Camphill Milton Keynes celebrated its 40th birthday last week.
Tim Davies CEO and registered manager Tom Bridle reflect upon our community’s past, present and future.
The Camphill movement was started in the 1940s when an Austrian children’s doctor – Karl Koenig, fled Nazi-occupied Austria and created the first Camphill community in Aberdeen. Based on the teachings of philosopher Rudolf Steiner the community of Kirkton House was ground-breaking in its values and approach. Koenig felt strongly that we each have value in society regardless of disability. So he set about creating an environment where individuals with learning disabilities could live a full and enriched life—recognising the importance of a family-like atmosphere, meaningful work, cultural and spiritual opportunities in everyone’s lives. The idea spread across the UK and later worldwide, leading to over 135 communities of different sizes and shapes forming worldwide.
These communities varied in size in the UK, from very small collections of just 3 or 4 households working together to build a community to a whole village of over 300 people in North Yorkshire.
Many changes have occurred over the years, and most of these communities are small charities or groups, primarily rural. Each with a shared vision of living, working and learning together in a community environment that genuinely respects the individuals that form that community.
Tom writes: In the 1960s, the new city of Milton Keynes was earmarked for development by the government, who wanted to help provide more houses to help reduce congestion in London. Milton Keynes was just a small village then but was planned to become a city of over 250,000 people!
In the late 70s, as the city was taking shape, a meeting between the Camphill Parents Association, a consultant doctor from a hospital in nearby Aylesbury, and the Milton Keynes Development Corporation suggested that this new city could be home to a brand new Camphill too!
This would be a different kind of Camphill to those that already existed across the country. Most Camphill Communities were in rural areas, away from big towns, but Camphill Milton Keynes would be based within the new city and part of the local community, with an emphasis on helping people to find work and integrate into society. In 1979, a small group of co-workers formed a steering group and proposed the Development Corporation for housing in the ‘new city’. Initially, they were offered a flat above a recycling shop in nearby Olney, where three co-workers and two residents moved in to help provide a local presence.
In 1980, the small group was allocated some houses on the newly built Pennyland Estate. A new team of co-workers and residents moved in, commencing a Camphill community that was most unusual, in the centre of a typical housing estate. The residents made a significant contribution to the developing neighbourhood and could often be found planting bulbs for the Development Corporation or helping their neighbours with gardening. CMKC became pioneering for its approach to supporting people with learning disabilities to be a part of their local community and not separate from it. This was many years before government initiatives began to focus more on community integration.
In the late 80s, the community were granted a further plot of land by the Development Corporation near Willen Lake, which provided a generous opportunity for the community to begin building new houses, workshops and gardens for residents as part of a self-build project.
Nick Jackson, the co-worker who’d initially taken up the impulse to found the Milton Keynes Community, led a team that would slowly develop this new site over the next 20 years, starting with a large house, wood-working space and a food processing workshop. This was followed by three new houses, a café and the development of the land, which spread over three paddocks.
By the mid-nineties, the first and second phases of the build were complete, and plans were drawn up to build the community’s final piece – the theatre, which would later become known as the Chrysalis. This theatre bought a new cultural dimension to the community. It was built alongside the final house, funded primarily through generous donations from the Margaret Powell Foundation; a local trust set up to support social projects in the area. As a result, the Chrysalis has been home to a huge variety of events, plays, performances, discos, and many other wonderful productions by both the immediate community and the wider community. They’ve even had a few celebrities visit over the years, including Warwick Davis and Priscilla Presley!
During the 2000s, the community began to experience some of the changes taking place across most Camphill Communities at the time. By the end of this decade, a full-time manager, later a CEO, had been employed, and the community’s development and the building was complete. The community’s Café received a lot of attention during this time. It was developed into one of the top-rated establishments in Milton Keynes, serving the rambling public and those tackling the local redways or canal paths for many years.
We celebrated our 40th birthday on the 28th of October with an enormous community day and contributions from all of our houses and workshops to the event.
Tim adds: Camphill Milton Keynes story is not yet complete. Over the years, medical support for people with disabilities has progressed, and there is no longer an expectation that people with learning disabilities and Autism will have a naturally short life. In fact, with the right medical care, our residents can comfortably and happily live to a ripe old age just the same as everyone else. This also brings with it some of the natural changes to mobility and other age-related frailties that we might all expect in due course. Housing that once was both beautiful and accessible becomes unsuitable for our people’s needs, so we aim to expand our accommodation with an ambitious development. The programme will offer fully accessible living spaces for older residents and those with more profound physical disabilities, opening up existing housing for additional residents looking for accommodation in a community that values and respects them. Eventually, we aim to build a fantastic workshop space and improve accessibility in our theatre, but the first stage is to add new housing on our Willen Park and Pennyland sites.
The future for this urban, modern community is bright, thanks to the incredible commitment of those who founded, developed and nurtured the community over the previous 40 years and the ambitions of those that continue to support it today.