Choice for Intentional Community and Shared Living

A series of presentations took place at Westminster on 15 September 2015 on the benefits and methods of Shared Living and Intentional Community for the support of learning disabled adults.

Shared living and intentional community are demonstrably components of the most successful models of support for learning disabled adults, and deliver tremendous value. Many of these models are under threat unnecessarily to the detriment of both the learning disabled and the wider community.

The models employed by organisations such as Shared Lives Plus, L ’Arche and Camphill all successfully deliver these components of community and shared living through a variety of different routes and methodologies.

The presentations highlighted different aspects of intentional community and shared living including benefits (for instance, physical, emotional and psychological well being, cost efficiency) and an explanation of the different approaches used by different organisations. The session also included a literature round-up, medical overview and personal accounts and perspectives from learning disabled adults and their families. Speakers and personnel from a wide range of organisations were on hand to answer questions.

Order of Speakers

Chair:  Dr Simon Duffy (Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform)
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Steve Briault (Chair of the Alliance for Camphill, Trustee of Emerson College and The Mount)
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Dr Marcus Van Dam (GP for Botton Village Community, The Danby Surgery)
Download paper    View video    Mental illness, challenging behaviour and psychotropic drug prescribing in people with an intellectual disability: Letter to the BMJ

Dr Stuart Cumella (Honorary Senior Lecturer, School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham)
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Sally Murray-Jones (Parent of learning disabled adult)
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James Skinner, Lucy Riis-Johannessen, Frank Walters (Botton Village learning disabled community members)
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Anthony Kramers (Regional Leader, L’Arche Scotland)
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Richard Keagan-Bull (Chair of L’Arche National Speaking Group)

Richard Davis (Vanguard)
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Anita Bennett (Chair of Rescare)
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Suggested Reading 

Shared Lives Plus (2015) Vulnerable adults offered homes with local families. 

Lyons, M (2015) Rethinking Community Care. Sheffield, The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Randell, M and Cumella, S (2009) People with an intellectual disability living in intentional community. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, Vol. 53, pp.716-726.

O’Brien, J and Zipperlen, H (1993) Cultivating Thinking Hearts: Letters from the Lifesharing Safeguards Project. 

Rhodes, B and Davis, R (2014) Regulation: The Unintentional Destruction of Intentional Communities. Sheffield, Centre for Welfare Reform.

Jackson, R (2014) The Austrian provenance of the worldwide Camphill Movement. Journal of Austrian Studies, Vol. 46 (4), pp. 23-40. 

Garfat, T (2011) Discovering Camphill: A personal narrative. Scottish Journal of Residential Care, Vol. 11 (2). pp.36-47.  

Forward to the discussion by John O’Brien (Centre for Welfare Reform)

Assisting people to live with dignity and meaning is the ultimate purpose of social care. To serve this purpose, the experiences of Camphill, Shared Lives Plus and L’Arche can make important contributions to a critical question for policy and practice: how to assist and safeguard people without inhibiting them from living a real and meaningful life. Making the best of these communities, after communities evolving responses to this question requires humility enough among policy makers and commissioners to recognize the limits of the whole social care field’s current answers.

I have not chosen life as a member of any of these small but deeply important social movements for myself, and I know many people with learning disabilities and families who would not make the choice either, but I am deeply grateful to those who have. They intentionally strive to live together in a way that embodies values that deserve to thrive in an open society.

Camphill and L’Arche are each founded on a different, distinctive understanding of human development, a thoughtfully developed sense of the significant contribution that people with learning disabilities can make to society, and the central importance of mutual relationships founded on respect for the dignity of the person as the foundation for realizing that contribution. Not everyone will agree with these ways of understanding, often because they draw explicitly from spiritual traditions and encourage spiritual development, but I know of no legitimate reason for rejecting them.

Both traditions are founded on shared-life households and both place great value on hospitality. Their boundaries may be distinct, but they are open and each has proud traditions of welcome for strangers and engagement with neighbours. Those who offer assistance and those who receive it strive for a relationship more personal than that of a staff member and client.  The importance of mutuality influences the economics of the household: offering assistance is not understood as a typical job for pay.

Each tradition faces the question of adapting with integrity to a changing environment. Increasing awareness of the importance of people’s own voice and choices raises productive questions, as does the challenge of keeping communities’ animating spirit alive as the interests of potential life-sharers change. Like any human endeavour, it is possible for people to fail to live what they value, so safeguarding each household’s expression of the tradition is a real and relevant question that each movement must take seriously.

Living the particular gifts of L’Arche and Camphill brings the sort of healthy diversity that enriches the possibilities for assisting people to live meaningful lives. The social care field as a whole would be impoverished without the choice of life-sharing in these two deeply rooted intentional communities.