Dandelions

To your surprise, perhaps, we’re still around

To see the dandelions make a better

Fist of yellow than the daffodils.

I should explain: I don’t share Wordsworth’s taste

For lakeside strolls, and the dandelion is bolder,

With an admirable disregard

For shade and shelter. Yes, they’re soon to silver

And disperse, but seeding out, we’re told,

Is natural; and think what good a bunch

Of airheads scattered by the wind might bring

To anywhere (please, anywhere) but here.

Maybe. But count on it: next year these fields

Will be emblazoned with the heraldry

They wear today, the lion’s ruff will roar

Up through the concrete, and the cracks between

The paving stones will be buttoned up with gold.

 

Jonathan Reid

April 2015, Botton Village

Botton Spring

Botton Cross, the broken waymark of High

Danby Moor, led us, that Lent, steeply down.

A pathway took us where the gravestones lie,

which tell of years lived there, lived, spent and gone

into a Community’s recollection.

 

A passing tall thin man asked who I was:

I told him I was Neil from the next dale.

He said he lived in Stormy Hall because

they were his friends and how he gave out mail.

He then walked on so sure of his direction.

 

That was years ago – now its Lent again:

each Festival passed as it were the last,

heading towards another Spring death’s pain.

The Cross, still broken and the way as lost

as that black time before the Resurrection.

 

Neil Davidson, 2015

 

 

 

Botton Spring Cross

 

 

Botton Laughter

When I was considering coming to Botton, I drew up a list of pros and cons. This was an exercise that, in retrospect, was completely futile. Anyone here knows that it is impossible to appreciate what Botton is like until you have really lived here. Nonetheless, a list did I write. It was a very difficult decision to come to Botton. I had been busy climbing a career ladder in a big city. Yet Botton drew me towards it, almost magnetically, despite my best efforts to persuade myself not to come.

On my list of pros was, ‘a hoot’ and ‘never a dull moment.’ I had visited Botton twice for two weeks and my overriding feeling was that, however challenging it might be, the fun that I had had with the Botton residents during those visits was a good indication of what it would be like day to day. I was completely right about that. I can say that, even in times of great sadness or difficulty, I have laughed with the people here every day.

So many of the residents, and especially the people I live with, have an amazingly positive disposition. They love to sing, they love to tell jokes, they love to laugh and they love life, especially Botton life, a great deal. It is almost impossible to have any pretentions around the residents here – they can see through that and will tell you and make a clever joke of it too. You have to be yourself, prepared to be embarrassed and laugh and smile through all of it.

On Thursday this week, I accompanied three residents to do an interview with BBC Look North to ask them how they felt about the current situation. The reporter was very experienced and I was impressed by the quality of his questioning, which was careful and unbiased. There was quite a buzz in the room where we waited before the filming began. As usual, people were telling jokes, recounting funny stories and taking the mickey out of some of the co-workers there, for instance, by asking one about when he would be marrying his girlfriend.

But there was a moment in the room when the mood changed. John * arrived who is currently living with a family with three young children. He is about the same age as me and has Down’s Syndrome. He came into the room, sat in a chair and sighed deeply. And then John began to cry. It wasn’t the sort of crying that I am used to; the kind of crying my children do when they are hurt or angry or feel a sense of injustice about something. It was as if all the breath had escaped his body and he had nothing left to do but cry from somewhere deep inside.

My first instinct in that situation is to try to comfort someone, to make it all better, and that is what I would usually do. But on this occasion, I could see that crying was just something he needed to do. So instead, I held his hand and so did one of the residents from my household. Eventually, I asked him, ‘do you want to talk about it?’ And he said, ‘I just don’t want things to change… I want them to stay. I don’t like it. I don’t like it.’ My friend from my house said, ‘be strong, be strong’. Eventually, John seemed to recover and told me I looked like Julia Roberts, and I laughed because I knew he must have been being ironic.

