Barry Graham and the spirit of Loch Arthur

Over the last decade I have taken many friends, visitors and colleagues to the Loch Arthur Farm Shop, in Beeswing near Dumfries. I’m always pleased when the visit coincides with an opportunity to chat to Barry Graham, who in the interview with me below tells us his intriguing story.

One challenge I have had at the Farm Shop is how to introduce him to others. Occasionally I have used the term ‘majordomo’ as a title, though as the interview will testify, that is far from being the right descriptor. ‘Inspiration behind Loch Arthur’ is another phrase I’ve used, though as we shall see that doesn’t quite capture it either.

His own words tell a good story. “I am the person who knows the most people who I don’t actually know”. For my own part, I am certainly one who beyond a sketchy knowledge of Barry’s varied roles and responsibilities at Loch Arthur, until now knew very little of the person. Which is why it is such a pleasure to present here this account of aspects of his life and work.

The 520 acres of farmland, forest, estate and loch that make up the Loch Arthur Community in Dumfries and Galloway were acquired by the Camphill Village Trust in November 1984 in order to start a new community supporting people with learning difficulties, and with a strong emphasis on land and agricultural work. The progress of Loch Arthur in the intervening years is vividly described here by Barry. We see the vision, the twists and turns along the way, the spirit of the place and the changing pattern of its activities.

Clearly this interview merely scrapes the surface of Barry’s fascinating life. Yet I learned so much from it, about him and about Loch Arthur.

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that Barry had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. When I next saw him I felt I needed to acknowledge what had happened, and I tried to find the right combination of sympathy and optimism to capture my feelings. I don’t think I made a very good job of it. In the end Barry helped me out. With that kindest of smiles and with a twinkle in his eyes, he explained to me how he was engaging with this new phase in his life’s journey. He told me what he had learned about the illness and about the people who were caring for him professionally. He shared his thoughts about the future. I felt inspired by his words. Even more so, as when we parted and he headed back to his Farm Shop tasks, he turned to me and said: ‘Oh yes, David, I can tell you, I really and truly feel surrounded by love’.

Barry’s love for people, and the love he receives in return are beautifully evoked in his words here. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Where did you live before you came to Scotland, what brought you here, and what were your passions and interests at that time?

I was born, and grew up, in Zimbabwe, well, Rhodesia as it was pre-1975, which was the year I left at the age of 17, in order to avoid the compulsory draft and the likelihood of my legs getting blown off by a landmine on the Mozambique border.

It was in Cape Town, South Africa, that I spent the next 10 years of my life.  Starting as an apprentice ice cream scooper in my favourite seaside deli and ending up, 10 years later, as a director of a group of renowned delicatessens, with Cape Town’s first in-store bakeries.

I was passionate about my work and devoted myself to it wholeheartedly, living somewhat reclusively with little interest in anything else other than long swims in the exciting and enticing Atlantic Ocean (five minutes from my flat) and days out on my beautiful 1959 BMW motorbike (Put…Put…Put !!!. One of my few regrets in life, selling that beauty!)

So, come 1985, 10 years of devoted and diligent delicatessen duties had me firmly entrenched in my chosen career path but, at the same time, firmly entrenched in my relationship to Rene who had, in turn, become firmly entrenched in the idea that it was time for us to travel. To which I responded with a surprisingly spontaneous agreement, followed by an even more surprisingly spontaneous suggestion of marriage!

Our delightfully relaxed and convivial sea–side wedding took place just three weeks later and within six weeks of our unexpected onslaught of spontaneity, we were packed up, married and away travelling.  We set off for London two days after my 27th birthday.

How did the connection with the Loch Arthur Camphill Community come about and what made you decide to commit to it?

Our journey of discovery kicked off with a visit to my sister Lana who, having lived in a Camphill community in Aberdeen for the previous seven years was now a founding member of the newly-established Loch Arthur Camphill Community in Dumfries and Galloway.  Lana had encouraged us to spend time with them in their exciting and challenging new Community in what felt to be a rather remote, undiscovered but very beautiful corner of South-West Scotland. 

Our weeks spent there in the beautiful spring of 1985 were enticing and delightful but we were not to be deterred from our intention to travel extensively before settling down.  And that we did, until our exceptional journey had to be reined in and cut short when, sitting outside my sister’s house in Oakland, California overlooking the San Francisco Bay with my then five months’ pregnant wife, we resolved, much to our distress, that we needed to call time, be responsible and find somewhere to settle and make home.

