Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Former model leaves Botton Village

From Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
A former international model who quit to live and work in a unique North Yorkshire village that is home to residents with learning disabilities is leaving after its owners insisted they will press ahead with radical changes to its operations. 
Adults with learning disabilities and unpaid co- workers – who in return receive free accommodation, food and expenses – have worked and lived together at Botton Village since it was established in 1955 as part of the worldwide Camphill Movement. 
Over the years villagers with learning disabilities and co-workers have migrated to North Yorkshire from across the world. Around 250 people live at Botton – around half have learning disabilities. 
Twenty-one-year-old Sara Lucassen moved to Botton in summer 2013 from the Netherlands. Her mother, a voice therapist, had stayed in a Camphill community in Norway many years ago. When Lucassen returned from an exhausting modelling trip to New York, she decided to change direction. 
“When I thought about it I realised I wanted to do something else, especially as I had originally only thought of modelling as something to do before going to university,” said Lucassen. 
The 600-acre Botton site has four working farms, a sophisticated seed factory, bakery, café, school, woodwork shop, church, village shop and concert hall. It is financed by product sales, legacies and by being a registered social care provider. 
Last year, Camphill Village Trust (CVT) said it was scrapping co-worker status and introducing paid staff on rates below the living wage for most. Co-workers are set to be forcibly evicted. Bosses claimed they were following legal instructions from the Inland Revenue and their auditors. Yet other Camphill Movement sites currently operate successfully with co-workers. 
CVT also says the Care Quality Commission, local authorities and the Charity Commission have been forced to intervene because of concerns about poor management and governance at Botton. 
The Action for Botton community campaign has fought the changes but last month a High Court
legal challenge against the introduction of salaried staff was unsuccessful. Funds totalling around half a million pounds are now being raised for a further legal challenge. In the meantime, the proposed changes are being gradually implemented despite over 80 per cent of the residents having signed a petition defending the arrangements, which have lasted over half a century. 
Once Lucassen arrived in the North Yorkshire Moors village she admits she “fell in love with it”. She lived in one of 29 large shared houses with a fellow co-worker, a married couple and four people with learning disabilities. “The setting is beautiful and great things happen at Botton,” she said. 
She was put in charge of running the coffee bar and enjoyed working alongside people with learning disabilities. She also worked on the farm.“I felt I was doing something very worthwhile
and the people I worked with became great friends of mine,” she said. “This work has taught me a great deal and I have got to know so many good people.” 
The changes that are being imposed have saddened her. “I can’t understand them as this place seems to have worked so well for many years. People with learning disabilities are going to suffer as they are going to lose the stability of sharing their houses with passionate and experienced volunteers who view what they are doing as much more than a job. 
“Some volunteers have already quit, some have been dismissed and I know many villagers are unhappy and some of those who are now being cared for by paid workers seem to be struggling to understand the changes.” 
Lucassen began modelling when she was 14 and posed for the likes of Italian luxury fashion houses Prada and Dolce & Gabbana but admits the pressure of the job led her to stop eating properly. 
“I found it very hard to be simply judged on what is on the outside and in a world where you have no control I thus began controlling the only thing I could control, which was food,” she said. 
Now she plans to leave Botton. “How come people want to destroy this place of hope,” she said. “I struggled, and still struggle, to understand CVT. I found it hard to lose my job, and especially the way it got taken from me, by just employing somebody for my role. 
“One part of me wants to stay and fight, keep this place going, but I miss my family and it has been enough. I have to concentrate now on myself, and with more life experience I hope to be able to fight unfair situations like here. I hope to be able to fight injustice and improve this world a little bit.” 

A CVT spokesperson said: “In 2012 the local authority identified a substantial number of failings with the community and concluded it appeared to be run in the best interests of the co-workers.” 

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