Botton has been striving for many decades to offer the following to people with and without learning disabilities:
- The possibility to be part of an intentional, non-hierarchical community, built on long-term human relationships rather than commercial or de-personalized relationships. This includes life-sharing of people with and without learning disabilities.
- The opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the value of which lies in fulfilling the needs of others. Because individual remuneration blurs the true value of each contribution, the members of the community are not paid for their work.
- Culture in its widest sense, grounded in Christianity and anthroposophy as an integral part of life, and a means to find healing. It is shaped in freedom by all the individuals who are part of the community.
- A firm, appreciative connection with the land that sustains us.
Although in its history the Botton community has never managed to fully live up to these ideals, they have been, and still are, the guiding stars of its striving. By giving them up, Botton would lose its soul, and with it its particular purpose in the world.
We cannot see how Botton can continue to take direction from these ideals when:
- The care and support for the community members with learning disabilities is provided by paid, shift-working care staff. However well-meaning, idealistic and skilful these people may be, they will never be able to offer the full depth of human relationships that each individual needs and has a right to develop. After work they go home – to another home, their ‘real’ life – and so cannot be the people who guarantee the quality of life that everyone in Botton has come to take for granted (e.g. the beauty of the place, the care for the land, the real homes, the cultural traditions, and so on).
- The relationship between the learning-disabled people with those supporting them is reduced to a contractual transaction between service-user and service provider. The service-providers will provide the services that are clearly defined and paid for, very little more.
- The people with learning disabilities are no longer allowed to share their homes with those supporting them. They will be prohibited from taking any active interest into their support workers’ personal lives, as they are no longer allowed to contribute to their and their families’ wellbeing apart from providing the financial means for their salaries. Also they will lose access to a lot of informal and ad-hoc support that is not specified in any official needs assessments and time-tables. The children in the village (if any remain) would at best be distant acquaintances of the supported people as it is not to be expected that there will be any room for them in their parent’s workplace or schedule during worktime.
- The consensus-driven decision-making processes — carried by working groups of members of the Botton community itself — are replaced by a conventional top-down management structure. Ownership of decisions and their consequences is passed on to higher levels of the hierarchy, leading to disengagement, fatalistic attitudes and a limitation of initiative among those at the bottom of the line of command.
- Decisions about Botton are being taken from a distant head office with inevitably limited and rather abstract knowledge of the situation on the ground. Many of the people with learning disablilities have very little concept of abstract thinking and processes and have limited or unusual means of communication. Their contact with decision-makers will be weakened, because they lack the personal contact and immediate access to them. The decision makers will struggle to understand any non-verbal or subtle communication. This problem cannot really be remedied with speak-up events or the presence of some advocates in the village.
- The support workers are paid wages at the bottom end of the scale, as normal in the care sector. Their loyalty to the organisation will be weak and frequent changes in the workforce are to be expected. This is the more likely the less engaged workers feel with decision making and the less they feel part of the destiny of the community. With many more and often changing people only working in the village, but not living here there will be less of a sense of security and belonging for the residents.
- The relationship between the organisation and its workers and beneficiaries is a contractual one rather than one of shared values. This will rob Botton of one of the most powerful forces behind its beauty, charisma and wealth: the idealism of a community striving to forge an alternative model of a modern society.
- The unsalaried, resident co-workers are replaced with paid care workers and managers. The financial means which the charity will have to use for the salaries will largely be spent outside the community, for example on travel, food from outside the community, home-making elsewhere, improving and embellishing surroundings of homes outside Botton. Therefore it will be of no further benefit to those living in Botton.
- Botton becomes largely dependent on staff living outside the village. This will cause increased traffic in the village itself and on the two small roads connecting it to the locality. It will make the village more vulnerable when extreme weather conditions hinder traffic.
- The cultural life of the community is to be carried by employees in their free time. The present cultural and spiritual life in Botton is embedded in community life. It depends and will always depend on personal engagement born out of freedom and conviction. The question is if ideals and convictions will be part of any recruitment process and if employees will be willing and able to dedicate their off-shift time to a shared spriritual or cultural life.
What is the point of offering conventional social care for a very large group of learning disabled adults in a geographically remote location? Why would they choose to live in a social ghetto?