Action 4 Botton

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Failure of Leadership

Mediation now is the only sensible way forward.

There is a paradox in the crisis enveloping the Camphill Village Trust (CVT). The charity’s leaders claim they have been compelled by law to take tough decisions which obliterate the cherished values for which Camphill communities are justly famous. And yet they seem to have no evidence to support this argument – a case of the emperor’s new clothes.

Neither can they make a convincing argument, after months of trying, to persuade families, beneficiaries and workers that these measures, the ending of vocational working and the core principle of life-sharing in creating communities based on equality, are justified or needed.

CVT falls back on the claim that there is a “silent majority” which supports its draconian measures. And yet in at least three of its nine communities now most affected by the measures - Botton, Delrow and The Grange - this is self-evidently not the case. People are in revolt, backed by the wider Camphill movement which is increasingly alarmed at the damage that this gathering train wreck is causing. It undermines the reputation of the charity and the priceless Camphill ‘brand’ that has attracted millions of pounds in generous donations over six decades. In the remaining communities we know of many families who have accepted their fate and those of their loved ones with bitterness, sad resignation and an anxious eye to the future.

How has it come to this? If we give CVT the benefit of the doubt and accept that it is at least acting in good faith because it has concluded that it has no choice but to do what it is doing, that leaves only one other possible explanation: a catastrophic failure of leadership. CVT set out to cure a handful of ailments that were eminently treatable but is killing the patient with unnecessarily radical surgery.

 

Trustees just don’t listen to us 

The board of trustees, who are responsible for running the charity, say they have decided to restructure it because, having taken professional advice, they have no other choice. This followed a consultation by the In Control group which, while pinpointing the need for improvement, could not have been clearer in its findings: people were largely happy with their communities and the co-worker model, its beating heart, which was an essentially healthy one that needed some remedial treatment, not an organ transplant.

Shockingly, the announcement on 13th May, which effectively brushed aside this advice, was made without meaningful consultation and plainly against the wishes of most of the charity’s beneficiaries, co-workers, families and other stakeholders. Let us remind ourselves of what we know on this subject: that most villagers and their families made a life-choice in choosing a Camphill community; that they love their communities for what they are, places where they share homes and create community with co-workers, families and children. This message has been repeated time and again in consultations and conversations, reviews and meetings. It should be the starting point, the bedrock of CVT’s policies - yet it is not even a point of discussion. People feel disenfranchised; change is imposed despite these deeply-felt sentiments. We believe this ruthless disregard by the trustees and senior management and their subsequent actions represent a betrayal of those essential Camphill values of fellowship and trust which are so difficult to define and yet so painfully obvious when they are missing. Above all else, it is a betrayal of the trust placed in the charity by its vulnerable residents, their families, the charity’s co-workers and its loyal donors. Our communities are being hollowed out for the sake of - what? This is the first failure of leadership.

One of the questions which the many reasonable, pragmatic people who are part of the gathering opposition to CVT’s policies frequently ask is: "Why are they doing this when they don’t have to?" Another, when faced with some of the methods being used to implement their policies, is "This is a charity. How can it behave like this?" One parent observed, when reading one of CVT’s many self-justifications: "I couldn't find that 'light' and 'soul' in the text, that are so special in the Camphill ethos."

 

They lose the people who built and live Camphill

The answer lies in a simple fact: CVT is now a corporate animal run by managers who believe that control - as opposed to consensus - is the only means of achieving their desired end. Managing change is difficult. We acknowledge that. But without meaningful consultation, effective communication and the co-operation of the people whose lives you are trying to change, you are headed for disaster. The way our communities were run before the new leadership may have needed improvement and modernisation - which organisation doesn’t need to put its house in order from time to time? But they had the virtue of a sense of togetherness, people moving forward with a common purpose, rooted in a clear set of values and a shared memory, for the benefit of those in their care. What we are left with instead is the sense that our communities are a mishmash of ‘best practice’ and that they have been manipulated and sometimes coerced, for reasons that appear neither honest nor transparent, over the past three to four years. The policies have led to an exodus of co-workers with decades of experience and commitment. It is an appalling waste of human talent. This is the second and perhaps the most egregious example of this failure of leadership. These people carry the Camphill DNA, its collective memory. If they are gone, how will we recreate it? Certainly not by support workers only, however skilled and dedicated, with no knowledge of and sympathy for Camphill values.

It is this blatant disregard of the people and tradition, the intention and spirit of our wonderful charity, built up by beneficiaries and co-workers together sharing their lives and aspirations over nearly 60 years, which is fundamental to our concerns. Generations of beneficiaries have found a safe and rewarding place to live and grow as equals with their co-workers. It is an extraordinary achievement, perhaps unique in the annals of social care.

