BSS-Support was formed in February 2019. Our aim is to ensure support is available for former boarders who were sent away from home as children and find the experience has been damaging.
- Believes sending children away to boarding school can harm their emotional development
- Supports former boarders addressing boarding issues they become aware of in their adult lives
- Supports partners and family members of former boarders
- Gives help and information about possible boarding issues to prospective boarding parents
- Supports research into the effects of boarding
- Publishes books and articles on boarding issues
- Responds to enquiries from the press and the public about boarding issues
- Holds regular conferences addressing present and former boarders’ issues
- Publishes regular newsletters
- Welcomes contact and letters and responds to all enquiries confidentially
- Above all, helps former boarders concerned about their time at school know that they are not alone.
If you have experienced child sexual abuse or have any issues with this in connection with boarding school, please write to us and we are can put you in touch with people and organisations that are appropriately experienced and qualified to offer help.
Margaret Laughton, co-founder
Until I was 8 years old I did not attend school and I lived in the love and warmth of India. Being sent to Boarding School on returning to England was alien to ‘normal’ living. I found the lack of any privacy, the strict timing, and the loss of quiet thinking spaces all devastatingly awful. But what can a small child do except conform? My first lesson in the survival process was learning to hide sadness, as tears were a signal for both reprimand and bullying. I decided to cope alone so that I could not be hurt.
Those major and powerful strategies were in place after just one term and the effects of adopting them endured into all aspects of my adult life. After school I worked as a paediatric physiotherapist for many years, as one of the several jobs and projects I simultaneously undertook. When I was 54 I realised I was using work as the left-over survival from school and I took the major step of starting therapy to look at my boarding issues. I left all previous work, went to University and started working as a volunteer at Childline. I continued to work there for 10 years moving on to be a member of staff.
In 2003 Nick Duffell asked me to join his work which he had started to support former boarders. Since that time I have felt very privileged to know, meet, and reply to, hundreds of former boarders and have contact with the families of former and present boarders. Each of us has our own childhood story but we do all have the common ground of being sent away to boarding school. I have found being part of this group has given me great peace by removing my sense of isolation… and my hope is that Boarding School Survivors -Support is able to give you the support and information that you seek… and the same very real sense of ease.
Allison Paech, co-founder
Allison Paech was a high school teacher in the private system for 20 years, including in Boarding Schools in Australia, England and Canada. She was very aware of boarding culture and was especially aware of issues in single sex institutions. During the field research towards her PhD in social psychology, she conducted interviews in six single sex boarding schools for boys. What became very apparent was how brittle and vulnerable many boys appeared, despite their supposed self- confidence. Having made these observations, she became very interested in the work of Nick Duffell and Boarding School Survivors and became involved in the organisation and its work since 2006. She strongly believes children sent to institutions need to have their voices heard.
Sam Barber, co-founder
I attended boarding schools 1991 – 2001. Having sought psychotherapy since 2006, I came to realise the contribution of boarding schools and being sent away at eight to my difficulties. As a consequence, I have sought to raise awareness of the psychological dangers of boarding schools and to help others who might have been through similar difficulties to me. I am an Alexander Technique teacher and I also volunteer as a horticultural therapist. I enjoy music and sports.
I was sent away to boarding school at the age of eight. While I was successful at school, I hated being away from home and dreaded the beginning of term right up until I left aged 18.
I did not realise the effect of boarding until I was in my 40s, when my own children went to a boarding school as day boys.
It was the reminder of my time at school that brought up unmanageable feelings that I had to seek help with.
A combination of Nick Duffell’s Boarding School Survivors weekends and nine years of one-to-one therapy brought me to an understanding of what had happened to me and how it continued to affect my life. Exchanging experiences with other Boarding School Survivors continues to be a great help in bringing some acceptance, and it provides pointers to ways of living with the emotional and developmental damage I have suffered.
Boarding school changed me for life, and not in a good way. I now know what happened to me, and I know how to recognise the effects when they appear – and I manage it successfully, I think.
My career has been in scientific research, computer manufacturing and business management. Now retired, I am busier than ever with a number of projects in business, the arts and, of course, Boarding School Survivors – Support.
I went to boarding schools from the age of seven. Mostly I’ve been ashamed to admit this – bastions of privilege as they are perceived – but for a while I remained strongly attached to them particularly after I joined the Royal Navy. It took regular meetings with a Presbyterian minister for me to begin to understand that these schools may have caused, rather than alleviated, my emotional detachment and isolation.
In my first term I cried more or less continuously for about three weeks – in front of my locker, at my teachers, under my bed covers – until I managed to conceal it all. I was then beaten. And then again in my second term. After that, and having been deserted by my closest friend, I became a model of excellence – pleasing everyone I could 24/7 until I got my Rugby colours, became Head of School, got scholarships, sponsorships and praise wherever I could. This pattern I repeated and repeated – and it is a massively tiring one.
Having attempted – not very successfully – to write my own autobiography of boarding school life, I then found Nick Duffell’s book, attended a BSS conference, and joined a survivors’ course. The road has been a long one, but there was never really any other option for me other than to walk it. The journey is ongoing! Meanwhile I qualified as a Person Centred counsellor, but currently I head a History and Politics department in a secondary day school in Cheshire.