Selling the delightful, classic VW Camper Van that had been our home for the past five months on our trans-American/Canadian adventure was a painful decision.  However, needs must and we were soon jetting our way back to the UK ready, or so we thought, to face the responsibilities, rigours, joys and challenges of home making in a new country.

Abandoning our travels and returning to Loch Arthur in November 1985 felt somewhat like a homecoming.  The natural beauty of the grounds and surrounds was both overwhelming and enticing.  The notion of four clearly defined seasons was both intriguing and appealing after growing up in the tropics of Africa – and the clear and rather obvious need for willing and capable hands and minds to help with the building of this new Community appealed to my appreciation of a good challenge.

At the same time, Rene’s concerns and anxieties about having her first child in a completely unknown environment with no family or friends nearby and a yet-to-be discovered social circle, were allayed by the opportunity to join Loch Arthur Community.  A place to live, a place to work and a ready-made circle of family and friends came along with the package. What more could one ask for?

Our months of spontaneous travel had in fact led us to the place that, unbeknown to us, would offer us a new home, a completely different lifestyle and a deep sense of belonging, for the next four decades of our lives.

Can you describe the main elements that make up the life and work of the Loch Arthur Camphill Community?

Camphill Communities have a remarkable history and heritage.

The Camphill Movement began originally in the early 1940s in Aberdeen, establishing communities which recognised and encouraged the enormous potential and possibilities for a full and meaningful life in every person, irrespective of their perceived disabilities and physical or mental impairments. These communities then set out to create the environment in which those people could be encouraged and helped to lead a full and independent life and fulfil the highest aspirations of their destiny, not hampered or hindered by their perceived disabilities.

From those humble beginnings 80 years ago, the Camphill movement has grown to more than 60 communities within the United Kingdom and 150 worldwide, creating opportunities for adults, adolescents and children with learning disabilities to find fulfilment in life, work, study and personal development.

I often look at my meeting with Camphill from the perspective of the trajectory of my entrepreneurial life and work, coinciding with the trajectory of the growing and developing working and economic life of Loch Arthur Community and the Camphill movement as a whole.  Opportunities were boundless for creative, socially minded, entrepreneurial people joining Camphill in those years, because at the core of the ethos in Camphill Adult Communities has always been the creation of meaningful, purposeful, engaging work opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

However, it is important to point out that life within a Camphill Community is by no means just about success on an economic or productive level. It is, in fact, about balance. That is balance between the three spheres of life, as illustrated in “The Threefold Social Order” proposed by Rudolf Steiner, whose teachings and philosophies of the early 1900s were central to the formation of the Camphill model. This “Threefold” approach emphasises the need to balance one’s activities in “The Spiritual Sphere” (guided by an attitude of Freedom in “The Social/Human Sphere of Rights and Responsibilities” (guided by an attitude of Equality) and in  “The Economic/Productive Sphere” (guided by an attitude of Brotherliness).

As Rene and I threw ourselves wholeheartedly into this new adventure, we somehow felt ourselves to be very much at one with the ethos, intentions and philosophies of this new-found way of life that we were committing to.

It interests me that, in hindsight I see very clearly that this approach to community building and a healthy and balanced approach to life was, in fact, a forerunner to the now ubiquitous model of “Social Enterprise”.

I imagine that over the years, your role at Loch Arthur has changed and evolved; can you describe the changing aspects of your work and contribution there? And has this led to a change in the goals of the community over the years? Can you describe its origins, fundamental principles, where they came from and the people it is intended to support?

In the early years (the pioneering years) we just simply did everything (we, being the group of long term, committed co-workers).  We ran houses. We supported, physically, emotionally and practically, a group of people with fairly profound support needs.  We ran farms, gardens and workshops. We attended meetings, morning noon and night. We ran the finances and administration. We rattled and we rolled with the Social Work Department and the various statutory bodies. We designed and built buildings. We produced plays, ran choirs, gave educational talks and raised a total of 19 children, many of whom were home educated for the first several years of their lives.  Yes, life was full;  life was challenging;  life was rich and rewarding.

On a personal level, within two years of arriving at Loch Arthur, Rene and I found ourselves totally immersed in this new-found lifestyle in all its richness and complexity, challenge and reward.

