Podcast Episode 27. Feeling like you belong to a community and being accepted for who you are is important to all of us. This week we talk to James Cuming, Community Leader, at L’Arche Kent who explains how L’Arche provides both of these for people all over the world, some who have additional needs. James explains the history of L’Arche and how its beginnings drive the mission of creating communities which bring different people together.
James explains how L’Arche provides housing and purpose in a purposeful and community-driven way. This helps ensure that everyone including those with additional needs gets much more than simply a place to live and a place to go each day.
James also shares his views on the language we use when we talk about people with additional needs. He questions why we talk about reviews when we mean appraisals and activities when we really mean hobbies.
Finally, James shares his vision for a project close to his heart the Archangel Brewery. This project, while still in its infancy, could create a business model which James hopes can be replicated so that people with additional needs can truly control their own futures. His vision is that the Archangel brewery will be controlled from boardroom to brewery by people with additional needs and they will make all the decisions about their business and their future.
The L’Arche ethos is so powerful that it should become the norm not the exception when we think of how we plan the future housing and work options for young people with additional needs.
Community is an essential part of living a fulfilled life
The words we use we do matter and we shouldn’t be using different terms for the same thing for different groups of people
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 27 of the Journey Skills podcast. This week I’m talking to James Cuming from L’Arche. I will let James tell you about the history of L’Arche. Basically, it’s a charity which focuses around building of communities. I found out about L’Arche through someone else I had interviewed and when I went to look at what they did, I came across the Archangel Brewery Project which sounded rather intriguing. I should say now’s a disclaimer that James very kindly sent me away with a bottle of their beer, now it’s probably quite an Australian but I don’t actually drink beer. But Graham tells me it was excellent.
As I said, James will explain all about the history of L’Arche but essentially L’Arche is all about building communities and embrace everyone. He makes an important point and it’s one I agree with that many people have lost their sense of community and I really believe the community will be an essential part of my daughter’s independent future. Community of people around her who care and who accept her for who she is.
Right now, she’s in full-time education and that’s where she gets that feeling of community. But once she leaves education that will be harder to find. Many of you probably know young people with additional needs who are lonely once they have left the safety of full-time education. L’Arche in a way, addresses this through their housing model. The way L’Arche views providing people with what James calls Intentional Purpose is also very positive. James talks about how people need to have a reason to do things and how that is sometimes forgotten and a desire to make sure that people, particularly people with additional needs, have some way to go.
One of the most interesting points that I think James made during our chat was around our use of language. He questioned why we use the word ‘reviews’ for people with additional needs but ‘appraisal’ for everyone else. And how we talk about people with additional needs doing activities but perhaps if you and I were doing similar things then it will be called a hobby.
In some ways, to what we decide that Journey Skills when we thought we would use the term additional needs despite the fact that we know special needs is a more commonly used term but I have to be honest to say I don’t be like that term. My daughter doesn’t have special needs as such but what impacts on her life is that she has additional needs that require strategies to help her live a more independent life. I know that many people might say, “Okay, it’s semantics.” But like James, I firmly believe language is important and can really impact on how we see others and how we see ourselves.
We do finally talk about the Archangel Brewery Project. The unique aspect of this project is that one day the people with additional needs will actually run it themselves from boardroom to brewing, that is the objective. As we are all pretty aware, getting paid employment when you have additional needs can be very difficult and I hope this model does work out because although I can’t see my daughter being interesting brewing beer, I hope that they can create a business model which she could use in the future to maybe create her own business. That sense of controlling your own destiny is something we all seek. And it’s certainly what this model could make possible.
DEBRA: This week, we’re talking to James from the L’Arche Community. Welcome, James.
DEBRA: You tell us a little bit about yourself and the organization?
JAMES: My name is James Cuming. I’m the director of the L’Arche Kent Community in the south of England. My job title is actually that of Community Leader. I joined L’Arche 12 years ago and actually was a support system in one of our central care homes and I intend to stay for a couple of years, I’ve been here for 12 years.
