I watched a documentary on Monday called 'and many children came' about the local Camphill Community. The film's director wrote about the programme in the Belfast Telegraph; 'Ulster community which truly loves its neighbour'. He says;
... it was by accident that I discovered the Camphill Community at Glencraig and found out that nearly 200 people live there on about 100 acres. They have a school and a farm, grow vegetables organically and are more than 60% self sufficient. Glencraig had been set up in 1954 as a place where children with special needs could be educated and looked after. Today, it is a community that has grown to include all ages.I live fairly close to Glencraig, and I knew it contained a school where most of the children were autistic. So 2 years ago, I went to look around the place on its open day. I had not realised that the children live at the school. Obviously, that alone meant there was no way Duncan would be going there. But the ethos of the place did not appeal either. It was all very nice, the staff seemed kind, the farm was well tended and impressive, the building's colours were muted and calm and there were wax pictures and candles and handwoven rugs in abundance. There were teachers who also had roles as house parents, as the children and adult residents lived on-site in homes of about 15 people, together with the co-workers; mostly students on a gap-year after leaving school. But where were the computers, the augmentative communication devices? How free were the residents to come and go as they pleased? Were they really helping each person develop to the best they could be? How did the children cope without their parents? The article continues;
I later discovered that Glencraig is a place where some very precious words are never preached, but practised every day: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'. And it was only later that I got the opportunity to make a film about Glencraig, a film that might also prompt us to look at the way we live our lives.There is no doubt it is a nice place and the people choosing to work there want to help others and create a peaceful environment. Several of the staff spoke of how they were a community, how they learned as much from the residents as they taught them. I may be overly cynical, but was it more than platitudes? I wonder if there is still bullying, if some residents are miserable. Is any place free from such problems? Do the staff have any concept of the advocacy movements by people with Down Syndrome and autism? Are they interested? They said that everyone has a say, but can the residents make decisions about anything more important than what to have for dinner? One of the staff describes how they assign tasks so everyone has a role to play;
"If someone is autistic and can only push a wheelbarrow that's OK," said Paul. "We need someone to push a wheelbarrow. Someone else can pick the peas. Someone else can pack and process them."While watching the film, they showed a young blind woman. A co-worker told talked about this woman's role in the laundry, where she does no work, but brings cheer and light to the room. The same woman was shown playing music (a lute, I think) beautifully, with deep concentration and skill. I wondered, (accepting that I don't know anything about her beyond the short amount shown), how in a place that values the work of each person, they couldn't find a more active role for this woman. The article finishes;
Another truth was that in a world that has mostly lost its relationship with the earth there was a huge respect for it and for the rhythms of the day and of the year. The seasons were very important at Glencraig and the life of the community revolved round them and were cherished and celebrated. And then there was the truth of the light. The candle. A simple symbol that the founder of Camphill, Dr Karl Konig, loved. It was hard not to notice the candles at Glencraig, especially at festival times, gentle and tender and bright and everywhere. "We do not label people," said John. "Labelling people diminishes us. Everyone is equal here. Everyone is special. There is a light inside every human being."I wondered if all the residents enjoy all the ceremonies, the candles and singing and joining of hands on the lawn. Were all the autistic residents really happy with that? I also disagree with the idea that a label diminishes anyone. Autism, is not an add-on, but an integral part of a person. Duncan's autism is a part of him and how he perceives and interacts with the world. To ignore his autism would not help him. I'm not at all sure that I'm being fair here. I hope that everyone at Glencraig is truly happy, fulfilled and cherished. It is a lot better than many of the alternatives, and without it, the residents might well be much worse off. But it did come across to me as a nice, Steiner-y prison.