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Janet Snell visited two Camphill communities to find out what it’s like to live there

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f choice and control are at the heart of policy when it comes to people with learning disabilities, then why shouldn’t they be offered the choice of living in intentional communities? It is a question posed by advocates of the Camphill movement, which has 11 communities across England and Wales, where adults with learning disabilities live and work alongside staff and volunteers without disabilities. In the past, Camphill and communities like it have come under fire for ‘segregating’ people with learning disabilities from the rest of society; but times are changing. Camphill has transformed itself from a registered care home provider with a reluctance to engage with the outside world into a more outward looking provider of supported living. Though a couple of its communities are still in remote rural areas, others are on the urban/rural fringe, while some are located in busy towns and cities.

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July 2009 learning disability today

Taurus Crafts in Gloucestershire is in the urban/rural fringe category. It is a thriving social enterprise combining a craft centre (which attracts more than 120,000 visitors a year and offers training and employment opportunities) with a supported housing scheme in the nearby town of Lydney. Kevin Smith is one of the co-workers who supports people with learning disabilities at work at Taurus, and at home in the houses Camphill has purchased in Lydney (he lives next door to two of them). He says he and his colleagues are concerned that as Supporting People money is being squeezed, they are not able to support people to the extent that they – and their clients – would like. “This is a human rights issue and we are going to team up with other communities to fight it. We are the biggest provider in Gloucester so we hope joining forces will help our cause. “We knew the cuts were coming, but we thought there would be other social care

funding to bridge the gap, but that is not happening.” Smith believes that the introduction of individual budgets could lead to a resurgence in popularity for intentional communities. Also with their life-sharing and self-sufficiency, they are now being appreciated for their low carbon footprint and thus lower cost. No one owns their own car, for example, and as much organic and biodynamic produce is grown and consumed on site as possible. “Individual budgets will be a test of what we offer. But if people do continue to choose to come here, and that is their freely made informed choice, then surely commissioners ought to respond to that? “And I certainly don’t think they would dare cut an individual budget in the way they have cut people’s care packages under the Supporting People initiative. Individual budgets will protect the client more.” One of the clients Smith supports is Jenny May Rijk (pictured above), who is a


nny May Rijk: “It’s our ght to be here at Taurus”

Mark James: “When I finish at The Grange I will have the equivalent of NVQ level 3”

garden assistant at Taurus. She says: “It is our decision to come here and live and work. We are supported to do the things we want to do. It is our right to be here.” Her housemate Shelley Robertson agrees. She used to live in a more rural community and asked to switch because she “wanted more of a challenge”. “This is my third Camphill community in 10 years. I wrote nine letters asking for a job in the Taurus gift shop and I finally got it. I also do waitressing in the restaurant on Wednesday and Thursday. “I like my job and I like going out for a drink in Lydney on a Saturday night. Jenny and I have a kitty for the shopping and we go to get our food in Tesco.” Robertson says she has a good life, but she also has “dreams and plans for the future”. “I have a lovely fiancé who I met at a conference. He is in supported living in Swindon and he has an 11-year-old daughter. I get on really well with her.

“We see each other at weekends and one day I hope we can get married and move in together at Camphill. We both know we need support, without that we would really struggle.” Before moving to Taurus, Robertson lived a few miles away in the Forest of Dean at a Camphill community called The Grange. Set in stunning countryside it is made up of a series of houses each with a handful of residents and a co-ordinator (some are known as house mothers/house fathers). Though the house co-ordinators are Camphill staff they share their lives with the people with learning disabilities, living and working alongside them. One of the co-ordinators is Margaretha Herman who says she is “all for” opening up Camphill more. One way this is happening is through the timebanking scheme where Camphill people work in the town on jobs such as gardening, and people from the town can come and work the land at Camphill.