So L’Arche is both a rested care provider and so it provides a residential care and supported living but the purpose is really around being an intentional community of people. So we support 30 people with learning disabilities but as a community, we’re about 150 people. My role is to lead that group people as a community and a service provider but as a community of people who get together, who spend time together to build relationships and friendships that hopefully last for many years.
Some people with learning disabilities are referred to us by local authorities and some people with learning disabilities have heard of us and want to get to know us all and live in our accommodation. Some people will come because they’re very interested in supporting people with learning disabilities. Some people would come because they’re interested of the idea of living intentional community life house with people who are very different from them. And so we come from all different walks of life and different motivations but we just get together, spend a bit of time together and have a bit of fun. And that’s a sort of basis to try to build relationships together.
DEBRA: Is that the primary motivation of this whole L’Arche is the actual building of community?
JAMES: Yeah that’s absolutely. The macro level, I suppose, there’s a sense that when different people meet and choose to be in relationship together, that’s a good thing. It’s good for humanity, it’s quite good for global peace. I suppose, particularly the way the world is, movements that try to introduce people who are different to one another become more important.
DEBRA: You mentioned the housing. So how does that all come about?
JAMES: I suppose it came out of the 1964 the first L’Arche house was founded in the old village called Troyes in France. And as a man calls Jean Vanier who was a Christian man and he’d been thinking a lot about the people and society and the way they were living at that time ’60s. He went to an institution and saw the place that’s people with learning disabilities were living which was secure units with 7 people to a room; shared clothing, shared possessions, and really nothing of ownership and nothing that define the person’s human being and he decided he wanted to try to live with two people with learning disabilities and so he did was ask the institution of at least two people with learning disabilities and the institution says “Yes” because they want to save safety check and he moved in with them. And that’s all he did.
And he thought he was doing a good thing, he thought he did good term for society but what he found actually was that the people with learning disabilities he was living with actually revealed a lot about themselves. The people with learning disabilities he was living with were able to welcome people in a way that he wasn’t so skilled welcoming people. They were able to celebrate and to have fun together and that’s what drew him out of himself in his own head. They challenge him on some of the things that he felt was important because actually to the people with learning disabilities he was living with, they weren’t simple. Being on time for every occasion is not the bear medal of life. You know, life is the bear medal of life . And simple things like that but in the sixties where the people of learning disabilities were kept in institutions. That was a real revelations to him.
And he wrote some books about it and people who were fascinated about what he was saying and came to join him. So volunteers from across the world wanted to join him and people liked the idea. So the first community was founded a couple of years later. Few years later, it spread to India and is now across 43 other countries. Expressing all kinds of faith and just relevant to their local culture but this idea that, particularly in western side, there were people pursuing independence and personal choice and personal freedom and personal rights and responsibilities.
I think it’s generally recognized that people are getting more isolated. And not just people with learning disabilities but people. And a lot of people are finding ways to try to belong to one another to be involved in another’s life and to find – if not a family- then to find people random that they can connect with and have an understanding to one another. So it’s an attractive idea for people to belong to some kind of group people who intends to be together and intends to know one another. And that’s really why L’Arche is around the world an attractive for a lot of people because it’s just rare to meet people who take the time, take the space to really get to know you and to want you to get to know them.
Housing is really a platform that we can get people with learning disabilties and they all come to L’Arche and we’ll encourage them to come in if they feel they’re going to thrive in a place where there’s lots of different people who enjoy celebrating, enjoy being together. The housing is a means to an end that bring people together, really. Our rested care homes are interesting because it’s slightly different. Some assistants will live in the house alongside with people with learning disabilities and other assistants live outside their house in their accomodation and so there’s a mix of people there, a mix of relationships there.
At some levels to break down this idea that we’re a care deliverer and a person with learning disability is the care receiver. And that defines our relationship because we’re supporting carers working well it’s because there’s a personal relationship with the whole of it. I think that changes the nature and the quality that carer gives. That should be the mutual nature of care, thus, you don’t deliver care to your husband and your wife. It’s a mutual expression of beyond simply as service provider and contractual relationship. It’s something. Because you’re human, because they’re human. You give what’s needed and you receive what you need in return.
