Learning disability residents are fighting their charity for the right to keep doing meaningful work

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botton village-care industry newsLearning disabled residents at an intentional community, Botton Village in North Yorkshire, are unionising to fight their charity Camphill Village Trust (CVT) for the right to keep doing meaningful work and have a family life.

 

In direct contravention of its founding remit (which was to hold assets for, and provide support to, the Botton Village community) and in a bid to force a more conventional institutional care model instead, CVT is trying to alter the long-established shared living arrangement in residents’ homes, effectively creating a state of learning disabled ‘apartheid’.  In addition, it is also making major changes in their workplaces the combination of which will alter the entire ethos of the community.

 

One of the most distressing elements of this forced segregation is the threat of closure to residents’ workplaces as highly skilled Co-workers, who founded and built the community, have been ‘instructed’ that they will no longer be allowed to run the communal village workshops. Many of the residents are consequentially fearful that replacing their dear friends and colleagues with support workers will leave their work places trivialised, unfriendly, unsafe and unsecure.

 

In an additional move earlier this spring that caused outrage amongst the overwhelming majority of the learning disabled residents, their families, and the wider community, the Co-workers’ families were served with eviction notices.  It seems apparent that CVT intend to replace them with low-paid support workers who will not live with but rather ‘service’ the residents’ needs on a strict shift based system, whilst residing elsewhere. Notably these low-paid support workers will require significant in-work benefits to supplement their income diverting unnecessary public monies into CVT’s coffers, these benefits which are not claimed or required by the vocational volunteer Co-workers (VVCs).

 

In a show of strong opposition to these changes, 80% of the residents have created and signed a petition calling on the Trust to reverse their controversial plans and revert to their founding principles. Despite delivering their petition to the CVT Trustees at their headquarters, the County Hall at Northallerton, and even to the Prime Minister, the residents believe that their voices and choices are still being ignored.

 

While campaigners prepare to present their case to the High Court, the residents have looked to Unite to help them protect their way of life.  Some 70 Co-workers and residents have formed a Community branch of Unite and are – along with other Unite activists – planning to raise the profile of their struggle and to organise effectively against the changes.

 

There was a particularly warm Unite welcome for resident Allan Hobson who had been an active union member prior to a traumatic head injury 29 years ago.  Allan comments: “I was a union man when I worked for the council for 14 years. It feels important to join up again now because it means we can speak up more. We’re hoping for lots of support from our union friends”.

 

Resident Gabriel Werth, who sits on the new committee and has lived in Botton for 26 years, said: “I joined the union because I want to make Botton safe. I like the workshops very much, I work in the weavery and the doll-shop. I’m scared that the CVT are going to chuck out the Co-workers and I have been to court about it. I like Botton, I feel like it is my home, it feels like I live with my second family here”.

 

Eddie Thornton is a former employee of the charity but resigned and became a Co-worker when it became clear no compromise was going to be made with the community. “The residents have been silenced by their charity and let down by their local authority. We hope that by joining a union with a million members that their voices will be amplified to a level that no one can ignore.”

 

John Coan, Unite, commented: “Unite Community is proud that we have constituted a union branch in Botton. Their ethos of cooperation and community fits exactly with what we are about, and we are offering the residents and their Co-worker friends solidarity in their struggle.”

 

The forced segregation situation is set against the backdrop of national concern about the treatment of the learning disabled, with the launch of the Green Paper by Norman Lamb ‘No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored’.  In a recent BBC interview Mr Lamb relayed that he felt the learning disabled are being “treated like second-class citizens with decisions being made about them without them being involved and without their families being involved”.  This, say campaigners is exactly the treatment being meted out to the learning disabled at Botton Village.

 

Political support for the Community’s struggle against the enforced changes is growing with concern for the situation expressed by Baroness Hollins in the House of Lords at the start of the month, over 30 MPs of all political colours writing to Ministers to express their concern, and an Early Day Motion raised in Parliament about Botton, and the Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper MP holding an enquiry at another CVT site, The Grange, in his constituency.

 

As well as nationwide support from sitting MPs, the Action for Botton campaign has also attracted support from the local Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election who attended the last Hustings at Danby Village hall and spoke up in defence of the Co-worker model for the Villagers.

 

CVT was already under scrutiny in multiple areas with campaigners highlighting serious questions about the way the charity is run including a worrying lack of transparency in its accounts which, in spite of requests, has yet to be clarified; a potential conflict of interest with a director whose own company supplies services to CVT for unidentified remuneration; claims of harassment being made to local Police and pending actions for compensation by former community members who claim to have been bullied out of their roles and communities.

 

In addition, in February there was a sudden Trustee resignation citing assorted governance issues including concerns relating to the Articles and Memorandum. Finally  legal mediation is expected to  be taking place in about 6 weeks’ time relating to the High Court claim brought by campaigners, including parents from one community now devoid of Co-workers, over alleged  breaches of the charity’s articles resulting in an end to the shared-living model of care.

