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£500 Prize - Academic year 2012 - 2013 deadline 1st April 2013

Entry is NOW Closed, but Please register an interest

in the Competition for 2013-2014

The winner for 2011-2012 was Magdalena Zasada and you may view her essay here.

 

The Pioneer Health Foundation exists to disseminate the ideas of the Peckham Experiment, a unique enquiry into the nature of health that took place between 1935 – 1950.

As part of its activities, the Foundation is offering the ‘Mary Langman Prize’; an annual award for an essay that furthers the lessons learnt at the Pioneer Health Centre about the social, emotional and environmental contribution health.

Mary Langman was personal assistant to Dr George Scott Williamson who with Dr Innes Pearse founded the Peckham Experiment. She ran Oakley Farm at Bromley Common which produced organic food for the Experiment, and founded and ran ‘Wholefood’, the ground breaking organic shop in Baker Street, London. She worked closely with Lady Eve Balfour of the Soil Association, and was one of its founder members with George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse. After Scott Williamson's death, she assisted Innes Pearse in the editing of his papers, put together in the book ‘Science Synthesis and Sanity’.

We believe that the Peckham Experiment, the emergent hypothesis and the findings, bring together a nexus of ideas that are beginning to be seen as central to problems facing society today.

Mary Langman made a generous bequest to the Pioneer Health Foundation and we feel it appropriate to use it in the creation of an intellectual platform and philosophical basis that is rational, ethical and inspired.

The Mary Langman prize will be awarded annually for an essay of not more than 3000 words which shows an understanding of the principles of the Peckham Experiment, which identifies key aspects, and which explains their relevance to today's issues. The competition is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students studying at, or enrolled for Distance Learning at, Universities and Higher Education institutions in the U.K, and offers a £500 prize, as well as the opportunity for the winning essay to be published on the PHF website. The theme of the essay is 'The Relevance of the Peckham Experiment in the 21st Century'

Full details of the competition rules and guidelines are available on this website by clicking on the 'Rules and Guidelines' tab above.
Further information about the Peckham Experiment is available on the Pioneer Health Foundation website at www.thephf.org

An A4 poster for display in Universities and Higher Education institutions is available for download here.

 

The Peckham Pioneers

review of Being Me and Also Us: Lessons from the Peckham Experiment. by Allison Stallibrass

By Mary Midgley

 

The story of the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre is a rum one. Built up in the thirties and forties on principles which are now fashionable – but also on others which certainly are not – it was a howling success. It was not a Disease Centre, but an experiment in generating positive health and happiness.

 

Though its founders were doctors, they refused to divide souls from bodies or to divide bodies into sets of distinct medical specialities. They wanted to find out whether it was possible to provide on a shoe-string a place where whole human beings could flourish.

They were scientists who wanted to discover the answer. But they also saw that their experiment needed attitudes which are often, bizarrely, taken to be incompatible with science – a deep commitment, an enthusiastic generosity, a conviction that people’s lives could be different. All this they supplied, and the attempt plainly succeeded.

The starting point now, however, is their success in showing that it could and must be done for whole families. The centre’s members, in explaining their excitement about it, constantly come back to this theme.

It was unique ‘because it was something for the whole family’. Parents could go swimming, play chess or just gossip in the cafeteria, while children played in the gym and the babies and toddlers were safe in the nurseries.

All were accessible and even visible to each other, and to the management, since the building had internal glass walls. But plainly they did not feel over supervised. There seems to have been no sense of Big Brother.

Their delight and surprise at these joint arrangements as well as their improved physical health, surely show how badly people were already suffering, even then, from social fragmentation. These people were not particularly poor, yet they felt painfully shut into compartments which cut across the lines of their natural feelings.

Mothers were alone with toddlers; fathers and children saw little of one another. It was hard to make outside friends and the family was supposed to be the social unit, yet its life was thin and unnutritious.

Families who had been actively quarrelsome and depressed remarked how things improved after they joined the Centre. They now all had separate occupations which were both connected and of interest to each other.

There is so much more to talk about at meals now’, they said. Family frictions began to be resolved, not by isolating the members from each other, but by the partial absorption of the family into a larger whole.

This is surely the crux – the reason why the Peckham Health Centre is now not just a fragrant memory or a tale about some rather exceptional doctors, but a crucial challenge to us today.

In the last 50 years we have moved steadily in the opposite direction, increasing the segregation and specialisation of individuals in different age groups, led by philosophic beliefs – from Freudianism to Existentialism – which teach that these individuals can only be saved alone, apart from their families.

For the young in particular, it is now taken for granted that a separate tribe must be provided with its own exacting taboos and initiation rites as a protection against family claims.

The move from this adolescent tribe to parental status is a traumatic shift to a period of servitude, from which adults who want some sort of fulfilment can only escape by again freeing themselves from family claims. Yet we are often terribly lonely in our freedom.

Might something different be better? Might we, as Allison Stallibrass, one of the pioneers of the Peckham experiment, manage to be me and also us? It seems worth thinking about. This is a story of the first importance, admirably told.

 

Review of ‘Being Me and Also Us’ by Allison Stallibrass, Scottish Academic Press.

 

This article first printed in The Guardian 1 December 1990.