Causes. Uniting Botton Village

Causes. Uniting Botton Village
Yareah Magazine
Unite members at Botton Village

Unite members at Botton Village

Learning 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.

View Comments (7)
  • Eddie

    Let us hope that Unite the Union will really get behind this cause, and work to protect the workplaces and the homes of its most vulnerable members

  • Jackie Riis-Johannessen

    Thanks for supporting the learning disabled adults at Botton. By removing the coworkers from the workshops, CVT are taking one more step in breaking down the intentional working community. The same applies in a way to everything the coworkers normally do; up until now they have been running the Botton community, from care and support, finance, running and working in the workshops, stores and farms, admissions, recruitment, training of new coworkers and cultural activities.
    Most of this has now been taken away from them.
    Other Camphill Intentional working communities do have skilled employees in workshops, but they find it very hard finding these people who are also willing working to work with the disabled. Such gems are few and far between. Why is all this so important? Because in such a community everyone works side by side, as equaly, for the good of all

  • Max White

    Thank you 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.

  • Jack L

    Good article, thank you for highlighting what is going on here in Botton.
    From what I have heard CVT management are not happy about union involvement in the village. Why can that be? Perhaps because they can be held to account for their actions. In any case It is likely that if they continue with their current plans of removing Co-workers from the workshops they will held in contempt of court.
    There can be no doubt the human rights of the residents are under threat, and Unite are doing a great work by helping to defend them.

  • Hes B

    Thankyou for your article on the situation in Botton Village, a once thriving community that has given care in an unconventional but very succesful volunteer model for some 60 years, until the charity that ought to support and uphold it, starting to tear away the very foundations and principles on which it is based. I believe the specialness one experiences when visiting or volunteering there, lies in the fact that there is no real difference between car-givers and care-receivers – everyone is equal and depends and relies on everyone elses input and work. Obviously this gets lost when implementing a conventional waged shift-workers model. So the residents truly have some cause to fight for.
    Respect for the union who takes on their cause and I hope they will be able to make a difference in this struggle!

  • Thank you for the article focusing on the workplaces in Botton. “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. 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 standing and 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”.

  • Rose White

    The havock that is being caused in the lives of the people in Botton is just incomprehensible – even more incomprehensible are the charity’s reasons for their destructive introduction of segregation between the learning disabled residents and everybody else.
    Maybe with the one million Unite members amplifying the voices of Gabriel, Allan, Eddie and their friends they will finally be listened to!

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