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CVT attempts eviction of Botton co-worker

27 October 2014

Private Eye, The Northern Echo and BBC Look North have reported on what we regard as a malicious attempt by CVT to evict a Camphill co-worker from Botton village. CVT has issued a statement on its website denying all allegations. Please find below our response to this statement.

The Camphill Village Trust (CVT) is in crisis. It faces growing criticism, its policies, methods and intentions provoking an ever-greater degree of mistrust by many in its communities. Its attempts to hold back these waves of concern are proving increasingly ineffectual despite substantial charity funds deployed to manage its message and co-opting a growing number of highly paid managers to allay this rising tide of disquiet among its beneficiaries, their families and supporting co-workers. The reality of what is happening at Botton, and at other communities, previously hidden from public view is beginning to emerge.

The first signs that all is not well under the new management arose when BBC Look North reporter Carla Fowler revealed in a ground-breaking report that "The Camphill Village Trust has told Look North to stay away from Botton Village and they denied us permission to film with any of the residents inside”.

The privacy and dignity of Botton village’s residents - its learning disabled people and vocational co-workers who share each other’s lives - is of course paramount. But as free citizens of our society it is for them and not a manager to decide whether they can speak to the media. It is not for managers to act as censors. However, CVT instituted further strict measures to control the flow of information within the community in what might reasonably be described as an infringement of civil liberties of disabled people who, under the Mental Capacity Act, must be assumed to have capacity and equal rights, and who are entitled to support and reasonable adjustments.

 

Why does CVT prevent the BBC from talking to residents?

The answer is simple. Most people in Botton don’t like what the CVT is doing. In the past five years influential figures within CVT have steered the charity away from its founding principles, its core values, towards something entirely different: a tightly managed and increasingly controlling organisation.

External managers were hired to help communities meet the challenges of a rapidly changing social care environment. But the adaptions are now going way beyond what was actually required and are turning into a total workforce restructuring program. Our community’s very soul is in peril, its principles at risk. It is this that co-workers want to have an informed debate about. Big questions and decisions impacting on the values and spirit of Anthroposophy and Camphill.

CVT is doing its best to deliver its own narrative: that despite the upheavals occasioned by its changes “nothing should change” to affect the lives of its beneficiaries. But people do not feel reassured or persuaded. On the contrary they feel confused and angry and it is this sense which is slowly emerging into harsh glare of public attention.

 

Dialogue

The BBC was correct in reporting that there has been ‘no meaningful dialogue’.

The mismatch lies in the definition of “meaningful”. To the co-workers and families “meaningful” implies an open discourse, that it is informed with all the facts available, that the needs and genuine wishes of people are heard and taken into account, and that the outcome of the process is not predefined. To CVT it appears to mean explaining a firmly-held position either in carefully choreographed meetings or on a one-to-one basis where the issues are limited in scope to co-workers agreeing an employment contract or making preparations to leaving the community.

Co-workers have repeatedly asked to have an open and fully informed debate that does justice to the severity of the restructuring imposed. Vocational or employed? This is a key question for a Camphill community that will undoubtedly define the character of their communities and set the future direction of this charity. This by all accounts is a very necessary and reasonable discussion to have which so far has not taken place.

 

Safeguarding

Suggestions that the charity has misused its safeguarding policies are appropriate and supported by the facts.

We can now reveal that the local authority safeguarding team has examined the allegation against co-worker Mark Barber and concluded they will not treat it as a safeguarding concern and they will take no further action regarding this alert.

There are a number of other examples where the charity’s response was neither appropriate nor measured and it is this we are taking issue with.

All co-workers and Action for Botton fully support and engage with safeguarding policies and seek to work with CVT and Local Authorities to create a culture wherein the dignity and safety of vulnerable adults is the highest priority, and where everyone can trust they can raise any issue safely and know that it will be responded to adequately and proportionately.

We respect the confidentiality of information regarding safeguarding, which created an ethical dilemma for Mark Barber that night when he realised that he was being wrongfully evicted from the shared home: "It was very clear that they wanted me to go there and then."

But why, if he, as the CVT manager implies, constituted such a risk to the vulnerable residents in the house, did CVT staff just walk away and leave him with them, after they told him he must leave? How is it possible he could continue looking after and teaching children if, as the CVT manager implies, the incident was so serious that he had to vacate the house at once? The answer is that it was not an incident serious enough to require the immediate removal of a co-worker. We now know it was a moinor incident one could refer to as poor practice that could and should have been addressed as such.

Mark knew this at the time. And he feared that escalating his concern within the organisation would merely lead him to those who ordered his eviction. He decided, at great personal risk, to speak out.

He judged CVT’s actions to be unethical and potentially unlawful, and that revealing how he was treated would serve the community and charity and its beneficiaries.

