The call that began a remarkable journey

It was almost exactly seven years ago that Dr Stefan Geider at Camphill in Aberdeen called to ask if I could help with setting up a campaign. What was to follow tested my PR and public affairs skills to the extreme, but I would have been a lot poorer in so many ways had I not risen to the challenge.

That initial phone call was to develop into what was described as ‘one of the biggest community campaigns of its time’ in Scotland.

Significantly, it was the residents in the Camphill Newton Dee community, not the co-workers, who had called for a campaign. The then-preferred route for the Aberdeen bypass had it slicing through, first, Newton Dee then, later, Camphill School Aberdeen – two communities that were home to almost 200 vulnerable children and adults.

After two years of intensive public affairs and PR activity, the Save Camphill campaign was successful in moving the road from Camphill.

Camphill Aberdeen City and Shire

I still work with Camphill Aberdeen in what are very challenging times, thanks to current cutbacks. But, it is an inspiring organisation, full of remarkable volunteers who devote their lives to helping children, young people, adults and elderly, who have additional support needs. I marvel at their dedication, their patience and their love for the people they support.

I always remember my early visits for meetings at Newton Dee. I would arrive and park the car. One resident would bound up to me saying “you my friend, you my friend”, another would walk over and – with very obvious pride – tell me repeatedly that he worked in the toy workshop.

Initially, I would find this uninhibited welcome difficult to cope with. I then had to stop and question my attitude.

Why should I have a problem with someone wanting to tell me that I was his friend! Who was it who had the problem here? It wasn’t my new friends, it was me!

Relating to my last blog post about direct communication with your target audience, I contacted a local MSP, who I knew quite well, to be my first campaign visitor to see and hear the problem from the Camphill perspective. He was quite dismissive, on the phone, but more-or-less said ‘OK, for you I will come”.

After half an hour speaking with residents, co-workers, medical staff and seeing the problem for himself, he gathered everyone round a table in Newton Dee Cafe and offered his support! He went on to place a motion before the Scottish Parliament!

Nothing beats direct communication!

Following this post, I am going to post an item from Camphill that really explains the difference Camphill can make, not just to the individual who has special needs, but to their family. That is the message I have learnt in the past seven years.

As best-selling author Ian Rankin puts it: “Unless you have been through it, you will never understand the commitment, patience and unconditional care that are provided by these charities... more than just outstanding care for those with special needs though, it is a sanctuary for families too”. As father of a son with special needs, he should know.

As budgets are cut across the country there is less and less money to fund the opportunities that Camphill offers to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. If you can help the 700 people who live and work in Camphill charities in Aberdeen, please get in touch!

  • Camphill takes its name from Camphill House in the Milltimber area of Aberdeen. It was here that, with the help of eminent Aberdonians, the Camphill pioneers, as refugees, founded their first community for children with special needs in 1940. From Aberdeen, Camphill has grown to become one of the world’s largest support organisations with 100 centres in 23 countries.
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