DEBRA: You have the housing. You also give people a sense of purpose as well?
JAMES: So we’re a contractual provider of daycare and that’s what the name of the contract is. We don’t really do daycare. We do not occupy people from 9-5, Monday-Friday and then send them home. Our intention is to try to provide activities which are purposeful. So we make candles, we make necklaces, we make greetings cards, we have a little gardening project. And the people with learning disabilities keep a little profit share of what they make.
So the intention is to try create a work-like atmosphere to the way we work so why the people with learning disabilities have reviews and employment have appraisals? Why can we not use the same language? Why the people with learning disabilities have the key word obsession and the people without learning disabilities work on supervision session? Why can’t we use similar langauge? Why can we not make what is simply called activities as an occupying activity into something that’s meaningful and purposeful?
So we really try quite hard enough and we’re pretty succesful in trying to make things intentionally of the highest quality and to sell them not because it’s people with learning disabilities that made them but to sell them because they’re beautiful things and they’d been hand-crafted. I think they recognize that there are some people with learning disabilties who perhaps who will never manage to achieve employment, realisticially. There are some people with learning disabilities who are very able to achieve employment. And there’s a chunk of population people with learning disabilities who know what employment could feel like but can’t sustain it.
And so the idea of Archangel Brewery is really trying to create something where in time we hope it will be owned by people with learning disabilities. They’ll be the shareholders that will run the boardmeetings. There’ll be staff with other people with learning disabilities and with volunteers. And we can support them with all that. The intention with Archangel Brewery is to try and come up with a new model which is properly empowering. It gives them a sense of employment for their own benefit. And so the rest of the things they do very well. Actually, it could be a model with another organizations and there’s no reason why that can’t grow and be competitive. So the hope is we can create something from a very small idea of making beer and buckets to a point where we can have a small/micro/nano brewery that can make some good quality beers.
DEBRA: So the model is different because you won’t have people with learnig disabilities as the board of directors, is that why it’s different?
JAMES: Yes. For example, our activities we make candles and when we sold those candles, some of thte proceeds will go back to the person with learning disabilities. It is all held by the charity, by the company called L’Arche. The model we want to try is where a board of directors who have learning disabilities are supported to run their boardmeetings and to run their commercial enterprise where they run their business, they make their decisions for themselves.
Beer-making is actually a very accessible process and it’s been done for hundred years so if the board can actually make decisions about the business and how it grows, and then people working in the company can have job descriptions to describe what their purpose is. `When they have job descriptions, they can have their appraisals, they can have their supervisions, they can have their time cards, they can have all the chattels that we come to associate with work, with real work. And they can benefit from the proceeds, they can see their paycheck, they can see their salary going to their account. And so both the activity and the purposefulness of work and the income that comes from that can come together. That’s where I think Archangel Brewery could be quite unique because the peole with learning disabilties will own the proceeds at their graft rather than a charity like L’Arche.
DEBRA: What are some of the challenges?
JAMES: I spent 3 years asking every volunteer if they like to make some beer. Most just looked shocked at me and then I came across a banker and he says “Yes, alright.” And I asked a couple of people with learning disabilities if they want to make beers and they said “Yes, alright.” And as the 4 of us, 2 people have learning disabilities started to make beers. And people liked the idea. As we made our beers for a few weeks, and then a couple of people wanted to join, some volunteers, some people with learning disabilites. At a busiest meeting, we had 13 people making beer in a very small space.
So the first challenge was I suppose finding a volunteer who would bite into the idea and run with it because he has more time than I did. The challenge we have now is that we’re making loads of beer, it’s going out at the door immediately because people around the community want it or they want it for a party. So we need more space. We’re at a point where we’ve now exhausted the kit proceeds. We had a good donation, a really generous donation so we can now buy our first commercial machine which will really refine the flavor, it will make it much clearer as a beer. And we’ve just about to use the machine in the small space we’ve got.
