SPDN Aberdeen 2016

The SPDN at Camphill School Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University on 09/10 June, 2016

With its warm community spirit, peaceful environment and holistic approach to living together, the Camphill School Aberdeen is easily one of the most inspiring social pedagogical settings to visit. Participants at the 14th SPDN were able to feel this with every fibre as the Community hosted the evening seminar.


Evening Seminar:

Many of the 140 participants at the evening seminar took up the opportunity to get to know Camphill and arrived early in the afternoon for a tour of the community situated in beautiful, serene surroundings. Camphill had clearly been eagerly awaiting everyone with a display of delicious home-made cakes, pizzas, salads. The holistic sensory experience weaved its way through the entire programme, from eating outside in the glorious afternoon sun, listening to residents playing the flute, followed by the Camphill band opening the evening seminar before Thure Johansen, Gabriel Eichsteller and Alex Priver from the SPC tuned participants into the SPDN programme. Jonathan, a young and confident Camphill resident, provided the official welcome from the community together with Laurence Alfred, whose introductory activity ensured that music was ever-present. Dividing the audience into 3 parts, he invited all of us to sing a familiar canon whilst moving around the large hall and saying hello to each other. After much laughter and a promising musical performance, Kate Skinner offered her insights into social pedagogy and ‘what love’s got to do with it’. As former chair of Camphill Scotland, she spoke passionately and persuasively about the need for love in care and how this is lived in Camphill communities within a social pedagogical framework. Her presentation is available as part of the slideshow below.


In tuning participants into experiencing Camphill practice first-hand, Vibeke Alfred from Caphill School Aberdeen showed a short video from a summer camp. This highlighted the equality between residents and co-workers jointly engaged in outdoor activities and clearly enjoying this unforgettable experience. By then we were all very eager for a closer encounter with Camphill practice. In small groups we set off to immerse ourselves in a particular setting within the community, with choices illustrating social pedagogical practice across the entire lifecourse, from the Amber kindergarten right through to the Simeon care home for the elderly. Participants were fascinated by these, finding themselves making candles and wooden benches, engaging in eurythmy activities, undertaking felt and other craft workshops, relaxing in therapeutic sessions using play, light, massage, art, gardening and various other therapy forms, or exploring the sensory garden, community store, weaver and bakery. Many of the residents were actively involved in facilitating these opportunities for us to learn first-hand how social pedagogy can be lived in such varied settings and how theories and values can enrich practice. It was therefore wonderful to see participants return 90 minutes later with a big smile, a sparkle in their eyes and some profound insights into how we can holistically engage with people in ways that make them shine and how we can create nurturing environments where they find connection, purpose and belonging.


This would’ve been an uplifting note to end the evening on, but our friends at Camphill had even more planned in order to make this an evening to remember. Being hosted by a community that loves music, movement and celebrations, we were soon ceilidh-dancing the night away. We’re enormously grateful to everyone at Camphill for welcoming us so warmly into the community for an evening and giving us a real insight into what makes this such a special place.


Day Seminar:

Whilst the scenery changed for the day seminar hosted at Robert Gordon University, we were keen to keep our SPDN participants in tune with each other – and in more than one ways. After a brief welcome, Thure invited the audience to join us in a performance of a song about the lifecourse: an adapted version of Lukas Graham’s chart-topping ‘7 years’. A talented musician himself, Thure had rewritten the lyrics (see presentation below) and spontaneously assembled a band with Natalie, Robyn, Anthony and Christina as lead singers, Mino, Lowis and Gabriel on the recycling-bin-shaped drums, Thure on the guitar and a 150-voices strong choir chiming in for the chorus. Sounds like a lot of fun? It was more than that, as we reflected. This might have been daunting for some of us, well beyond our comfort zone … and yet we experienced the power of music. It felt exhilarating to be part of the performance, created a sense of community and provided a creative form of self-expression through music that we don’t often encourage in organisational cultures but had experienced as integral within Camphill’s culture.

Having outlined the programme for the day, introduced the workshop facilitators and invited participants to share their reflections on the evening seminar, Charlotte and Alex presented a turbulently fun energizer called ‘fireworks’. Participants paired up and, in a twist on the familiar rock-paper-scissors, they had to stand back to back, each decide on one of three possible actions and, on the count of three, turn around to face each other to perform this action. Unlike in rock-paper-scissors, the task was however to perform the same action! The challenge of intuitively choosing the same action as one’s partner caused much hilarity – and gave us plenty to reflect upon: Just a little twist on the rules led to a fundamental change in emphasis from competition to collaboration and from win-lose to win-win. This required a higher level of empathy, a stronger attempt to sense what the other person needs, wants and does.
The morning was already well under way when it was finally time to hear from our hosts at Robert Gordon University, with Janine Bolger and Patrick Walker welcoming us all and sharing RGU’s social pedagogy journey. The only Scottish university currently offering a BA qualification in social pedagogy, Janine and Patrick explained how the degree programme has been developed in partnership with Camphill School Aberdeen, starting from its inception and going through its ‘lifecourse’ using Eriksson’s developmental stages.

