Action 4 Botton

The Struggle

The following paragraphs offer a summary of existing information on this site that can be accessed via the links throughout the text, on the left-hand side or the Timeline. In this section on Botton's struggle we will describe where the new leadership has taken the charity, since they began dismantling its holistic and inclusive Camphill communities (of the Camphill Village Trust, CVT).

We have all been long-standing proud supporters and associated with this wonderful charity for many years and we are not "campaigning against the charity" as its CEO claimed - we have been campaigning for this charity, for the heart and soul of an endeavour we love and know very well, for an organisation we feel has been taken over by a few outsiders and taken away from those who created it and have been living in its communities.

We are clear that CVT's restructuring and reform programme is in conflict with its founding principles and we challenge the reasons CVT presented for making their changes. We also describe some of their attitudes and methods that we found deplorable and which have no place in any charity, certainly not Camphill.

All this represents a betrayal of trust, of the trust placed in a board of trustees tasked with not merely ensuring compliance with rules and regulations but with upholding its defining ethos and approach in the name of its beneficiaries. A betrayal of trust also of those volunteer co-workers who have been giving years of their time and energy, day in day out, in building and serving these communities, of communities that were always meant to be composed of people with and without disability - the central idea of its founders. 

The dark thread running through CVT’s narrative over the past years has been the relentless disparagement of co-workers to justify the trust’s new policies. In 2012 an anonymous note arrived at the Charity Commission alleging that certain long-term volunteers in one of the charity's communities were “living in luxury”. The allegation was independently investigated and shown to be untrue: co-workers were found to be living within budget and this was reasonable. Instead of expressing relief the charity doubled down on the unsubstantiated claim that the co-worker model was unsustainable and had to end. It wasn't true. In fact, the opposite would prove to be the case, as the charity's own published accounts demonstrate. As co-workers and their holistic communities disappeared and care was increasingly provided by employed carers, the charity's total staff costs (co-workers plus employees, from mostly co-workers in 2011 to employees only in 2017) have shot up from £3.4 million to £12.4 million. We had already warned about this in 2015. At the same time the number of villagers supported has gone down, and the net effect is that the cost of providing care per villager has quadrupled. Since social services will not increase its payments, this can only result in fewer employed staff supporting ever larger groups of villagers. 

The Charity Commission had, in their 2012 investigation, also advised CVT that there should be a majority of independent trustees on the board. This was used by the group of independent trustees not simply to rebalance the board composition but to completely clear the board of any representation of co-workers - the take-over of the charity by external people. Members have, under threat of expulsion, effectively been bullied into voting for this change of governance. One co-worker trustee had already resigned in view of recent developments on the charity and board, "the most sinister from my point of view, is the tendency for situations to become distorted so that they create ‘perfect storms’, in the wake of which all sorts of otherwise unpopular changes can be introduced with little opposition". The last co-worker to resign from the board of trustees cited governance issues ranging from being excluded from parts of board meetings and not being provided with minutes through to failure to follow the Charity's Memorandum and Articles of Association, which is CVTs founding document.

Trustees also devised an application form and policy that only lets in those who already support the planned changes to the charity's communities. This constitutes nothing less than a gerrymandering of the voting membership list in favour of the new set of trustees and their intentions, ensuring that no majority would exist to challenge their actions in future. The bitter irony is, that based on this application policy, today's CVT would refuse membership for its founder Karl König!

As it became obvious that the board of independent trustees would now completely restructure the charity and its communities, replacing the essential and much loved ethos of shared-living-and-working and self-managing communities with a centrally-managed, shift-working care-worker structure, relatives who worried for the wellbeing of their loved ones living in Botton, Delrow and other communities wrote complaints to the charity commission alleging that trustees were in breach of trust and acting ultra vires, which means outside the legally binding objects and powers of the charity. Even though this was supported by the unequivocal legal opinion of a leading charity barrister the commission declined to investigate but advised this was a matter for the High Court to decide.

In their landmark letter of 13 May 2014, CVT told all co-workers in their communities that they must become employees and work shifts, or leave their homes in their community and charity. This was justified with a legal opinion on employment and tax law that CVT were however unwilling to share, which allegedly advised the charity that co-workers could be regarded as de-facto employees and that the charity must therefore adapt their employment status to this reality on the ground, and pay tax in line with this. What the charity never admitted or agreed to discuss was that this was of course the result of changes implemented by the charity itself over recent years. For example, the standing down of local management committees by CVT's CEO in 2011 and their replacement with community managers answerable to him, means that co-workers might be seen as being line-managed and no longer self-employed. CVTs auditors have in fact warned directors that such changes would put them in conflict with the agreement that Camphill communities have made with the HMRC.

This agreement stated that as long as co-workers, who are long-term volunteers engaged by the charity, were not treated as employees but engaged in the way that Camphill communities have been doing and as described in the text of that agreement, then they would be regarded as true volunteers and taxed as self-employed in relation to any personal benefits. This elegant solution by HMRC, recognising the charitable nature of a whole Camphill community, was upheld in a letter by the Secretary to HM Treasury David Gauke, and further confirmed by up to date independent professional advice obtained by the Association of Camphill Communities (AoCC). Gauke also confirmed, responding to a parliamentary question by Caroline Lucas regarding the status of Botton's volunteers, that it was for the engager (CVT) to decide on the employment status of those they engage (co-workers) - and not HMRC or the Charity commission who CVT publicly blamed for the changes they 'had to make'.

