Introduction
 
Providing places of asylum has been at the heart of the Philadelphia Association’s endeavours for more than 40 years. Hundreds of men and women, whether formally designated ‘mentally ill’ or experiencing serious emotional distress to the point where they can no longer cope, have found in our houses a haven, a place where, in the company of others, they are allowed to go through whatever they have to go through, in their own time and in their own way, free from the well-meaning interventions of psychiatry or family. The most famous of these was undoubtedly the first, Kingsley Hall, which opened in 1965 and which has come to have an almost iconic status in the world of what has come to be called critical (or less accurately anti-) psychiatry. 
 
When Kingsley Hall closed in 1970 (when the lease expired) the PA’s attempt at providing a radically different approach to the treatment of those in states of severe emotional distress did not come to an end, as many people seem to believe. Rather it took different forms and has continued to this day. The weekend that the PA moved out of Kingsley Hall, a new community opened and more than 15 houses have been run under our auspices since and several hundred people have spent some time in them. The houses have been an inspiration to many others too.
 
Despite our longevity and the radically different nature of our project, surprisingly little has been written about our endeavours in this respect, a few book chapters and articles, and an unpublished PhD thesis. The Philadelphia Association (PA) has never been good at self-promotion. In part this was an understandable reaction to the period when the PA was most closely identified with one of its founders, the highly public figure of RD Laing, but it has meant that what we do – which is arguably unique in its field – has felt at times like a guilty secret.
 
This book is an attempt to correct that. It is in part a history of the houses but I have not tried to produce a detailed factual account of who did what, and what happened when and where. This would be of doubtful interest even to ourselves, let alone others outside the PA network. It would also be of questionable accuracy as we move further and further away from the events themselves and when, sadly, many of the important actors in the drama – RD Laing, David Cooper, Hugh Crawford, Aaron Esterson, Robin Cooper – are no longer with us. In any case, like many radical organisations of its time, the PA kept very little indeed in the way of documentation of its activities and there is very little in the way of primary sources from which to work. The PA was, quite rightly, more concerned with just getting on and actually doing things, or at least trying to, than with recording its deliberations. (The existing files on the PA communities in the first 20 years together take up half the space of the files of one of the current houses.)
 
The history presented here is in part a means to an end, it’s a way of making sense of how we have come to be here and why we work in the ways that we do. In the end this is a book about our houses now, what we do and why. How did we get here and how do we account for ourselves? What is it that we do and does it matter? How are we different from others who may seem similar and why? These are some of the questions I have tried to pose.
 
This is obviously not a disinterested account. I, and the colleagues who have helped me write this, have been involved in these houses for a long time. I believe in them and what they do, a belief that comes from my experience, and that of my colleagues: resent and in the past. 
 
Nevertheless I do not claim to speak for others, let alone for the Philadelphia Association as a whole. In the end this is my account, and the decisions about what to include and the emphases and interpretations of the account, are my responsibility, as are any errors of fact. That said, I do hope this book speaks to, and of, the experiences of others.