Fiona Feilberg from RGU then presented on the use of self and reflective practice across the life cycle, highlighting the importance of meaningful and purposeful relational work, because change is interpersonal. She emphasised the role of theory when using our self in order to anchor us and the need for reflective supervision to help us explore and make sense of what others evoke in us. Her presentation found a lot of resonance amongst participants and, together with the other plenary presentations, is available below.

Social pedagogy in the UK is currently at an exciting stage, with ever more organisations pioneering how they can relate its conceptual and ethical framework to practice. In order to provide greater coherence, clarity and guidance amidst these dynamic activities, we’ve recently been developing social pedagogy standards and are currently setting up a Social Pedagogy Professional Association. Prof Claire Cameron from the Centre for Understanding of Social Pedagogy at UCL Institute of Education, who leads on these developments, offered further insights into the rationale behind professionalising social pedagogy and outlined how SPDN participants can get involved so as to actively shape SPPA. In particular, we were keen to consult further with delegates on the standards and on what would make SPPA membership meaningful. Following Claire’s overview, we therefore offered participants to get in dialogue around these themes within an open space forum. They could contribute to whichever forum conversation they were interested in, for as long as and in whatever way they chose to. The multitude of perspectives brought to the open space conversations were immensely valuable and demonstrated the value of diversity. We have since aimed to integrate these within a coherent set of social pedagogy standards and a members’ charter for the Social Pedagogy Professional Association as well as in shaping up the membership offer (please see the first SPPA newsletter for further details). Many of these conversations carried on well into the lunch break and were continued over salad, sandwiches and mini muffins.

The afternoon offered participants an opportunity to join two workshops on a fascinating range of subjects exploring aspects of social pedagogy across the lifecourse:

  • How to handle a moral dilemma – Søren Kayser (University College Capital, Copenhagen)
  • From pilot light to cooking with gas – Sandra Sabiston (Camphill Blair Drummond)
  • Why can’t I just be myself? Self and vulnerability in social pedagogy trainings – Chris Walter (Camphill School Aberdeen) and BA SP students from RGU
  • Life story work – sharing a personal journey – Lorna Ann Farquharson and Vibeke Alfred (Camphill School Aberdeen)
  • Relationships are the Golden Thread in a child’s life – Nicki McLaughlin (Care Visions), with input from Danny Henderson, Lisa McGrane and care experienced young people – Jenn Clark, Rebecca Beedie and Mirren Kerr
  • Strengthening and nourishing self as a prerequisite for forming positive relationships –Laurence Alfred (Camphill School Aberdeen)
  • The adventure of theory meeting practice – A joint exploration of how social pedagogical concepts are understood and practiced in the UK – Anthony Moorcroft & Sylvia Holthoff (ThemPra Social Pedagogy)
  • Dialogue operation as a method to reduce risk – Colin Paterson and Brigitte Paterson (Compass Child and Family Services, Ireland and KJSH e.V. Germany /Lüttringhaus Institute for Case Management, Germany)
  • Nature Nurture, promoting resilience through outdoor play and nurturing – Terri Harrison (Nature Nurture Project)
  • Reclaiming Social Work – Stacey Wilson and Leah Henderson (Aberdeen City Council)

Feedback from workshop participants was very positive, and we’re pleased that many workshop facilitators kindly offered to share materials from their workshops with the wider SPDN. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.

In the final plenary session we turned the focus towards reflecting on the learning from the previous 24 hours and on how social pedagogy can be applied across the lifecourse. Participants grouped around 5 large tables each representing a particular life stage from early childhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood through to old age. In each group they discussed what they felt was important for individuals at this life stage and what role social pedagogy could play. Participants visualised their ideas on a large banner, which you can see below.

Early years
panorama early years

panorama childhood

panorama adolescent

panorama adulthood

Old age
panorama old age

Feedback received from participants on the event was overwhelmingly positive and included some genuinely heart-warming comments, with some participants highlighting the impact that experiencing Camphill has had on them and several mentioning that this had been the most enjoyable SPDN event they’d been attending. A few people noted that they would have liked the programme to focus more on the lifecourse, which echoed our own reflections on the 24 hours. We’re really pleased that participants went away with many exciting ideas and new connections, and we look forward to our next event, which will be announced in due course on our website. Please feel free to sign up for SPDN news here.