The Heart of Botton - shared living has been saved for now but at a cost
by Neil Davidson, 2 April 2015
When a body comes under extreme life-threatening attack there comes a time when all energy and resources are concentrated in saving its core and the extremities are sacrificed.
Botton is under virulent attack and at the High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week much was given up to save the heart of Botton, which is and has always been the relationship and life-sharing between the learning disabled Villagers and the Co-workers. If an application had not been made by 9 parents and Co-workers then on April Fools Day the 1st April 2015 CVT would have ended 60 years of sharing and caring by preventing the Co-workers from carrying out the support for the Villagers and moving to execute the Notices to Quit served upon each Co-worker. This was only prevented by a first hearing two weeks ago when CVT were prevented from moving in their shift employees to take over from the Co-workers and on 1st April was stopped by very extensive undertakings incorporated in the Order of the High Court Judge.
This will last through to the final hearing, which may be some months away. It was indeed at a cost.
Botton is a three legged stool supported by shared living, shared work and a shared cultural and spiritual life. One leg is about to be brutally hacked away as CVT have made it clear that they intend to replace the Co-workers in most of the work places, the workshops and the Bakery, the Farms and the Gardens with shift workers. They do not see, or if they see they do not care that it is living and working together that has supported this Community and been so important to the Villagers. They do not see or if they see they do not care that the Villagers will be troubled to see the summary removal of Co-workers from their place of work.
That is not all. The Co-workers have come under a relentless attack from CVT with unfounded allegations of excessive profit and alleged disregard for the interests of the Villagers. They have shown this defamation campaign up for what it is: a fabric of misleading half-truths and anecdotes.
How have the Co-workers done this?
By volunteering to give up their traditional benefits of food and accommodation in return of a meagre income from which they will pay rent, the food they share with the villagers and anything else. The judge made it very clear that co-workers are not CVT employees and that no contracts will be signed, but there will be a change of status from their previous self-employed to an employed tax status until the case has been heard in court. CVT’s Co-worker defamation campaign was built around their allegation that Co-workers avoided paying tax on their income (which is demonstrably untrue) and it is an irony that the income that CVT offers them will be so low that it may actually remain below the threshold of taxation. The co-workers have agreed to pool all their resources to ensure that everyone is supported equally, including those that CVT has given the boot and excluded from their usual work, they will all continue to be supported by the Botton Village Camphill Community.
Let no-one from today ever speak of Co-workers as greedy or self-seeking.
Why have they done this?
It was, they were advised by lawyers, the only way in which to preserve the core of Botton. They understood that if CVT had managed to separate them from the Villagers and end life-sharing then that would have been the end of the community and the last shred of the Camphill Ethos at Botton. Furthermore, they remain in a position to bring their case that the new regime of this once so wonderful charity has betrayed its founding principles as written down in the charity’s Memorandum.
Can they survive like this?
The Co-workers of Botton have shown such determination and resilience that I believe that the answer is "Yes, with help they can". It will be very hard for them. They will have to tolerate the loss of much that makes Botton special. The work places integral to community life will be lost to many. This was never merely ‘activities’ or ‘opportunities’ as CVT calls it but shared work and a meaningful contribution to the organism they were part of, and its loss will be a real source of grief. They will lose much of the privacy of their shared homes, having to permit the entrance of CVT employees almost at will. They will be receiving directions and top down control from people with no understanding of and sympathy for Camphill principles: this will be hard for those who have created this community and provided happy and loving care and homes for years.
They will have some things to cling on to. The huge public support and sympathy typified in the "Voices of Support" on www.actionforbotton.org, their Facebook pages, the enormous number of donations amounting to now well over £250,000 given by the public, in great part by many small donations. Most of all they will have their shared lives with the Villagers who are not mere ‘users’ of a service but proud and determined individuals who have demonstrated their wish to protect ‘their’ Co-workers.
What can we do to support the Co-workers?
Become a Botton Buddy committed to providing the practical support they will need to survive. The Botton Buddies were crucial in delaying the enforced invasion of the Villagers private homes and now are needed more than ever as the Co-workers will not survive without them.
Of course, please continue to help the legal case financially. The events up to now and the arrangements made today were only the foundations that created the precondition to allow Co-workers to bring their case to court. The costs of legal proceedings are punishing and we have already spent over £100,000 in legal costs to get where we are now. We thought we needed £250K but with CVT fighting every inch it may cost far more. They are determined to have a two week High Court Trial despite their claims that it was a 'simple issue'. We will need to fund that and to do that that we need your help and generosity.
Most of all honour the Co-workers in the stand they are making. Make sure everyone knows that they are fighting for a principle and human values they uphold and believe in and for which they are prepared to suffer humiliation and make personal sacrifices, after what has already been a taxing year of CVT oppression. Let them know you are behind them. Become a Botton Buddy. Support them and let them know how you feel about their brave and painful actions.
Talk to anyone you can about this amazing story of a tiny bunch of committed individuals standing firm against a multi-million pound so-called Charity. This does not happen often but it is happening now, at Botton.
Help retain the heart of Botton so that with your support and the intervention of the High Court we will preserve this core and be able to regrow from it all that makes Botton so special.
We at Action for Botton remain strong and confident at the side of this group of remarkable people, who deserve every hour and effort we can give for their cause.
Neil Davidson, Chair
Action for Botton