The Strangest Village in Britain
A Social Experiment
The Village of Botton
High in the North Yorkshire Moors, there's a village where a remarkable project has been underway for half a century. Botton is home to nearly 300 people, nearly half of whom have learning difficulties, including Down's Syndrome, Autism and other mental illnesses. Botton is a tolerant place where people are accepted however eccentric there behaviour might be.
Botton is a shared community, volunteers called co-workers, come from all over the world to live and work with people with special needs.
The special needs residents are known as villagers and they will live in a house with a few other villagers and their co-workers and the co-workers families. The co-workers are referred to as house-parents. Like any village, Botton, has occasional disputes, but for the most part there's friendship, fun and cooperation. The co-workers are nearly all Christians and they base their life in Botton on the philosophic principles of Rudolf Steiner. The belief is that this sort of communal living is good for everyone, the villagers, the co-workers and their children.
There are 30 houses, several farms and a range of workshops scattered along the valley.
In the woodwork shop, the villagers make toys and furniture for export. Like most of Botton, workshop life goes at a relaxed pace.
Most people are referred to Botton by their local authority, which then pays for them to stay. Botton is a remote place. It's an hour's drive from York or Middlesbrough and the nearest, proper, shops are ten miles away in Guisborough.
A Family Mealtime
The village day has a fixed routine with regular mealtimes and working hours. One of the central principles is that everyone has a specific job to do. Life in Botton places great emphasis on communal and cultural activities, particularly song and dance. All of the co-workers see it as part of their role to mediate in in the disputes that inevitably arise around the village.
Some social service departments remain sceptical about the Botton approach, they say it is too institutional and isolated. The families and local authorities who refer people there, disagree. Botton is full and there is a long waiting list.