Saturday, 19 March 2011

touched by fire and the start of Oval House

The history of Oval House,its transformation from a Youth Club, in the old sense of the description into an educational/community/arts project began with the inspiration of Pete and Joan Oliver.This transformation is important in understanding just how brave these two pioneers where back in those distant days.
Indeed the whole history of the Oval is one of evolution/struggle and sometimes breathtaking luck.Oval House came into being as part of a do gooding project instigated within the privileged surroundings of Christ Church Oxford.
At the turn of the 20th century,privileged young men would descend into areas of poverty and inner city deprivation in order to grasp the meaning of helping the deserving poor.Giving the poor some sort of moral understanding of how the poor could escape their plight.Its a fascinating history which brings to mind the Conservative ideology of the "Big Society".Running along side the ideology of privilege imposing values upon the lower orders, came another imposition, the need to save fallen women,or women who might be in danger of "falling"Settlements where set up with the aim of training the poor in the ways of domestic servitude. These Settlements of privilege helping the unprivileged became a steeping stone into the Anglican tradition and Establishment values of Edwardian England. They also became useful recruiting centres for the killing fields of the first World War.And importantly they where bastions against the fear of working class solidarity and the threat of some imagined socialist uprising. Its important to understand the link between these settlements and the growth of the boys scout movements.
A genuine moral panic existed between the wars.Something akin to a fear of the other within insured a rigid adaptability to Conservative values,and, by implication the invented values of Empire where adhered to.
The settlements where developed within a society of extraordinary class conflict and hierarchical imaginings.
Like the Youth Club developments , Settlements held to the idea that social change was something which could not be contemplated. Satus and respect for ones betters meant a fossilised social order would and should be maintained. Any hint of disruption within the bureaucratic boundaries laid down by committee of elders would be dealt with by various punishments including exclusion from the club/settlement. Social,class difference was dealt with simply by not acknowledging the existence of such deviation from the rules of the establishment.Sport and a heavy reliance on competition and religion allowed for a bullying atmosphere akin to Social Darwinism to develop. Sexual apartheid was the norm and religion was the the tool in which to the teach the rights and wrongs of moral anxieties. This is just a sketch of what Pete and Joan had to confront.

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