As I write this, I am thinking about the comments that might possibly appear under this post:

‘See how the co-workers are causing so much distress to these vulnerable people’

‘It’s so cruel to put people with learning disabilities in that position’

‘Why don’t they just become employed and then all this conflict can stop’

These are things that CVT and the people who agree with them say, either overtly or as a subtext in their official letters and publications all the time. And if I didn’t laugh at that, I would most certainly cry with rage at the distortion of the situation. Because CVT do not have to push through the changes that will see John separated from his ‘Botton Family’ – all they need to do is cooperate in altering the situation on the ground in Botton so that the co-workers can be viewed by HMRC as complying with a specific tax agreement: a tax agreement that is completely valid and still stands in many other Camphill communities in the UK. Instead CVT has steam-rollered through changes, disregarded the vast experience of the workforce here and ignored the overwhelming voices of the stakeholders of the community.

So is it really me who is causing John to cry?

The other subliminal message underneath those kind of responses is that it is not OK for a person with learning disabilities to have real feelings. That they must constantly be kept in their golden cage of the ‘client’ or ‘service user’. Well, hello?! John has feelings and his feeling is that he can’t bear to lose the people who he holds so dear and who have developed such a strong bond with him. He doesn’t see them as his ‘service provider’. He sees them as his friends and he loves them. Also, did you know that people with learning disabilities can have real views too? (I’m being sarcastic, by the way – of course they can and many rightly view CVT as destroying the community they love).

When we feel strong as a community, we can still find it in ourselves to laugh and poke fun at the tragedy of the situation. Sometimes it is this ‘unexpected withdrawal of sympathy’ ** for ourselves that allows us to do this, sometimes it is just a kind of gallows humour. I never thought one of the cons of coming to Botton would be that I would have to put my entire life at stake in order to fight to keep the community alive – and I can laugh in a derisive way at the strange irony of that.

I just hope that laughter can continue to be a feature of our community and that we allow our residents to experience the whole gamut of emotion that gives life so much meaning. Even if that means them expressing emotions that are so deeply uncomfortable to CVT.

* Not his real name

** John Cleese

Our Botton Spring

The very last of the snow is melting away here in Botton, leaving tiny hills of white dotting fields and gardens; the sweet reminders of where children built snowmen. And winding along our pathways, small shoots of green are pushing their way towards the ever increasing sunlight, whilst snowdrops nod at us on our way. These are signs that I seldom noticed before I came to live here; small pointers towards lighter and longer days, the light itself awakening from the earth, the new life of the tentative beginning of Spring.

And also in Botton there seems to be an awakening that the progress of nature has no idea of. It is an awakening of the people here in our community; a realisation that if we are to conserve the roots of all we do, then we must act now. To do otherwise would be to watch the community wilt and die away.

Today I and many other co-workers were served with a ‘Notice to Quit’ our homes, our work, our lives and the people we live with: it was hand-delivered by the CVT HR advisor and assistant. Today, I sat and held the hand of a ‘PWS’. Her name is Anne* and she calls herself a Botton Villager. She told me again that she wanted me and my family to stay in our home and she put her head on my shoulder and wouldn’t let go of my hand. And today I realised I was struggling to find the words to comfort her and I knew I had to allow her to feel the sadness that she has every right to feel about the prospect of what will be a great loss for her. Anne has lived with families in Botton for her entire 30 year stay here. She has watched their children grow up, played with them and been truly a part of the family. Even though she has moved households from time to time, being part of a family has been a constant and solid foundation to her home life. We talked about the new support worker who may come to take over the running of the household. Anne knows her and likes her and this is comforting to both of us, because Anne had no choice in who this person would be. And what we both know and express in our different ways is that it is not just a change in the ‘personnel’ of the people in Botton homes that will make a difference to Anne: it is the massive change in culture and relationship that will inevitably come from it. Even the managers here, who regularly repeat the mantra that, ‘not much will change’, cannot deny that the qualitative difference to the life of the residents of Botton will be enormous.