For the next piece of kit we want is something called a brew master and it’s a really accessible piece of kit which is why we want it. It takes the nutritional tons of making beer and puts it into one big barrel. But it’s digital so you can pre-program temperatures, timings or what kinds of things. So that means that a person with learning disability can carry the whole beer-making process to start and finish without help. With maybe some prompting but without help. It’s then completely acceptable as a process. But when we get that kit, we’re giving up a lot of space. So the second challenge is really space. I think we may be able to move on and find a space. After that, I think we’re okay.
Big challenge can be regulation. So, the point where we want to go commercial, not just the few standards, but the taxation, the marketing, the quality control will be things we really need to tie. So I think once we got the space, we’re going donations for the idea because people like the idea that the community makes beer. There’s something about that that’s very rooted and relevant to live in a community life together.
When we get to a point where we have a company and where people with learning disabilities have shares, we could give out say 10% of our shares to a local couple of funds. Essentially, we’ll be crowd-funding the idea, there will a nominal amount for the shares but at the same time, it would guarantee that we’ve got outlets for the sale. I think that will fly. I think at the back of the beer-making we can then short courses where people with learning disabilties are teaching you how to make beer and we’re selling you the kit so you can make your own beer. I think we can do kind of spinoffs for this. I think the future is very bright if we can get beyond this stage of development. So I don’t really see there’s a lot of barriers this time.
DEBRA: How many people do you think it would employ?
JAMES: This is the good thing. So we know we spend an hour and a half, once a week and we make 40 bottles. But if people wanted to join and the interest was there, then there’s no reason we couldn’t scale quite number of employees.
DEBRA: Is it setup as a separate organization now or is it still part of L’Arche?
JAMES: Part of L’Arche. There’s no money that goes in, no money goes out. The people want to give us money for taking the beer off then that’s fine, it’s not expected. So there’s no real account to it at the moment, it’s just happy group of people who make beer and it’s part of L’Arche and we supervise it and we regulate it.
DEBRA: But you can see a big potential?
JAMES: Yes. I wanted to separate them. I don’t want it to be part of L’Arche. I’m very proud as director have a project like this as part of L’Arche but the long-term is I want it to be known to be Archangel Brewery, deliberately because it doesn’t say L’Arche Brewery and with the intention that one day, this has nothing to do with L’Arche. It may support L’Arche in the future, if it’s not, that’s fine. It’s the model that is interesting. I think we need to find different ways to support people, more meaningful, more dignified. I think to find out other ways to supporting people well in daily life.
Perhaps not to go commercial in itself. The purpose is a good space for people to meet. For me, that’s where it lasts for 20 years. It’s a vessel whether you put beer in that, or do you put art in the crafts in that, whether you put any other service in that gardening services, the vessel is the commerical model. The idea is the person with learning disability directly benefit in the work they do not just through salary but through profit-share. Other than not, it has nothing to do with some charitable organization that helps them care where people with learning disabilities get the chance to own and run and benefit from their work.
The idea of providing appraisal rather than review is the sector have obviously missed. We somehow give different language to people with learning disabilities activities than we do to our own. With people with learning disabilities have activities, I have hobbies. Why is that? So I conciously call this group a hobbying group because that’s what people do. They don’t do activities.
DEBRA: Can you tell people how they can get in touch with L’Arche?
JAMES: Yes, larchekent.org.uk. You can email us at email@example.com. Even if you don’t want to make beer, even if you can’t stand there but had an idea of something we do in year 2021 then we’d love it.
DEBRA: Okay, James. Thank you very much for your time.
JAMES: Thank you, Debra.
DEBRA: Key takeaways? Community is an essential part of being a human, something that needs to really be embraced and we all need to find ways to make sure that our children, in particular, become part of a wider community. The words we use do matter and we shouldn’t be using different terms for the same thing just because we’re talking about a different group of people.
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