 

Trustees betray our founding principles and values

We can accept that competent managers have a role to play in our communities, even though many Camphills around the UK function very successfully in a more collegial manner. But managers must have an understanding of and sympathy for what a Camphill village community and household is and what makes it such a success. A Camphill village is a unique place and there are certain principles that make it work and reasons why people love it so dearly. There is no sign that this is understood by the current CVT leadership, despite the few token nods to its roots. Instead, managers are choosing to divide and rule by nurturing the aspirations of those few who prefer to live separately, whilst side-lining (and removing from influence) the clear majority of co-workers who feel deeply about the founding principles of vocational working and life-sharing.

Appointing an Anthroposophy Tsar to the board does not a Camphill make. Appointing someone to ‘do’ festivals at each community or including a page about Anthroposophy in it ‘strategic’ plan does not a Camphill make. Adding a few references to Steiner in the induction programme for the revolving door that now passes for CVT’s new recruitment policy does not a Camphill make. This was recently underscored in a powerful and detailed opinion by one of the country’s leading charity barristers, who alleges that CVT is in breach of trust on several accounts for abandoning its clearly described objects and founding principles. The Charity Commission has refused to engage with these arguments saying only the High Court can decide, abandoning CVT communities to their uncertain fate. The CVT itself have simply dismissed the opinion out of hand. And yet, they claim they are "listening and responding", merely reinforcing the widespread sense of an organisation that is arrogant and out of touch. This is the third failure of leadership. This sense of disconnection, one might almost say, dysfunction, is now apparent to the worldwide Camphill movement which is increasingly disturbed by CVT’s new policies and has called on trustees to stop and engage with stakeholders in a facilitated, inclusive dialogue.

 

A campaign against vocational co-workers

The dark thread running through CVT’s narrative over the past three to four years has been the relentless disparagement of co-workers to justify the trust’s new policies. This is not merely a failure of leadership – it is an injustice and betrayal of trust. Leadership may need to be firm at times, but it must above all be just if it is to succeed. CVT have sought to portray co-workers at Botton and other communities as self-centered spendthrifts, living in the lap of luxury and unwilling to change. A close look at the facts exposes this narrative as a myth.

Good leadership works to reform from within, working with people and making the best of, not purging, what you’ve got. The families and beneficiaries of Botton stand by their co-workers, a constellation of young families and experienced Camphillers, committed to community and open to new ideas. Flawed like all of us but full of good intentions, this exceptional group of people is now under great stress and pressure from their own trustees for reasons that most people still find baffling. And therein lies a real tragedy, and yet another failure of leadership: that trustees seem unable or unwilling to work with these loyal servants of the values of their own charity. This may be because so few trustees understand the inner meaning of Camphill, or they attribute no value to it. Or it may be that they do not wish to. Either way, it does not speak of successful let alone inclusive leadership.

We do acknowledge that the charity has faced many complex and competing pressures, including from the Charity Commission, the Care Quality Commission and Local Authorities. Social care provision in the UK has experienced considerable change and upheaval in the recent years and co-workers and management at Botton have worked hard to address these new expectations. Some have argued their corner forcefully and may not have been as compliant as CVT would wish. But a healthy debate makes for a successful outcome. In any case, recent reviews by the Care Quality Commission and local authorities confirmed the success of this joined effort.

Then in May 2014, out of the blue and without discussion, trustees imposed their new regime: All would have to become employees. Their ‘work’ would have to be monetised, fitted into conventional working time directives, life and work strictly separated, driving a coach and horses through one of the core principles of Camphill life. What trustees apparently fail to understand, or more likely choose to ignore, is that the co-worker model is not only a deeply cherished belief but also the basis of an economic model which makes absolute sense and is designed inherently to ensure the long-term survival of our communities. This does not, we repeat, in any way diminish the commitment of paid workers, but it is a model whose disappearance we believe threatens the very survival of our community. A level-headed and independent review of the facts is now needed.

 

Claims, accusations and much spin, but no proof

So why are they doing this? CVT claims, to put it simply, that 'the law' compels them to do it, in much the same way as they claim that the life-sharing model, whereby co-workers and the learning disabled live together as equals, like families, presents unspecified ‘risks’. CVT claims that the tax status of co-workers is now such that employment is the only option. This is a powerful statement. If true, one could accept it and start making the best of this new situation, however unpopular it may be. But where is the evidence?

The Association of Camphill Communities (AoCC) reviewed communities and sought its own legal opinion which confirms the robustness of the co-workers status. For our part we remain deeply sceptical of CVT’s claims and intentions, which we believe serve their overriding aim of ending the co-worker system once and for all. The co-worker model is local, non-hierarchical and based on equality and trust, valuing equally the participation and contribution of everybody. This does not sit well with a managerial mindset more used to a top-down management system. We believe, in short, that CVT have chosen to impose their policies when they could have taken a different route and approach with a healthier outcome.