It is my belief that the (now – allegedly – sanitised) horrors of boarding school shadow the huge emotional damage that ruptured attachment scars onto the children of this deeply ingrained system. And such broken attachment – it is my feeling – was dealt to every single boarder, past and present.
Hence my long held desire to contribute to this quiet, small, but warm organisation which is there for anyone who feels forced – finally – to confront the difficult reality of their past schooling.
After enjoying many years as a co-Director of BSS-Support’s predecessor, I resigned in 2018, unaware I was responding to a call for space to plunge the depths of my own healing journey.
This took the form of impulsively saying “Yes” to buying a house in France after only half an hour’s viewing with my husband, who’d wished to live there for years.
Reality hit when rolls of bubble wrap arrived, just three months later.
I was leaving my children, friends, garden, street: giving up my whole life – except for work as a psychotherapist, which became one of my core anchors through the process that unfolded. Nausea set in and grew into dread during the ten hour drive to the River Lot. It didn’t abate.
It became obvious, with both my therapist and supervisor, that I was re-experiencing going away to prep school aged nine. We wondered, too, if I’d had to do something this drastic to access misery and fury I’d repressed 58 years earlier. I had no heart to unpack; I joined a French class reluctantly; I hated every blade of grass, every vine, even the river, exacerbated each time I heard how lucky I was, how beautiful the landscape.
Within a month of moving, under the guise of protection from Covid, authorities cruelly forbade travel and physical contact. I hit despair.
I yearned, keened, for any show of heart, waving at every car that drove by, saying “Bonjour” if I passed someone during my hour’s 1km-radius walk. People waved back, they smiled. When our local café opened, I found welcome, miserable as I was. No judging, no ostracising, even though I wouldn’t pretend to be ‘fine’.
Over two and a half years, the exact time at prep school, with more connection locally, and more regular visits to greet and cuddle each new grandchild, the walls of concrete I’d erected round my heart were cracking, although I didn’t feel the benefit at the time. Despite my resistance, in dripped, then flowed, all the love from family and consistently supportive friends. It was as I appreciated, and then learned to receive, warmth, I dared to open my heart and discover living.
Fully believing myself by now, I didn’t need a further five years’ torment to replicate public school. I was, and am, enjoying the river, the food, the language, new buddies, the garden and house, frequent visits to family and old friends, and hanging out with my husband – thankful to be home, happy to be back.
In memory of Crispin Ellison
Crispin Ellison, one of the Boarding School Survivors-Support founder-Directors, died on 30th August 2019 after a long illness with Motor Neurone Disease.
After school he trained as a Social Worker and then worked, for about 30 years, in Legacy Management very successfully raising money for many and various charities.
Alongside this work, Crispin had contact with us for some years only through the exchange of letters which feels very poignant as he was sent to boarding school at the age of 12, when, for his 6 years away, weekly letters were the only source of contact with his family and friends .
He has written about that time in his life which he found sad and puzzling. He wrote: ‘only at age 44 did I realise that the experience of being sent away to boarding school had been the greatest factor in how I lived and felt about myself …’.
For us, boarding school is the reason we knew him.
In 2003 Crispin brought many of those thoughts and feelings with him when, after some trepidation, he joined our organization to be in touch with the many people who shared his childhood experiences of boarding.
From those first early days he was glad to have found others who felt as he did and from the start was very involved and generous in helping to establish the new organization. Our aims were to support those, who in adulthood, carried in their lives the legacy of their boarding years and who wanted to make those issues known for the benefit of future generations.
After the years of contact only by letter we had the great bonus of meeting Crispin at our Conferences, while he met others who worked alongside him at Nick Duffell’s Boarding School Survivors Men’s Workshops.
It was a wonderful moment when, in 2014, Crispin agreed to be a director of the organization. We then had almost daily contact, talked once a month and met 3 or 4 times a year.
He brought with him great insights and wisdom to both our day-to-day work and to major decisions we had to make. He did this with a wonderfully consistent source of great kindness and gentleness at the same time as sharing his many very great strengths.
He would always look at any problem we were discussing, pause, ponder, see through all mire and arrive at straightforward solutions which we so greatly admired, appreciated and relied on.
He also brought to our table two main pieces of work. His past experiences of fund raising expertise – which he used to the full with great generosity and involvement – and his total support for the idea of a book. These enabled us to move forward and then submit for publishing, a Book of Men’s boarding experiences. The book is dedicated to the memory of Crispin and was published by Routledge in 2021.
His illness was a time of huge sadness to us but he continued working as before with resolution, laughter and commitment. He was an example to us all.
During this time he hosted our day-long meetings in his and Ilana’s lovely house in Hove and they are times we will always remember with joy. He continued working with us until about two weeks before his death in spite of great physical difficulty. He always showed huge courage and openness and the same erudite wisdom and thoughtfulness which we had come to know so well.
We all miss him now… and we will continue to do so as we remember him and his work with love, and with deep thankfulness that we had the great good fortune to have known him.
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