Evidence has emerged that, last Monday, managers at Botton Village tipped at least 1,100 litres of organic milk away and closed Botton’s famous organic creamery rather than ask for help from the qualified Co-worker in the community.
Having, it is claimed, already hounded the artisan Co-workers out of many of the community’s workshops, including the famous creamery, the Trust suddenly found itself in an ideological dilemma when the head cheese maker (an employee) was unexpectedly called away due to a family emergency.
The learning disabled residents, who usually work making Botton’s famous organic cheese, cream, yoghurt and other dairy products, were stopped from going into work, sent home and the creamery doors were locked.
In a seemingly short-sighted move, the farmers had to tip that morning’s 1,100 litres of fresh, biodynamically produced milk away into two slurry tanks, wasting the community’s hard-won produce.
In subsequent email and telephone contact that bordered on the absurd, Eddie Thornton, a fully qualified cheese maker (who had been dismissed for accompanying disabled adults to assist them when they wanted to protest against the charity’s changes) was instantly rejected as a possible option for keeping the creamery running by CVT managers. He said “I am not the most popular person with the top brass of the CVT at the moment for the part I’ve played in aiding the Villagers to speak out and have their voices heard. But this is a nonpartisan issue and on Monday around 1,100 litres of prime milk were flushed away and I immediately offered them the opportunity to not do that again, and waste the week’s production of over 3,000 litres”. He adds “ As the only cheese maker within driving distance of the village I am their only option. Sadly I think that pride or ideology has once more got in the way of the community functioning properly. It’s an insult to the learning disabled residents of Botton Village who get up at 5am to milk the cows, and frankly a criminal waste at a time when a million people across Britain are relying on food banks”.
Botton resident Neil Shearer said: ”I find it disgusting to wake up to milk the cows and see it all go to waste” whilst Ian Hatcher, also a learning disabled milker, added: “I think it’s very bad, I wake up at 5 and start milking at half past five. I think it’s a waste if the milk goes down the drains and then onto the fields. It normally goes into the tank and we take it to the creamery but we can’t do that now because they won’t let us. I helped Eddie make the cheese before and it would be good to do it again, that’s for sure”.
Emilija Legzdina, an agricultural apprentice, commented: “Whatever happens, no food should be thrown away. Never. It seems incredible that in such a place like Botton, an intentional, land work based community, something like that is planned and acceptable, while there is a person available who could process the milk that’s being wasted. Our daily hard work washed down the drain. Unbelievable”
After considerable internal protest by the Co-workers still at Botton, CVT managers encouraged the Botton households to use a small portion of the milk and produce their own yoghurts in their home kitchens. However it would not be possible to use the majority of the milk in this way and what will happen to a further 1,000 litres of milk which will be available tomorrow (Friday) is not yet known.
Camphill Village Trust (CVT), a charity originally set up to support the formation and maintenance of intentional communities that fully integrate the learning disabled into every aspect of community life, has been facing a storm of criticism over its attempts to dismantle the key elements of its communities including the much valued workplaces of the learning disabled such as the creamery.
The net effect of CVT’s restructuring actions has been and continues to be the tearing apart of living, vibrant communities and acute distress for community members, including Co-workers and most importantly, the learning disabled residents, who have themselves recently created and courageously presented a petition at No 10 Downing St asking the Prime Minister to intervene on their behalf.
The residents, with the support of worried family members in the campaign groups, feel that their concerns have not been heard and their choices to live with their Co-worker families in a shared-life setting are being completely ignored.
This 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 former Care Minister Norman Lamb MP ‘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 this spring, over 30 MPs of all political colours writing to Ministers to express their concern, an Early Day Motion raised in Parliament about Botton, and Mark Harper MP is holding an enquiry at another CVT site, The Grange, in his constituency.
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 4 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.
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 branch of the Unite Community and are organising alongside other Unite activists to raise the profile of their struggle and to organise effectively against the changes.
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.