Campaign group Action for Botton is celebrating following the decision of the Charity Commission to give the go ahead for the second of two sets of proceedings in the High Court against Camphill Village Trust (CVT) to commence.

The claim has been brought by a mix of 22 Co-workers and residents’ family members drawn from three CVT communities – Delrow (near Watford), the Grange (Newnham-on-Severn) and Botton (in North Yorkshire).  It is based on their assertion that CVT is acting Ultra Vires i.e. that the Trustees have acted outside their powers in making the changes that they have to the structure and ethos of the Charity. It is claimed the changes are seriously impacting on the lives of the Trust’s beneficiaries, effectively forcing segregation of the learning disabled from their able-bodied Co-worker families.

Amongst other comments Bethan Wilkins-Jones in her permission letter to claimant’s solicitors granting permission from the Charity Commission stated: “It is disappointing to read that the other party is not prepared to engage in ADR unless and until the Commission authorises proceedings.”

In further points she added: “The matter relates not to assets but to the manner in which the charity operates and its ethos which is of great importance to those interested in the charity.”

“Whether the grant or refusal of an order authorising the proceedings would interfere in a disproportionate or unjustified way with rights protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.  Proceedings are brought by the applicants to protect their homes, their private lives and the way they associate and, ultimately, to establish whether the charity’s governing document offers this protection.  The interests they seek to protect correspond to interests protected by articles 8 and 11 of the European Convention.  In light of the potential impact of the actions for which they seek interim injunctive relief in terms of beginning to crystallise out the changes they seek to guard against, it would not be proportionate to prevent their access to court with a view to protecting their position in the interim.”

Camphill Village Trust (CVT), a charity originally set up to support the formation and maintenance of intentional communities that fully integrate the learning disabled into every aspect of community life, has been facing a storm of criticism over its attempts to dismantle the key elements of its communities.

A legal opinion from the UK’s leading charities’ QC maintains that there are serious concerns with the activities of CVT which, it is asserted, is acting outside the powers as laid out in the Memorandum and Articles, the result of which is the dismantling of the core element of the very communities that the charity was formed to protect.

What’s more, legal advice indicates that CVT’s board has behaved improperly in manipulating control of the charity by:

  1. More than doubling the voting membership whilst refusing applications from those deeply involved in the actual communities. Many of the “new members” appear to have had no knowledge of community ethos, operations or founding principles and it is thought that the only reason for their being solicited to become members was to provide votes to support the current Trustees and prevent attempts to wrest back control by those actually involved in the communities. 
  2.  The number of members likely to vote against the policies being forced through has also been reduced by management insistence that Co-workers leaving give up membership as a condition of receiving any compensation package and / or other payments. 
  3. In at least one case the management unilaterally removed voting membership without even informing the member concerned or following their own required procedure for removal*

CVT has failed to provide the information reasonably requested and has refused to attend any formal mediation proceedings, thus incurring the risk of substantial legal fees and possible costs to be recovered from funds intended for wholly charitable works.

The net effect of CVT’s restructuring actions have been and continue to be the tearing apart of living vibrant communities and acute distress for community members, including Co-workers and most importantly, the learning disabled residents, who have themselves recently created and courageously presented a petition at no 10 Downing St asking the Prime Minister to intervene on their behalf.

The residents, with the support of worried family members in the campaign groups, feel that their concerns have not been heard and their choices to live with their Co-worker families in a shared-life setting are being completely ignored.

This forced segregation situation is set against the backdrop of national concern about the treatment of the learning disabled, with the launch of the Green Paper by Care Minister Norman Lamb ‘No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored’.  In a recent BBC interview Mr Lamb relayed that he felt the learning disabled are being “treated like second-class citizens with decisions being made about them without them being involved and without their families being involved”.  This, say campaigners is exactly the treatment being meted out to the learning disabled at Botton Village.

Political support for the Community’s struggle against the enforced changes is growing with concern for the situation expressed by Baroness Hollins in the House of Lords at the start of the month, over 30 MPs of all political colours writing to Ministers to express their concern, and an Early Day Motion raised in Parliament about Botton, and the Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP, holding an enquiry at another CVT site, The Grange, in his constituency.

As well as nationwide support from sitting MPs, the Action for Botton campaign has also attracted support from the local Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP parliamentary candidates at the forthcoming General Election who attended the last Hustings at Danby Village hall and spoke up in defence of the Co-worker model for the Villagers.

CVT was already under scrutiny in multiple areas with campaigners highlighting serious questions about the way the charity is run including a worrying lack of transparency in its accounts which, in spite of requests, has yet to be clarified; a potential conflict of interest with a director whose own company supplies services to CVT for unidentified remuneration; claims of harassment being made to local Police and pending actions for compensation by former community members who claim to have been bullied out of their roles and communities.

In addition, in February there was a sudden Trustee resignation citing assorted governance issues including concerns relating to the Articles and Memorandum. Finally  legal mediation is expected to  be taking place in about 6 weeks’ time relating to the High Court claim brought by campaigners, including parents from one community now devoid of Co-workers, over alleged  breaches of the charity’s articles resulting in an end to the shared-living model of care.

One can only wonder how CVT’s Chair of Trustees Felicity Chadwick-Histed, also a Partner at Publitas Consulting LLP can continue to ignore the plight of the learning disabled for whom the Trustees are ultimately responsible.

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