Margaretha explains: “We make hay, but it’s hard to get people to work in the hay fields. But now there are a lot of Polish people in town who would love to come out here and work our land, so let’s get them involved. “There are lots of ways of being more inclusive without losing this wonderful lifestyle.” Margaretha is a counsellor and music therapist by background and she says for her, what’s good about Camphill is “the way it enables you to find creative ways of supporting people”. She adds that the team go to great lengths Herman: “People here to guard against do their own thing” institutional abuse. “It’s vital that people are able to

learning disability today July 2009

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choose things like what they eat and what time they go to bed.” But as always there is a balance to be struck between freedom and protecting people, though Margaretha believes it is important to err on the side of freedom. “We are aware of a lot of cyber-bullying and many of the residents are on Facebook. So we called in an expert and she spoke about the dangers of computers and about blocking certain sites and she said we must forbid people from going online all night. But I don’t feel it’s my place to put a block on computers. When it’s adults using them in their own rooms?” The Grange has an antiWe are getting more involved in decision-making bullying support group. Everyone As part of engaging more outside their individual communities, both Shelley (above) and has a cardboard ‘helping hand’ with Jenny (pp19) are part of a residents’ Planning Group, which worked for three years with a person-centred planning project funded by the Big Lottery. They organised a large national a name on each of the five fingers of self-advocacy conference in Derbyshire in November called our lives, past, present and future.  someone they can go to for support. “We decided on the workshops and worked on ways to make people more confident to It can be anyone from the house speak up,” explains Shelley. “We are getting more involved in decision-making and have come co-ordinator to the local police up with seven proposals which we will be discussing nationally with the Camphill movement.” constable (they have her mobile number). Or in an emergency they are told to dial 999. “If people have a problem we encourage “I give them quality time all week so that on day? People had a choice of jobs and them to complain. A lot of issues are a Sunday I can say to them ‘only come and some did a split day, so they might be a between the residents. We used to a have get me if the house is burning down!’” baker in the morning and a gardener in a post box for complaints but it didn’t Everyone shares responsibility for the afternoon. work. They were always trying to break into household tasks. “So one person has to People had relationships, they could the box and get the complaints out. And order the shopping and sometimes that move in together, they had a social life and people didn’t like to be seen going to the means there’s no toilet paper, but that’s fine. they could come and go as they pleased; box. So making sure people feel able to I let a lot of stuff like that go. You can’t get everyone I spoke to wanted to live there. talk is best.” too hung up on things. If the house is not In some parts of the country supported Margaretha says she finds her job perfectly clean I don’t worry too much. It’s no living in the local community has not quite “rewarding and fun and diverse”. She says, good trying to keep everything under control. lived up to expectations. People don’t “when I first started doing person-centred She says “People do their own thing. always get to choose who they live with and planning I really thought I was going to I get parents ringing saying their son told they often have little to do all day. change the world. them he goes down the pub, and they say Intentional communities are not for “I thought everyone in the house could ‘that’s not a good environment for him’, but everybody, but from what I saw at Camphill, cook every day – but they hated it! They said I say ‘come on – it’s great – he has friends. it is possible for people who choose to live in ‘I want to be cooked for – I want to work in You should be glad!’” them to have a really good quality of life. n the garden!’ I only visited two Camphill communities Valuing People Now says... “So every breakfast and lunch I (or so I can’t say what happens elsewhere, but Those who plan and commission services my husband) cooks with them; but in the at Taurus and the Grange I met people with are asked to consider ‘creative solutions’ to evenings they know I need family time with learning disabilities who had a lot more meeting people with learning disabilities’ our kids. We have a separate unit – it means freedom than many people I know who live aspirations on where they live. the children can make pancakes and not in the community. As with the 2001 white paper, choice and have to share them!” There is a strong work ethic at Camphill control is emphasised, though there is a much There are four people with learning so people are not free to do nothing, but stronger steer towards home ownership and disabilities living with Margaretha’s family. who wants to sit in front of the television all assured tenancies (with support packages).

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LDT July 09