 

One can only wonder how CVT’s Chair of Trustees Felicity Chadwick-Histed, also a Partner at Publitas Consulting LLP can continue to ignore the plight of the learning disabled for whom the Trustees are ultimately responsible.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for highlighting the plight of this inspiring community. You have residents and co workers who as a group love their work and care for one another in a situation where money is not the prime reason for their work. It is an inspiring example of a place where work, culture and care for the environment live side by side. Life comes to Botton and feeds the aspirations and breadth of experience of the the residents and co workers. I only hope that the UK wakes up soon enough to recognise what a treasure Botton is before CVT is able to destroy it completely.

  2. Well done to all those continuing to give the Botton story plenty of publicity. Hopefully Uniite membership will keep the wonderful workshops safe from CVT control. We have all seen parents of learning disabled youngsters in despair at the lack of anything meaningful for them to do when they reach school leaving age and beyond. Camphill communities have the answer to this and it has worked beautifully for decades. CVT are only interested in the areas that make serious money so I suspect that my son for one would be out of a job.

  3. I still find it incredible that in this day and age the voices of the villagers are being ignored and the way they wish THEIR care to be delivered is side lined by the charity set up to protect them. Thank you for highlighting this terrible situation and I hope people reading will show their support by joining the Botton buddies.

  4. I will never understand the cvt, we had a caring wonderful community ,meaningful way of life everybody happy and they are taking every thing away from them and they just don’t care. I just hope at the end of the day the villagers get the justice which they deserve!

  5. Camphill is a society of compassionate people with ideals based on treating all human beings with dignity regardless of ability or disability. The Charity CVT was formed to protect the Camphill ethos of shared living, meaningful work and a rich cultural life for all its residents. The Camphill model of life and work is multilayered and cannot be understood in a simplistic employee versus volunteer dilemma. Long term volunteers, young volunteers doing their gap year, residents, and families of volunteers and residents are touched by the opportunities for personal growth in a mixed ability community. When staff are employed to care for vulnerable people their status immediately drops to less than able. The meaningful work of Botton Village will not survive without its volunteer community of people from all walks of life. Why do a few (Trustees of CVT) who were charged with the responsibility to protect this unique solution to ‘care in the community’ want to dismantle the prime example of human compassion at work?

  6. I am so impressed with the clarity of this article and the true grasp of the situation in Botton that it illustrates. At last, a journalist who does not sit on the fence and allow CVT to peddle the same worn out arguments. You have seen CVT for what it is and you have provided a real understanding of the travesty that is taking place in Botton under its management. In doing so you are standing up and giving a voice to the vast majority of the learning disabled residents who are wholeheartedly against the proposed changes. Thank you for this, long may you continue to be that voice.

  7. Thank you CIN for posting this article.

    I am very proud of my learning disabled niece who has joined the union and is prepared to speak out in support of shared living and her co-worker houseparents and against the misinformation produced by CVT that threatens her future and that of her friends in Botton.

    It is good that the actions of CVT trustees and especially the senior management team are being exposed.

    An example is a letter to the disabled Villagers from the Operations Director who is currently in the Village due to the extended absence of the General Manger. The letter was ambiguous so I sought urgent clarification as follows:-
    “ I am looking at your letter 11th March that was distributed to Villagers and in which you state, regarding villagers who do not want to be cared for by the charity’s employed staff, the following “At the moment the charity provides both your home and your support. We would really like to go on doing this. But we also know that it is your choice to make.”
    Can you please clarify exactly what you mean by this. Are you saying that villagers, who do not want to be cared for by the charity’s employed staff, either 1 – have to leave their homes because they no longer want CVT caring for them or 2 – that they can continue to live in their homes and have their care provided by a different care provider of their choice rather than CVT?”

    Despite a follow up via the CEO and Trustees’ PA, who said she would see what she could do, there has been no reply after well over a month. This is similar to a letter sent to the CEO in September last following assurances given by him in a meeting that he would respond. Two months later a brief dismissive reply was received, via the Chairwoman, from the Communications Director and blaming a lack of resources.

    The failure to reply has become a typical feature of CVT. Requests, over the past three years, for meetings with the trustees have been met with evasion or silence. One also wonders where the General Manager is these days. In November last he failed to attend a meeting arranged well in advance. He later advised that he was on compassionate leave but gave no notice – our round trip was 700 miles. Others have had a similar experience and have had to travel much further.

    The above are just the tip of the CVT iceberg that families have had to endure. They claim openness and honesty. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  8. Thank you for the article. “Work” is a really important part of our life in Botton. Almost every day at supper table we talk about what everyone have done in their workplaces. The visitors are always impressed by how proudly the residents tell them about their work and friendly invite them to their workplaces and also by the quality of the products. Work means a lot to us; source of dignity and self worth, sense of achievement, opportunity to meet people, purpose of the day, rhythm of the week…
    We are living and working together; I’m cooking, filling the forms, helping in a workshop, the residents see them as my work, but I don’t think they see me as working when we are eating together or going out together, these are just part of the life. But replacing co-working model with shift based system will alter our relationships by changing our home to “their” home and “our” workplace. Also it is destroying our work ethos. The other day a support worker was just watching a resident working in the workshop. Although he was properly fulfilling his duty of “servicing the residents’ needs”, by accompanying and reassuring the resident, it was a huge shock to me, revealing the segregation between “service users” and “service providers”.