To buttress its case, CVT claims that co-workers come at extortionate costs to the charity, which co-workers only found out after the sums, broken down to individual families, were ‘leaked’ to the local press. When co-workers asked how CVT arrived at these figures they received no answer. Little wonder that, with this lack of transparency and so much spin, co-workers find it hard to believe CVT’s claims and promises. Especially as all financial accounts so far showed that co-workers remained within budget and the Charity Commission has accepted this; the Commission was unable to confirm allegations of specific spending excesses. We also note that CVT did not state co-worker costs as a reason for moving to employment in its letter of 13 May 2014, yet this flimsy argument is now becoming the main justification for their policies as the credibility of their tax argument weakens. But even assuming that some incurred higher costs than one would find acceptable, a case by case look at the facts and figures together with simple rules governing spending and how this is accounted for would suffice. Taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut is another, all-to-familiar failure of leadership.

 

Gerrymandering undermines a democratic vote

A democratic opposition to a charity’s policies has the option of resorting to the ballot box at a general meeting where members can vote for or against such policies. However, the current application form to become a voting trust member requires applicants to confirm their support for the controversial reforms as a condition for joining. Trustees make it known that they will decline membership to anyone not in agreement and may rescind membership of current members who oppose their proposals. Its chief executive reduces them to “all those campaigning against the charity”. However, people have genuine and justified concerns about where their charity is headed. People are not campaigning against the charity but for a more proportionate response to the challenges it faces, and for the things the charity stands for and is renowned for worldwide. There is now evidence that CVT is attempting to find and fast-track people who support their position into the voting membership - in the run up to the next annual general meeting - while delaying applications by those who might oppose them. This is not consistent with the spirit of the Charity Commission’s guidelines or natural justice. And it certainly does not suggest a self-confident management.

 

Misusing procedures to suspend and evict co-workers

Last but not least, CVT stands accused of using its co-worker concerns policy and safeguarding procedures in such a way as to remove individuals with a good knowledge and experience of Camphill because they will not agree to the new plans. This is a serious charge and we do not say this lightly. But we are aware of examples of co-workers suffering the trauma of being suspended for months and summarily being removed from the home adn community, or threatened with such action. These assertions have been shown, after appeal or investigation, to be mostly disproportionate, in some cases unfounded. The suspicion that arises is that CVT has used the safeguarding process - which we respect and which is essential to our communities - as a means of silencing and removing troublesome dissenters.

We do not question the need to act decisively in cases of safeguarding allegations. The safety and dignity of the vulnerable must unquestionably be the top priority. But each allegation requires a careful assessment and responses must be proportionate. Hasty or arbitrary action can be equally traumatic for those it is meant to protect who, in the blink of an eye, have seen their house co-ordinators disappear, leaving them insecure and confused. Safeguarding is a tool which is as sensitive as it is powerful. Applying it is not always easy, which is why such decisions require sound judgment and the utmost integrity whilst even the suspicion that it may be used for any other than its intended purpose is deeply unsettling and corrosive for trust and partnership.

Similar questions have been raised about CVT’s co-worker concerns and decision procedure. This aims to deal with issues surrounding workers and volunteers which might affect the reputation and functioning of the charity. This policy confers very wide powers to management to suspend and/or evict co-workers. A lawyer commented it seems stacked against co-workers and we have concerns that in certain cases it was not applied with a due sense of proportion or as impartially as it should.

 

Trustees must take responsibilty

CVT always blames everyone else and they will accuse us of reputational damage for highlighting such issues, of scaremongering. But we cannot remain silent. Their behaviour speaks of weak not strong leadership and cannot be tolerated from those whose task it is to run a charity that serves the learning disabled, as well as a great tradition.

Those who order or condone such behaviour must take responsibility for the reputational damage this may cause. The damage to the reputation of our politicians was not caused by the newspaper that exposed the expenses scandal but by those politicians who committed it in the first place.

 

Mediation now is the only sane and sensible way forward

Where does this leave us? We are at an impasse. Positions are so entrenched that a quiet, thoughtful dialogue no longer seems possible. But there is still time for true leadership and for statesmanship to find a way out of this crisis.

In our opinion, mediation now seems the only sane and sensible way forward. This is what the Charity Commission itself advises as the prime method of dispute resolution when a dispute threatens to get out of hand and a charity runs the risk of reputational damage. For the sake, above all, of our vulnerable beneficiaries we urge all parties to take such an initiative.