Pioneer Health Centre

From Anarchy In Action

The Pioneer Health Centre was an experimental social club run up by physicians and biologists in Peckham, South London from 1930 to 1950. The founders started the center in order to study health and well-being, and to observe how healthy adults and children behaved in an egalitarian social setting. The center received 10,000 visitors a year. The doctors' findings included:

-Health is a process that has to be cultivated if it is to thrive.

-If people are given information about themselves and their families they will attempt to make decisions that are in the best interests of their families.

-People thrive when they are given the freedom to make choices about their activities and will choose those that help in their development.

-When people are given resources in a community to enable them to grow they will be active in their community for the benefit of that community.[1]

The center closed in 1950, because a lack of funds made it impossible to repair the building and maintain the staff. Moreover, much of the center's membership had evacuated the area due to damage from bombings during the war. [2]

Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action[3]:

An interesting and deliberate example of the theory of spontaneous organisation in operation was provided by the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham in South London. This was started in the decade before the Second World War by a group of physicians and biologists who wanted to study the nature of health and of healthy behaviour instead of studying ill-health like the rest of the medical profession. They decided that the way to do this was to start a social club whose members joined as families and could use a variety of facilities in return for a family membership subscription and for agreeing to periodic medical examina­tions. In order to be able to draw valid conclusions the Peckham biolo­gists thought it necessary that they should be able to observe human beings who were free - free to act as they wished and to give expression to their desires. There were consequently no rules, no regulations, no leaders. 'I was the only person with authority,' said Dr Scott Williamson, the founder, 'and I used it to stop anyone exerting any authority.' For the first eight months there was chaos. 'With the first member-families', says one observer, 'there arrived a horde of undisciplined children who used the whole building as they might have used one vast London street. Screaming and running like hooligans through all the rooms, breaking equipment and furniture,' they made life intolerable for everyone. Scott Williamson, however, 'insisted that peace should be restored only by the response of the children to the variety of stimulus that was placed in their way'. This faith was rewarded: 'In less than a year the chaos was reduced to an order in which groups of children could daily be seen swimming, skating, riding bicycles, using the gymnasium or playing some game, occasionally reading a book in the library . . . the running and screaming were things of the past.'

In one of the several valuable reports on the Peckham experiment, John Comerford draws the conclusion that 'A society, therefore, if left to itself in suitable circumstances to express itself spontaneously works out its own salvation and achieves a harmony of actions which superimposed leadership cannot emulate.'[4]

  3. Anarchy_in_Action
  4. John Comerford, Health the Unknown: The Story of the Peckham Experiment (London, 1947). See also Innes Pearse and Lucy Crocker, TIle Peckham Experiment (London, 1943); Biologists in Search of Material by G. Scott Williamson and I. H, Pearse (London, 1938).