  9. One thing that is particularly distressing to people with learning disabilities are changes in their daily routine or circumstances, which they feel they cannot grasp or control. Tearing apart the Camphill model and replacing it with a conventional care model, is a fundamental change of huge impact in the lives of these residents who have lived in this way for years, sometimes decades. To do this without any pressing necessity (as all the legal, tax, and other reasons CVT has given so far crumble under closer scrutiny) amounts to my mind to doing willful and purposeful harm to the residents this charity is supposed to support.

  10. We are supposed to live in a democratic society.

    If 80% of villagers (the beneficiaries of the charity) take issue with CVT’s plans then they should not be ignored. Any political party would be content with even half the support (40%) in the forthcoming general election.

    It is shameful of CVT trustees to ignore the wishes of the villagers. Why do they remain silent on this matter?

    I repeat, 80% of villagers are against your proposals CVT trustees. Do you not care about their desires and feelings?

  11. Thank you for covering this very important issue in this report. A few years ago, before the current CVT management were in post, the thought of even joining a union would not even have entered the minds of those living and working in Botton. In the current situation, however, the support and backing of a powerful union will help them to fight their corner, and to try to make CVT see that that the changes they are proposing to care arrangements in Botton are unnecessary, unwanted and potentially very harmful for the learning disabled residents they say they support. It is crucial that these vulnerable adults have a choice about who looks after them, and about where they live; they have stated clearly that they wish shared living to continue, and it is about time that their wishes were listened to and acted on. Charitable donations to Camphill are meant to go towards continuing the co-worker care model in intentional communities, where the learning disabled thrive and are valued. This money is not intended to pay for the large salaries of an ever increasing CVT management.

    • Many donors have cancelled their regular donations to CVT and are now donating to Action for Botton.

      The feedback from now Ex-CVT donors, say how horrified and outraged they are that their donations were taken and then used against the learning disabled whom the money was intended.

      The word ‘deception’ was used by one donor who felt deceived that the mail drop fundraising appeal pack had nice pictures and stories of the learning disabled living a supported way of life with their co-workers in a family environment was simply a big lie.

      It’s a joke that CVT keep repeatedly making statements in the press that the co-workers are forcing them to waste charitable money on hiring top law and PR firms to fight the co-workers and learning disabled.

      The co-workers have and continue to be on the receiving end of CVTs despicable behaviour and they only are hanging in their for the sake of the disabled residents of Botton Village.

      Much gratitude to all Botton co-workers and we will continue to support you.

  12. Thank you for this article focusing on the workshops. They are a key part of life at Botton and the Co-workers have done much to develop them and run them. It is distressing that the workshop now seems to be the CVT’s next focus in their efforts to tear Botton apart.

  13. The villagers in Botton are having their voices ignored by the charity, it is shocking that they are speaking so clearly and are still being treated as if they have no voice.

  14. Thanks again Jackie and CIN for keeping the desperate situation in Botton fresh and in people’s minds.

    I am full of gratitude that John Coan from Unite is supporting Botton co-workers and residents.

    What does it say to the public about a charity when it’s own beneficiaries have to join a union for support?

    What does it say to the public about a charity when it’s own beneficiaries have no choice other than to take them to court on human rights issues?

    CVT have not and continue to NOT listen to the wishes of Botton residents. For anyone who doubts this, I suggest taking a walk around Botton Village and speak directly with residents. I and many others have done this and many residents will talk of their distress about the new forced changes; how they and/or their families have objected but they’ve been ignored; some have been harassed by CVT employees and/or management; have been told not to attend meetings with the press (who are banned from coming into Botton Village to speak with opposing co-workers or residents); have been told not to attend protests or vigils. And the list goes on……

    The PR for CVT, Furer Communications, list on their website that one of their clients is Disability Rights UK. I wonder what Disability Rights UK would think if they were aware that their PR was helping to dismantle the rights of disabled residents in Botton Village?

  15. Great to see more coverage of such an important issue, keep up the good work CIN.

    Equally as fantastic is Unite coming on board to provide Botton support and massively increase the focus on the travesty that CVT management, its Trustees and PR firm, Furner Communiations, are supporting and allowing to happen.

    It is horrifying to think that there are organisations such as CVT who can quite happily ignore the wishes of the very people they are meant to support. Worse still they get to pay themselves vast and disproportionate salaries for the privilege of this, taking valuable money away from the learning disabled and feathering their own nest and pension fund. Quite frankly, there are areas of society where this type of capitalism has no place and care for the learning disabled is definitely one of them.

    With the increased profile of this entire sector given by Norman Lamb I sincerely hope that Action for Botton (http://www.actionforbotton.org/) is successful allowing the rights of the learning disabled to be listened to and followed.

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