We know that other co-workers in CVT communities have experienced similar suspect treatment using suspension and eviction. Some have signed gagging clauses after leaving the charity and are barred from speaking about their ordeal themselves. Some are deeply traumatised by what appear to be a systematically coordinated and well-rehearsed operations.

 

“Once the local authority has given us permission to proceed we investigate and, if appropriate, follow our disciplinary procedures.”

What this means is that, having attempted but failed to evict Mark using the safeguarding procedure they will investigate him using the CVT Concerns Procedure for Co-workers and Decision procedure.

These tightly controlled hearings exclude legal representation. On previous occasions co-workers have been suspended for merely voicing dissent or engaging in a dialogue with others who question CVT’s policies. While we accept that people who work with organisations have a duty to support it, whistleblowing arising from genuine concerns or a profound sense of conscience and conviction is now a well-established principle embedded in public service.

The manner in which this episode has been handled has further undermined the confidence which all stakeholders should be able to have in the vital principles and practices of safeguarding.

 

Employment

“As a separate matter, the charity is having to recognise that co-workers need to become employed.”

This is far from proven. CVT has so far failed to make this case, refusing to share a legal opinion which they claim compels them to take such action. They also dismiss the opinion of the Association of Camphill Communities (AoCC) which recently stated: “At this juncture, we can confirm that we have obtained independent professional advice on behalf of the Association that supports the continued implementation of the existing HMRC Agreement with regard to the taxation of co-workers.” Co-workers want to maintain the community in such a way that they remain in line with the existing HMRC Agreement, which is based on the charity’s values and principles and Memorandum. 

When CVT threatened to make a unilateral declaration to the HMRC that all co-workers would soon be employed, co-workers did the only sensible thing and approached HMRC themselves as its clients and expressed that they have no intention of becoming employees. Furthermore, in making the Botton declaration they took a conscious stance to hold on to their vocational status in the face of coercion by CVT. This is not only a reaffirmation of Camphill values but also a clear statement that co-workers want to and have to remain within the agreement made with HMRC that specifies that they are vocational and not employees.

 

“Other co-workers have not been asked to leave. If co-workers decide they do not want an employed role the charity will not be able to continue to provide them with indefinite free accommodation and financial support. To do so would be an irresponsible use of charitable funds.”

This is incorrect. Mark was one of 7 co-workers that have already been asked to leave Botton. Three have recently left as they were working mainly for the Eurythmy school that has closed in September after CVT withdrew its support. For one co-worker couple the process appears to be suspended due to illness of the elderly gentleman in question.

The above statement by CVT turns the reality of a Camphill community on its head and indicates a new thinking and new priorities. It strongly suggests that CVT has turned its back on the fundamental principle of community with its long-standing commitment to vocational living-in co-workers, based on the social ethic of Rudolf Steiner: “The well-being of a community of people working together will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of his work, i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, the more his own needs are satisfied, not out of his own work but out of the work done by others”.

Moving away from this principle that defines this charity represents a betrayal of the trust of its villagers and co-workers. We must of course use donations wisely, but also in line with the charity’s charter and in the spirit and understanding it was given. This is important because people decide to give money because they see the communities and households that are co-created by villagers and co-workers and it is this unique social endeavor that donors intend to support.

As clearly specified in the founding document, the Memorandum, co-workers and disabled people form community together, and co-workers live and work with and support villagers and enjoy the benefits of accommodation, food, and other needs, in line with the explicitly stated principles of Rudolf Steiner.

Mark is a member and invaluable asset to this community. In addition to his role as a teacher in the village school, he is also a co-worker / house-coordinator. The income earned from his teaching role is paid straight into the community pot.

CVT still has not produced any evidence to back up its publicised claim that co-workers incur excessive costs to the charity.

 

Hope

“It remains our hope that co-workers will choose to engage with the necessary change process, resulting in them staying in Botton.”

We can understand why CVT would like to keep the current co-workers. A small number of former co-workers is in the process of taking up employment, whilst all the remaining co-workers (more than 40) are committed to the life-sharing vocational model. Their having to leave would be extremely upsetting for the many learning disabled people who share homes and create community with them. It would mean a huge loss of their cumulative Camphill knowledge and experience, creating instability in the care environment and threatening the rich cultural and spiritual life of the village.

The co-workers we know are remarkable people who continue to create the priceless value that the charity is renowned for. In these extremely challenging times when all they hold dear and the values they uphold are under threat, they have proven their worth. They continue to create homes full of love, care and compassion and communities that shine as a beacon in this world. 

They embrace their role as a modern and relevant social care provider and wish to engage in a meaningful dialogue, where the outcome is not pre-defined and where they and the villagers are acknowledged as co-creators of their own community.