Our family history

No one knew how the money would be found to build the world’s first working community for adults with special needs. But the words of Karl König – an Austrian doctor who became one of Britain’s most ardent campaigners for people with learning disabilities – proved to be prophetic: ‘If we are doing the right thing, the money will come.’

The village of high hope

And sure enough, once a suitable site was found, a small group of parents and friends soon raised the deposit needed to buy it.  The Camphill Village Trust Limited (CVT) was founded as a charity in 1954 and in 1955, a former estate with three farms, nestled high in a dale in the North York Moors, was reborn as Botton Village. Here, people who society considered ‘handicapped’ and ‘ineducable’ would have the chance to develop skills and lead rich and satisfying lives.

Blazing a trail

Despite an acute lack of modern comforts and equipment, with the support of friends Botton’s thirty-one pioneers were soon eating food and selling milk from their organic farms. Workshops began turning out delicious bread, colourful woven goods and quality wooden toys. It was not a day job or institution, but a real community, where people not only worked together but lived together in supportive extended families. Sharing household tasks and meals, the thoughtful quiet times as well as the festive celebrations and social gatherings all combined to create a very special atmosphere – and an inspirational way of life that took root, grew and sent seeds flying forth.

Years of growth

By the end of the 1960s, four more Camphill communities had firmly established themselves. Then, as now, each had their own character. Rural Newton Dee enjoyed close proximity to bustling Aberdeen. In an idyllic spot above the Severn, the sunny aspect and rich soil of Grange Village proved ideal for cultivating fruit and vegetables. Near Watford, Delrow Community began as a clinic for people with psychiatric disorders. And our first wholly urban community, Camphill Houses in Stourbridge, raised eyebrows by starting what many then viewed as a radical experiment: supporting adults with learning disabilities to live independent lives. How times and attitudes have changed!

As the years rolled on through the 70s, 80s and 90s, three further communities with a strong urban focus – The Croft, Larchfield and Camphill St Albans – opened their doors. So did two more that were based around farming and caring for the land: Loch Arthur and Oaklands Park. And Taurus Crafts broke the mould entirely by becoming the first Camphill centre in Britain to train and support people within a customer-focused social enterprise. 

When it became apparent that there was a need for additional funds, CVT was fortunate to discover that it had a loyal band of supporters who were pleased to make gifts to support the work of this unique charity. This support for the charity continues under the banner of the Camphill Family.

Ever changing

In 2012 the differences in law and regulation in Scotland and England were the catalyst for an innovative change to the structure of CVT. The two Scottish communities, Newton Dee and Loch Arthur, were finding it difficult to balance these increasingly different environments. A mutual decision was taken that they should demerge from CVT to set up two separate charities in their own right. Consequently, CVT now comprises nine communities in England for which Camphill Family raises funds.

Since the 1990s CVT had begun to employ an increasing number of staff in key areas. In 2014 an increasingly regulated social care environment alongside legal advice led the trustees to decide that all people working in CVT (apart from local and guest volunteers) should become employees. This included ‘co-workers’ who hitherto had shared accommodation with the people being supported by CVT.

This move to a full employment ensured that CVT could be compliant and safeguarded the security and wellbeing of the vulnerable people we support. Although this was a challenging time for CVT, we have held fast to the belief that the spirit of a community lies within each individual, regardless of status.

And that’s not all

In recent years, CVT has continued to thrive. In response to changing guidance on housing for people with a learning disability, our communities have more semi-independent houses than ever before. We continue to offer a range of different activities, such as farming and growing, baking and preserve making, arts and crafts, so that the people we support can gain new skills and build confidence in their own abilities. We continue to celebrate those festivals which helps us to mark the rhythms of the natural world. With your help, we look forward to continuing to give each other respect, independence, purpose, social and cultural opportunities and worthwhile work to do. These are our constant values in an ever-changing world.