As chronicled in part 1 of this post, I recently spent time with the L’Arche community in Bognor Regis, as part of creating a special resource for new documentary Summer in the Forest.
Hugh Campkin is the community leader at Bognor, and I spoke to him about the joys and challenges of this unique role.
What’s different about L’Arche Bognor?
Bognor Regis is a diverse town with a real openness and lots of opportunities for connection. We’re the only UK L’Arche Community right by the coast, and I think this gives us an energy and a sense of creativity.
Our identity here is as a small close-knit body. The first shared house started here was called was Zacchaeus House, named after a character in the Bible who was small of stature, but passionate and creative in his approach. We’re not determined to diversify or develop – we’re focused more on our current members. We’re trying to meet needs in a deep way rather than skimming the surface.
Your job as Community Leader, is it more of a vocation for you?
I knew from an early age that I wanted to spend time with people who were vulnerable and on the margins. Other providers are doing amazing work, but L’Arche offers something quite different, and that is about real, honest, adult relationships of equality.
Through my time here I’ve had such a sense of this town and community holding me and accepting me, especially when I went through a personal bereavement recently. This community has a particular gift for welcome.
What do you think L’Arche Communities have to offer the world?
L’Arche is not a solution for everyone but it’s here to be a ‘sign of hope’. Particularly in the current climate, people in our society need to know that we’re better together than apart. L’Arche is an international community: we have people of all ages, backgrounds, experiences. We model trust and unity rather than suspicion and division. The real opportunity is the fact that it’s difficult! Conflict is ever-present, grief and loss are ever-present – it’s a constant opportunity to discover what it is to be human.
What are some of the main challenges you face at L’Arche?
Our emphasis on mutual friendships between assistants and members can be in tension with the prevailing philosophy of ‘caring for’ vulnerable people. We believe that our assistants have as much to receive from people with disabilities as they have to give them. They have to establish boundaries that are appropriate for them, and ask themselves what is actually compassionate for the other person. It boils down to knowing the other person, and letting them take the lead.
What advice do you give people who are thinking of working or volunteering at L’Arche?
That it is a unique experience and one which often underpins the rest of someone’s life in different ways. Take the chance to experience it! We’re honest with people about challenging moments. We present reality. The grit is where the pearls come from. We are more aware and engaged with the moments that are difficult in interpersonal relationships.
Hugh Campkin blogs at fatblackberries.wordpress.com
Summer in the Forest, featuring the L’Arche community in Trosly, France, arrives in UK cinemas and on video-on-demand 23rd June.
If Summer in the Forest inspires you to become involved with L’Arche, there are a number of ways to do this. You could consider becoming an assistant or volunteering in a Community. You may also consider making a donation or fundraising.