This month, befriending at the Corbenic Camphill Community.
Corbenic Camphill Community is part of the International Camphill Movement for social renewal through community living.
The community is based on the principle of living and working together with those who have special needs. I help out at the craft workshop every Thursday morning and it is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
First of all, what is a Camphill Community?
The International Camphill Movement was founded in 1940 by Dr Karl Konig. In that year, Dr Konig was part of a small group of refugees, doctors, teachers and artists fleeing Nazi dictatorship in Austria. He and his colleagues were granted political asylum in the UK and allowed to settle outside Aberdeen in Scotland. Karl König, and his colleagues, influenced by the teachings of Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925), went on to open the first Camphill Community sculpted around the needs of children, and later on, adults with learning disabilities. They began with the fundamental belief in the equality of all people. Dr. Konig’s vision was that by living together in a lively community–where the focus was valuing the unique qualities of every person–Camphill would help improve human society and make life richer, more compassionate and more connective.’ Corbenic Camphill is a community for adults with learning difficulties.
It is situated in beautiful Strathbraan in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. The Community comprises 65 people, including 27 adults with learning disabilities. Residents, volunteers and employees live in five households within 50 acres of land. Those with special needs play a critical, participative, central role in the life of Corbenic. Residents come from all over Britain, some from abroad.
Houseparents for each of the five households are employed at Corbenic and most of them live outside the community.
Co-workers are volunteers, often young Europeans, who live within the community for periods of one or two years.
The Rhythm of Life at Corbenic
Each household’s daily structure is very similar and this ‘rhythm’ of the day is common to all Camphills, forming an important part of the resident’s life.
The day begins around 7.00 to 7.30 when everyone gets up; this is followed by a quiet morning circle before breakfast. Before work begins cleaning and other household tasks are carried out, like tidying the kitchen and cleaning bedrooms.
The day is then divided between two workshop sessions, with lunch in between. Eating together is a key social, communal, spiritual experience at Corbenic. Meals are usually prepared by a mix of co-workers, house-parents and residents. After lunch there is a rest hour, where residents can choose to have a quiet time in their own room or socialise in the living room.
Workshops finish at 5.30 in time for supper at 6.00
I had been considering volunteering for a few months. I work from home and wanted to do something useful within the community and something that would involve me working with people. I had no real idea of where to start and if the skills I have would be of any use to anyone, so I popped into the local volunteering centre to get some ideas. The first number they gave me was for Corbenic. I have travelled along the road to Dunkeld hundreds of times but didn’t know that the community existed so I was intrigued and made an appointment with the befriending co-ordinator. I was immediately impressed. The grounds are stunning and the estate is set in the beautiful Perthshire hills but the friendliness of the welcome was the key and I decided to become a befriender.
What is befriending?
Typically, befriending involves a one-to-one relationship with a resident, spending time together on activities and social occasions. In this way, befrienders aim to relieve loneliness, increase confidence and self-esteem and build a trusting friendship. I have chosen a slightly different form of befriending, or it chose me is probably closer to the truth. As part of the introduction process to the way Corbenic works, and to allow a relationship to develop naturally between a volunteer and a resident in order to become befriending partners, I was to spend time in the craft workshop. And I’ve been there ever since, so I guess I have befriended the workshop!
Crafts at Corbenic
On the morning I visit there are three residents, a co-worker and the workshop leader. Everyone has the opportunity to learn specific craft techniques and skills. This can be therapeutic for the residents as well as being a positive and motivating experience. My own work is craft-based but I have learned many new skills. At the moment we are making felt dolls that will be sold at one of the regular craft fairs held at the community to raise funds. I can’t sew…or at least I couldn’t until now but I now sit happily making felt tubes which will become the arms and legs of the felt dolls. Residents participate in all stages of the different activities and they will do this according to their ability and needs. Needlework, even sewing as rough and ready as mine, is beyond the scope of the residents who attend the workshop but there are many different stages to felt making, starting with preparing the raw fleece, removing dirt, washing, teasing and carding the wool so everyone is able to join in and contribute.
The best part of the workshops lies beyond the actual craft. It is the opportunity we all get to sit and chat while doing something worthwhile. The residents are always interested to know what I have been up to between visits, where I have been, what I’ve been doing and this window on the world is useful in setting life in the community in the larger context. And I am always interested to find out what they have been up to, days out, concerts, special celebrations, birthday parties, there is always something happening at Corbenic. And the morning trips out in the minibus are a special treat. We go out to pick up materials for the craft projects, mainly, but the real treat is the coffee stop. Or rather hot chocolate stop, as that is everyone’s favourite, with cream and marshmallows. And we get a cake!
The atmosphere at Corbenic is very special. Everyone is a very friendly, residents, staff and co-workers. The energy that the young Europeans bring to the community is very special – bringing different life experiences, and accents! And the experiences that they take back after their year, are valuable to them I’m sure. The staff are wonderfully supportive of the residents and the atmosphere is open, friendly and relaxed. Volunteering here is an absolute joy!
If you would like to know more about Corbenic Camphill Community please visit their website.
There are 61 Camphill Communities in the UK and Ireland. To find out more please visit their website.
Other useful links
Mentoring and befriending as a volunteer
Befriending Network Scotand
Mentoring and Befriending Foundation