BY: JESSICA BEUKER
In North Yorkshire, England there is a unique village—a community built on the principle of a level playing field for a group of people who are largely marginalized by society. This village is home to more than 230 people—around 100 of whom are adults with learning disabilities. For over 50 years they have lived peaceful lives of steady employment in a community where they were not required to be constantly looking up. But now, some residents feel their is a looming shadow that threatens their lifestyle. A bully has come to town.
Botton Village was founded in 1955 as part of an initiative by the Camphill Village Trust. It was the first organization of its kind, as it uses social therapeutic work to help adults with disabilities.
Most residents of the village live in shared family-style homes with volunteer co-workers. Others share accommodation with friends or live independently. There are five biodynamic farms located around the village. The community works together on the farms, each person contributing based on his or her ability. The village is home to a few stores including a village store, where the residents can shop for food and a coffee bar, where residents and co-workers come together in the evening to chat and play board games.
The village also has a number of different workshops where residents can make products, which are then sold to the public. Residents and coworkers have a special bond that allows them to be creative and express themselves in a completely open way. This is partly because the village is based on the principle of anthroposophy—a philosophy of freedom that speaks to spiritual questions of humanity, artistic needs, and a need to develop a relationship with the world based on individual judgments and decisions.
Despite what the volunteers are doing for the community, the charity that founded Botton—Camphill Village Trust (CVT)—has been putting up a fight to have them evicted. This past February a dispute broke out after CVT said that volunteer caretakers were breaking tax rules and must either become paid employees or be evicted from the premises. According to VICE, there have been reports of threats and Botton Village residents being surveilled against their will. However, CEO Huw John says that he is confident there has been no bullying and that the allegations are a result of resistance to recent changes in regulations.
One of the changes is that live-in caretakers known as house-parents are to be replaced with rotation caretakers. Many of the caretakers felt that this would be heartbreaking and would tear apart relationships that many of the residents rely on. They pleaded their case to the High Court but the case was dismissed. Many residents feel that they’re concerns are being muzzled, and that their testimony was dismissed due to their learning disabilities, despite being legally permitted to testify under the Mental Capacity Act.
Now, both sides are working hard to resolve the issue on their own. They will meet with a mediator to review progress in 2016.
Botton Village remains one of the only places where the disabled and able-bodied live as one. Where prejudice doesn’t exist and difference is celebrated, those with learning disabilities are now feeling marginalized within their own community. The future of Botton Village, its residents and its caretakers is unknown, but many will continue to fight for the memory of a home that granted them a freedom they might not ever find elsewhere.