The true extent of CVT's leadership debacle became obvious when HMRC did one day assess the actual status of co-workers as being more like employed than self-employed, and that therefore by implication CVT could be liable to pay the many co-workers in their communities years' worth of unpaid wages, from the point in time the CEO and his legion of managers took over the running of communities. Armed with this information, co-workers could have decided to take CVT to an employment tribunal: if they won they would probably be awarded hefty back-payments which could at the same time represent a massive financial risk to charity trustees; if co-workers lost i.e. were not found to be employed, this would confirm their preferred status as volunteer co-workers. The charity must have been concerned about this since it had previously settled such cases brought by individuals out of court, not without the signing of a gagging order.

Meanwhile, families of beneficiaries experiencing detrimental effects of the new regime and angered by the trustees' persistent unwillingness to consult and listen, saw no longer an alternative to commencing legal action. They requested a judicial review of CVT's decisions and changes under human rights legislation, however trustees could defend this since a charity was not a public body subject to judicial review (the Human Rights case). Luckily for them, since with the subsequent Care Act providers of care on behalf of public bodies could possibly be held accountable in this way. However, this case has nonetheless helped co-workers because at that time CVT had developed its shocking property consolidation strategy for the houses in Botton and was about to evict all Botton's co-workers from the homes, when the High Court judge requested a pause on any further changes until a solution was found.

Friends and relatives pleading with the charity to step back from their course as well as a petition by the villagers themselves failed to move CVT trustees. The charity representing the families and friends of Camphill (CFF) had “evidence from many families of people being confused and destabilised, their behaviour exhibiting anxiety and stress in the wake of the rapid and dramatic changes in CVT communities”. Similar observations were made by doctors, like in an audit by Botton's GPs who observed that Botton's traditional way of life was healthier than usual care provided for learning disabled people in the UK, followed by a sudden increase in psychiatric conditions and medications and people with obesity in Botton as the charity abandoned the Camphill community model. Baroness Hollins highlighted the plight of the community at Botton Village in the House of Lords and raised the mis-application of the Mental Capacity Act, and 49 MPs signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion in support of the volunteer vocational co-workers at Botton Village.

It was now urgent to bring the other legal case, supported by Action for Botton and emanating from parents' complaints to the charity commission, based on the allegation that trustees were betraying the essential ethos and principles of life-sharing communities (the Breach of Trust or ultra vires case), whilst at the same time consolidating their grip on the organisation by gerrymandering the membership. The commission felt unable to deal with this and gave permission for this claim, brought by a group of 23 claimants consisting of families of learning disabled people as well as co-workers living in communities, to proceed to the High Court.

When the parties met at court, the stakes were high for both sides and soon a process of legal mediation was agreed upon. The first mediation settlement in June 2015 established the continuation of shared living in the affected houses and for the related villagers in Botton (about half) during the process. However, since co-workers had to become employed (in line with HMRCs assessment) for the duration of mediation, they were effectively being micro-managed by CVT in their homes and lives. Termed 'residential employment' and once put forward by the charity as a future model, this proved to be an unpleasant and confusing arrangement and not a way of living a happy inclusive family life. For the following about two years, and as agreed without any publicity, representatives of CVT and claimants met regularly in a transition group, working on a model of shared living in Botton.

Co-workers presented a comprehensive modernised version of a community in line with Botton's traditional ethos of shared living and working. This was rejected by the charity who instead invited Shared Lives Plus to present their model and Caroline Tomlinson to advise the group on aspects of social care. Avalon, an already accredited provider of Shared Lives Plus schemes, began working with our co-workers whilst North Yorkshire county council carefully assessed the learning disabled clients, nearly fourty, that were about to change provider. At the same time, the thirteen Camphill shared-living households plus three more entered into tenancy agreements with CVT as landlord. Throughout, claimants and CVT met at court for an update from time to time, until finally a joint press release announced the conclusion of this process of legal mediation and transition in February 2018.

It probably is not easy for the public to make sense of this multi-layered process and figure out where we have arrived after this. Instead of a judge deciding on the original claim that the charity was in breach of trust in relation to its Memorandum and Articles and had been gerrymandering its membership, a pragmatic compromise has been agreed out of court. Essentially, the original Camphill community is no more, Botton has been split in two. On the CVT side there are no more co-workers (although five former ones work as CVT employees). In seven houses, staff employed by the charity provide support to large groups of learning disabled tenants, as well as for some living individually. On the other side, in the thirteen houses rented by our friends, the couples or families of co-workers are sharing their lives with three villagers each in family-like households, and are getting paid as self-employed Shared lives carers. They also have a number of enthusiastic young co-workers (guest volunteers) living with them, as they always used to do. This group: all the co-workers and about half of the villagers in half of Botton's houses, are now called the Esk Valley Camphill Community (EVCC).

Hidden from view is the fact the co-workers and their Camphill ethos have effectively and - if we assume that this was always the intention of trustees - successfully been driven out of the Camphill Village Trust, out of the charity that their predecessors once set up in order to enable this very way of life. They are now pursuing their endeavour outside the charity, barred from accessing any of its land, workshops and funds raised. Proving their resilience and the point that the synergisms of community and pooling of funds do indeed make for more sustainable living, they have already been able to acquire a village shop in Danby and their own fleet of pool cars. We can see they are relieved that all this is now over, and feeling positive for the future. The regenerating Camphill community has also obtained associate membership of the Association of Camphill Communities (since CVT gave up its membership) and will publicly launch with a celebration on 28 April 2018, 13:30 in Danby Village Hall, where all are welcome to join them. We from Action for Botton invite you to visit their website and like their Facebook page to follow and support their wonderful work.


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