Secure or segregated?

For village communities: Norma Brier, chief executive of
Norwood, the Jewish children and families charity.

“In the Valuing People white paper the government
emphasises the right of people to make choices about their lives.
For people whose difficulties challenge services or whose complex
needs require specialist help, village communities can be a
positive choice.

Norwood operates just such a village community near Reading. In
Ravenswood village adults live on a rural community campus,
comprising 20 small homes and other facilities. A modern village
community ensures that daily life is tailored to the needs and
wishes of its users no less than in other settings. The users
determine how services are delivered. Support workers have
specialist skills and communication systems to work with users and
offer choice.

Being part of such a close-knit community can help people who are
often devalued by mainstream society to find a place where they
feel respected and accepted. But they are no less a part of the
wider community than the people who live in that community.

Not everyone with a learning disability copes easily with life in a
small house in an urban community. The open space available in a
village environment and the reduced fear of main roads and danger
can encourage independence by allowing people to move about without
constant supervision and escorts.

In an internally commissioned report, Sally Sainsbury and Steve
Carnaby compared the quality of the lives of service users living
in Ravenswood village with other users living in Norwood houses in
the community, and users who live independently or with their
families. Fifty users took part in the study. The report concludes
that any variation ‘owed little to the location of the home’.

Ravenswood village offers a range of classes, activities and clubs
for those who want to attend. Some users combine these with
attending external facilities. Some work in supermarkets, local
pubs and cinemas. Others work in the village in gardening, animal
husbandry or administration. A range of adapted transport is
available to provide access to everything from shopping to further
education and leisure pursuits.

The availability of specialist medical and therapeutic services is
one reason for choosing a village community. It is important for
those who require extra care and find it time-consuming and
difficult to access these services in the community. For adults
with multiple needs, participation in local life is frequently
complicated and sometimes unwelcoming. Without adequate support,
users can become isolated wherever they live. Economies of scale
afforded by a village campus allow continuous availability of
support staff and drivers. This means fewer cancelled outings and
sufficient assistance to ensure visits to restaurants and theatres
are enjoyable.

We agree on the importance of inclusion for all people regardless
of ability. This can and should happen wherever a person is located
and living in a village community is no exception. For adults with
more complex requirements, life in the wider community is not
always effectively sustained. One Ravenswood village resident says:
“I love to paint. I’ve sold a couple of paintings for £100.
Good eh? Work at what you love and you will succeed.” For those who
choose it, a village community can provide a highly participative
and inclusive experience, allowing room for individuality and

Against village communities: Jo Williams, chief
executive of learning difficulties charity Mencap

“People with a learning disability should have the same opportunity
as everyone else to live in their local community with the
appropriate support provided for them if they need it. As a former
director of social services, I saw people with a learning
disability have their lives transformed when they moved from a
remote, segregated community into ordinary accommodation in
ordinary towns. They were able to enjoy the full range of local
facilities and contribute to their local community.

The closure of long-stay hospitals is imperative and it is
disappointing that the deadline of April 2004 will not be met. As
the closure programme proceeds, it is vital that the people
concerned are given the opportunity to move into ordinary housing,
which is of a non-institutional nature. It must be a place where
they have control, that they can make theirs and where they can
access ordinary facilities.

Village communities separate people from the general community.
They may provide protection and high quality services, but people
with a learning disability living in village communities have no
opportunity to play a full part in local life. Village communities
run the risk of supporting institutional routines. All the evidence
suggests this isolation brings with it the potential for misuse of
power by those who provide services. There has been much written
about the impact on the individual of institutional life. It can
stifle independence, and does not allow people to learn from their
own mistakes. Segregating people with a learning disability can
perpetuate negative images. Are we saying that these people should
be separated from the general population?

Mencap believes people with a learning disability should have the
necessary information to make a choice about where they live. To
secure this a wide a range of options must be available – from
staffed group homes through to individual home ownership. Helping a
person make a positive choice is very difficult, particularly if
they have only experienced institutional care. Providing a real
choice takes time and needs to build around different experiences
before an informed decision can be made.

Mencap helps people with a learning disability to live their lives
in ways they choose and in a home they choose. We provide support
to people like Michael and Linda Griffiths, who are in their
fifties and both have profound learning difficulties. They have
lived in one kind of institution or another for most of their
lives. Golden Lane Housing enabled them to move into their own home
for the first time. Every step of the way they had a say in what
happened to them. They chose how their house was decorated and
furnished. These are things that most people take for granted, but
for Michael and Linda it was the first time they were able to make
such decisions for themselves.

For people who have only ever known life in an institution, life in
the outside world can be frightening. What Michael and Linda have
achieved proves that people with a learning disability who have
been institutionalised can integrate and enjoy the full benefits of

Doesn’t every person with a learning disability have the right to
choose where and how they live? If we segregate people in village
communities without giving them this choice, we are taking away
this fundamental right.”

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