I suspect there are many more cases to come to be voiced by those in their 30’s, 40’s and their 50’s like me – probably at our school, definitely across the wider boarding school community.
I sat and wept to watch this recent documentary by Alex Renton and I hope that it becomes required viewing for all boarding school monitors, staff, and maybe even young people as they are taught their own contemporary safeguarding. [Its on ITV Player for 5 more days I see – do watch it]
I hope there are no staff who taught me who are choosing to remain silent about things that they witnessed or knew about in their time in charge of me and others of my age. Speaking out could save the life, or give a chance for a school boy now in his late 50s to get the help they need to re-find some joy in love and life. Plus bringing to justice those who may still be out there.
It will take generations for the damage done to our school to be healed, and for young people and their parents and families to trust the safety of these ancient and important charitable foundations. Mr Renton’s documentary talks much about privilege. Yes I was privileged to go to the charity school I went to, with my fees paid for by one of hundreds of donors to the school, giving me an educational and life opportunity by mother and grandmother were proud to have achieved for me. But what damage was also done to some of my young contemporaries by that same foundation and its staff.
A strange month of trying to come to terms with my past, as I look to my new Scottish future.
On a happier note. Thank you to the National Theatre for Network – what an epic piece of technical mastery with some heartbreaking moments. And to Indigo Griffiths (writer), Gemma Aked-Priestley (director) and a cracking cast for the 1st reading of Passing at RADA. I can’t wait to see this play in its first full production.