This article by Hannah Fearn originally appeared in The Guardian here.
Conflict over pay and values threatens way of life in Camphill villages where disabled and able-bodied people work together, say campaigners.
Both workers have learning disabilities. They are provided with full-time care and support at Botton, one of the first co-operative Camphill communities founded 60 years ago on the principles of Rudolf Steiner.
The 600-acre site boasts four working farms, an organic seed factory, a bakery and cafe, a Steiner school, church and concert hall. Members of the community share large homes, in which learning disabled residents, non-disabled families with children and volunteer co-workers all live together. The businesses provide employment for the 280 Botton residents, of whom around 150 have learning disabilities.
Buchanan, who is in his 50s and has lived at Botton for more than 25 years, is happy working with wood and living with his host family. “I like Botton. I want to stay here, as long as nothing changes,” he says.
But some volunteers fear the way of life and ethos in communities like these are under threat.
In a Camphill village, co-workers voluntarily dedicate their time to the life of the community and the support of its vulnerable residents. In return they receive free accommodation, food and travel costs – even an occasional family holiday – funded by the charity.
Nick Assirati, a former policeman, managed a natural forest as a co-worker at the Oaklands Park community in the Forest of Dean. “I found that it ticked every single box for me. It’s completely sustainable. It’s based in Christianity, and the politics of land use. There is a massive philosophy behind it,” he says. “You live in a very informal way. It’s not a service user-provider model, it’s much more a community in the true sense of the word.”
Traditionally, villages such as Botton have separated work from personal payment. But the Camphill Village Trust (CVT), which manages nine of the 61 Camphill villages across Britain, now requires that its co-workers become regular, paid members of staff with terms and contracts. A new managerial team has been appointed for each community, and the co-operative management groups of the past have been stood down.
Today, only a few of the communities controlled by CVT have significant numbers of voluntary co-workers left. Longstanding co-workers are considering leaving the Camphill movement as a result of the change, and former volunteers have expressed their anger.
Mark Moodie has been involved with The Grange, another Camphill community in the Forest of Dean for 25 years, including running an offshoot business called Camphill Water. He says the core Camphill vision of able-bodied and disabled people living and working together has been lost. “Camphill has now defined itself very narrowly as a place for looking after people with special needs. But it was a bigger project. It was a whole social experiment,” he says.
The changes followed a series of reports that raised concerns about the quality of care the communities provide for learning disabled residents. In 2012, the Charity Commission reported “serious concerns about the lack of proper control by the trustee body” and “inadequacy of record keeping”, particularly around benefits to co-workers. It instructed the organisation to “introduce a clear policy” on remuneration for co-workers, and also to ensure they were educated in “the rules and regulations with regard to the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries”.
Meanwhile the Care Quality Commission investigated standards at Botton in 2011 with a follow-up in 2013. Though it passed the inspection, questions were raised about roles and responsibilities and whether learning disabled residents were given sufficient opportunity to exercise personal choice. Further investigations are ongoing at a second community, Delrow in Hertfordshire.
Huw John, appointed as chief executive of CVT in 2011, said at the time that the reports concluded that “the community at present doesn’t demonstrate a strong understanding of its responsibilities as a social care provider, and that whilst it operates as a community, the way in which the needs of each villager are assessed, understood and supported need to be more individually focused”.
Two years ago, Martin Routledge, head of operations at charity In Control was asked by CVT to undertake a review of its communities. He held gatherings creating opportunities for residents, families of residents with learning disabilities, and co-workers to express their views and debate the future. “There were important things about the communities that many felt it was important to try to preserve but also changes that needed to take place,” says Routledge. “These were not just to comply with the law, modern and reasonable expectations on helping people stay safe and commissioner expectations. They were also about people with learning disabilities having a greater right to self-determination that was more evident in some communities than others.
“In our view the trustees and managers of the charity were trying hard to achieve this balance of necessary change while maintaining things precious to many. Sadly, some co-workers and families did not appear to see this and took up very hostile positions. Having met hundreds of families and people with learning disabilities, we felt that these angry voices were to some extent overshadowing the views of many who wanted both preservation of some important traditions but also welcomed important improvements. In Botton we felt that the voices that needed to be heard more loudly were those of the people with learning disabilities themselves.”
An online petition protesting against the changes to the way Camphill communities are organised has gathered more than 7,000 signatures. Back in North Yorkshire, local professionals who support the Botton community and fundraise for it, have set up a campaign group to fight the changes which they believe will lead to the eventual dissolution of the community.
“This is a critical battle,” says Action for Botton founder member James Fearnley, who is not a village resident but moved his family to the area three decades ago so that his children could attend the Steiner school. “The CVT has struck at the absolute heart of Camphill. [People] do not work for money, [they] work as part of a relationship. It’s based on this understanding of a better way of organising our lives.”
Financial modelling carried out by the campaigners suggests that the cost of keeping the villages open with staff replacing co-workers will rocket – placing extra stress on their local councils’ care and support budgets.
The Botton co-workers are now considering splitting from the CVT to avoid the new rules being imposed. At a public meeting held last week, they stated their intention to become an independent, self-funding community.
The Centre for Welfare Reform argues that Camphill’s dilemma is a symptom of the broader culture of commodification in our public services – social care in particular. Richard Davis, co-author of a CWR report, believes the CVT trustees were alarmed by the CQC investigations. “I think my primary concern is the mindlessness with which people accept regulation,” he says. “It’s almost as if the purpose is to be safe, first and foremost. The goodwill of the people who are living there and the real purpose comes a very poor second,” he says.
The CVT says the changes it is introducing follows recent tax advice and it insists they will not undermine its core values. John says: “Whilst we are now required to have employment contracts with our co-workers, our commitment to the care and support we offer to our beneficiaries will remain unaffected. Our ethos will remain strong.”
• Some names have been changed
Further information: A BBC News item can be seen here.
The Action for Botton campaigning website here
.’Camphill Village Communities Must Not Be Destroyed’ petition here at 38 Degrees.