Packed Public Meeting attended by local Labour and Lib-Dem candidates - Botton Campaign now in a crucial phase
10 March 2015
Supporters of the campaign group Action for Botton have been told that their fight against changes being imposed by the Camphill Village Trust (CVT) had reached a crucial stage. Neil Davidson, the group’s chair, said: “Our battle now moves to the Courts and legal action on several fronts is underway. We have only got this far thanks to your hard work and generosity and with the volunteer Co-workers now facing eviction from their homes we have certainly reached a decisive moment.”
He also confirmed that donations to the group’s legal fighting fund were now coming in from across the world and over £150,000 had been raised so far with a further £6,000 donated at the meeting itself.
Over 300 supporters of the group packed out Danby Village Hall (near Whitby) to hear the latest news on the campaign including the launch of the Botton Buddy scheme whereby members of the local community will support Co-workers who face being isolated as CVT stop supporting them. The scheme’s organiser, local entrepreneur James Fearnley said: “The response was fantastic and already over 150 people have joined the scheme. It seems unbelievable that people who have dedicated their lives to working and living alongside the learning disabled should now face running short of food but that is the reality of the situation. The Botton Buddies will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Co-workers providing support in various ways.”
During the meeting Co-worker Jonathan Reid explained why the vast majority of Co-workers had rejected CVT’s demands that they become employees. “It is not a legal imperative but a situation that has been deliberately engineered by CVT who have introduced an employer/employee relationship which is completely alien to the long-standing community ethos at Botton. I do not want to be paid to be someone’s companion and the change creates a subtle form of apartheid as it drives a wedge between the Villagers and the Co-workers.”
Two parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election were also at the meeting and spoke up in defence of the Co-workers. Mike Beckett for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Intentional communities are a way of life and any changes to them should be resident-led and not imposed without choice. When you impose something on somebody with learning disabilities without their informed consent, that is classically abuse.” He continued “In addition, the wishes of local people should be taken into account in a consultation which involves a community as important as Botton.”
While Labour candidate Ian McInnes commented: “I first visited Botton during the Open Days over 25 years ago. Where there once was peace there is now anxiety. It shouldn't be like this! I have been communicating with Labour's Shadow ministers and they are keen to have an understanding of the issues involved”. He added “Action for Botton, the co-workers, villagers of Botton and local community are all working together in a spirit of solidarity and I am delighted to be able to offer my support.”
Several of the Villagers also spoke at the meeting and emphasised how they wanted to continue living with their Co-worker families. One of the Villagers – Mary Mascaro - also read out a special poem she had composed.
Parent Andrew Faulkes from York stressed how they had chosen Botton for their daughter because of the settled rhythm of life at the community which gave the whole place a sense of security. He emphasised how the changes being implemented at Botton had proved disastrous when enforced at other Camphill communities.
The net effect of CVT's actions has been, and continues to be, the tearing apart of living vibrant communities and acute distress of community members, the Co-workers and the learning disabled residents, who have recently created and courageously presented a petition at no 10 Downing St asking the Prime Minister to intervene on their behalf.
CVT is already under scrutiny with campaigners highlighting serious questions including a worrying lack of transparency in its accounts and, last month, a sudden Trustee resignation citing governance issues including concerns relating to the Articles and Memorandum. In addition, there are claims of harassment being made to local Police and pending actions for compensation by ex-community members who claim to have been bullied out of their communities. Finally a letter before action from campaigners, including parents from one community now devoid of Co-workers, has been issued over potential breaches of the charity’s articles and a form of manipulation of membership before last year’s AGM.