For the last four days, one of our Botton homes has been a focal point of activity. It was the first property named in CVT’s ‘Property Consolidation Document’ scheduled to be taken over by paid support workers. On Friday 13th of February, the residents of the house were informed by a Care and Support Manager that from Monday 16th February, a support worker would begin to work in the house and that she would be gradually taking over the work done by the current house co-ordinators, who would eventually be required to leave. So, by CVT management, the residents were given two and a half days to come to terms with this life-altering piece of news before the person set to effectively replace the co-worker family they live with, would enter the household.

One of the residents in that meeting said, ‘I love that family. I am a part of them and they are a part of me.’ And then he wrote a statement on a piece of scrap paper from his room, addressed to the General Manager and Care and Support Manager that said, ‘We don’t want carers to come into this house. We want the family… to stay.’ He stuck this on the front door with sellotape. That statement, along with the Letter Before Action that has been served on CVT became key to the activity of the following days: a stand-off between co-workers who are stepping forward to protect the rights of the residents to live with co-worker families, and CVT, who are attempting to push on with their schedule of introducing paid support staff into the houses no matter what the residents of those houses feel.

bs snowdrops
Snowdrops by the River Esk yesterday

It has been with a certain trepidation that we co-workers have stood at the door of the home to meet with CVT management. It is a situation that none of us have been in before and we are constantly seeking advice about what we are doing from a legal and moral perspective. But it is clear to us also that to allow CVT to begin this process of replacement of co-workers would be a fatal step in carrying out their final project to remove co-workers and families from their homes in Botton. We feel we have simply no option but to resist this move however we can, even if it means putting ourselves at considerable danger of CVT’s ‘disciplinary action’ and of their modus operandi of intimidation and harassment. To us, it is clear: if the people in our households want the co-worker families to stay, then we must protect their fundamental right to a family life. If they have stated that they do not wish support workers to enter the building, then we must protect their right to say who enters their own home. If CVT are determined to dismantle the integral structure of a Camphill Community and ignore their own charitable charter, then we must act on the ground to prevent this from happening.

On the ground. That is where we, the co-workers and residents stand. We stand with a view of what Botton is as a Camphill community that feels as if it extends from the earth itself. The earth that was first toiled 60 years ago by the pioneers of Camphill. We must now toil again to keep the community alive.

* Her real name has been protected.

Welcome

Hello world and welcome to our village!

Thank you for popping in. Please have a look around. We will show you things you probably didn’t know about our little village.

Botton Village is in the North York Moors in England. It’s very beautiful, with stunning countryside, but what really matters are the people who made Botton and live here – a community of families and other volunteers who live with people with learning disabilities, creating homes together; like families really, simply living together under one roof, young and old, able and less able, sharing meals, helping each other, and so on.

People say genius lies in simplicity, and in our way of life lies a magic: that those one might call disabled can live normal, happy, fulfilled, secure, empowered and meaningful lives. Their disability no longer seems so relevant.

And yet, we’re in trouble. The non-disabled (for want of a better word) people and families, referred to as Co-workers, are being coerced out of the way by an organisation that has taken over the management of this community. For sixty years  we have worked and been there with those who need care, support and attention – but management wants to stop people living together and replace us Co-workers with care staff who live elsewhere and drive in to do shift-work – as in care home. This will end what made this place special: that people are seen as people, not a disability; that people create and are part of a home and community, not that their lives are institutionalised by stealth.

We have pleaded with management to find alternatives, but in vain. Many people have now started a legal appeal, and we urge you to support this with through our fundraising appeal. At the same time, we do want to talk and find a way forward that preserves what made this beautiful, creative and collaborative way of life special and so much loved by those who are here.

Please look at our fundraising appeal … Thank you for any donation you can give. You may read more about the background of our crisis on the website of Action for Botton.

There are also two Facebook pages called Action4Botton and We Are Botton, and we have a Twitter account @Action4Botton that you can follow.

But for now, welcome to Botton Spring.