The Value of Work
The well-being of a community of people working together will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of his work, i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, the more his own needs are satisfied, not out of his own work but out of the work done by others.
I came to the Esk Valley to learn to make cheese. A prolonged sabbatical in Latin America had ruined my appetite for returning to the office in London and I was searching for a life that felt more real. I found it in Botton Village.
Work has always been central to life in Botton, and in the new Esk Valley Camphill Community it still is. Every member of EVCC has the opportunity to take up a vocation which they do to the best of their ability. Some require support in their work environment, others offer that support; but we try not to let the roles of carer and cared-for define us. We are gardeners and shop keepers, craftspeople and homemakers, woodworkers, conservationists and cooks. Having a vocation gives you a purpose and an identity, and knowing that your contribution is needed makes you feel a valued part of something bigger than yourself.
I moved on from cheese into the community micro-bakery we co-run in Whitby. The day starts early and it’s hot and tiring work, but it’s satisfying to know I played a part in the creation of the crusty sourdough loaves that will be enjoyed by my friends and customers in the Esk Valley. My colleagues Dan and Lucinda had been baking long before I turned up. Dan showed me how to knead the dough and in the early days Lucinda kept me straight with rolling buns. They are vital members of our team and the bakery wouldn’t be able to operate without them.
In the North East of England, less than 5% of adults with a learning disability have a job, which has predictable impacts on their physical and mental health. Our local GP has suggested that an active work life is one reason why EVCC community members with a learning disability have much better health outcomes than their contemporaries in conventional social care settings.
Nowadays it seems almost impossible to separate the idea of work from money. Salaries and wages are set in line with the value society puts on a particular worker, and turns the worker and their labour into a commodity. In the various social enterprises at EVCC, work is offered to the community and the wider world as a gift. The fact that no one gets paid means that, whilst the outcome of each person’s work may vary in economic value, they and their contribution are valued equally. In our Shared Lives households, those of us who receive a salary for providing social care to others in the community have chosen to pool that money to be used as a communal resource. We then administer that resource according to the needs of the community and its individual members. Relinquishing my ownership of the salary I receive for the support I provide helps to break down the transactional nature of social care that can be a barrier to real and long-term relationships.
Income sharing is quite radical, and it takes a huge leap of faith to enter into such an interdependent arrangement with my neighbours and colleagues. But as the cost of living crisis starts to manifest all around us, I feel very lucky that my needs are met by the work of many, and my survival is not just down to me.