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.
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.