  • We were learning the joys and demands of parenthood and about to give birth to our second child.
  • We were jointly running a Loch Arthur Community household and responsible for the well-being of four “adults with learning difficulties” and two or three young volunteers.
  • I was responsible for the running and development of our newly formed Creamery.
  • I was responsible for the ledgering, budgeting, control and overview of our community finances.
  • I had begun beekeeping and now looked after several hives.
  • I was doing a lot with music. Leading choirs, composing and arranging for plays and festivals.
  • And Rene was cooking regularly in our household, looking after the household accounts, attending no end of various community meetings. And, in her spare time (as was fairly common for a Camphill Co-Worker) raising a family.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that “life was full”, but life was also delightful, creative, diverse and forward-looking.

Undoubtedly, the most engaging and absorbing part of my working life was my role in running and developing the Loch Arthur Creamery.   Cheesemaking became my interest, my challenge and my passion!

I was cautioned by many about how I would manage to balance the needs of a group of fairly challenging individuals (on a number of different levels) with the development of a professionally run Creamery producing a range of quality, artisan cheeses from unpasteurised milk and distributing them all over the UK from Aberdeen to London.

Well, my mantra of aiming for the highest achievable level of capability and fulfilment rather than settling for the lowest common denominator of perceived ability, paid off.

People thrived within the demands and clarity of the strict structures that were put in place to maintain standards; The Creamery thrived within a UK-wide resurgence of artisan cheese-making. New cheeses were developed, new markets found, new connections made and, on a personal level, I thrived on becoming truly “a cheesemaker”.

The original, founding model of Camphill is one in which nobody earns a salary in remuneration for work done. Instead, all give of themselves fully in response to the needs of the community and all of one’s personal and living expenses are taken care of by the Community. Until recently, there were few if any salaried staff.  People joined the community out of a sense of involvement and engagement and gave of themselves as required. There was no headhunting or staff recruitment for someone to take on a particular role.  It was more a case of people being invited to join the community by virtue of their interest and involvement and then seeing what tasks they were well suited to, and what skills and abilities they could bring to the table.

Against such a backdrop, it was remarkable just how high a standard was achieved in the productive aspects of Camphill Village Trust Communities. Wooden toys, pottery, textiles, small furnishings and much more were all sold and distributed widely throughout the UK, as well as being presented at large European trade shows, where they stood their ground against the best available.

This was a wonderful and supportive environment in which for me to develop the creamery, culminating in the award of “Best Food Producer”  in the 2011 BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards. A moment of enormous pride and fulfilment for us all!

On a personal level, I had also become a member of the committee of the “UK Specialists Cheese Makers Association” and felt myself to be truly a cheesemaker.

The creamery grew, along with many other aspects of our community. The original creamery building was replaced by modern, state-of-the-art facilities which took milk from the milking parlour through production, into cheese ripening rooms and stores and away to the ever burgeoning cohort of loyal cheese lovers who made regular visits to our little “Cheese Shop”  at the entrance to the Creamery.  “The Pilgrims” as I used to refer to them.  Here, at the cheese counter, many contacts were made, many friendships were forged and our community found a new place of genuine engagement with the wider community of Dumfries and Galloway.

I am focusing here on the growth of Loch Arthur Creamery, because that was very much my world at that stage.   However, I should mention that much else was growing, expanding and reshaping within the community. More quality and quantity of housing was developed. Our bakery was established. Wood and weaving workshops were established. Our gardening and horticultural work was re-sited into a beautiful new set of buildings and hundreds of square metres of glass house were erected.

The year 2001 saw the heartbreaking ravages of “Foot and Mouth Disease” tearing through farming communities across the country.  We were not spared and, in a dramatic and gut wrenching event, on Friday, 13 April 2001 (Good Friday as it so happened), each and every head of livestock on our farm was sadly and sacrificially slaughtered and removed for incineration. It was an unforgettable moment in the history of our community. So much of the basis of our daily rhythm, our work, our livelihood and the very substance and purpose of the land upon which we lived and functioned, was here one day and gone the next!

Yet if there is one thing that this journey over the last 35 years has taught us, it is that every dark cloud does indeed have a silver lining. Where there is adversity, there is always opportunity for growth and creativity.

It was a long journey back to productivity on our farm but along that journey many elements of our structure (particularly within our working life) began to shift and refocus. On a personal level, I started to reconnect to my training and my passion for food retail and so the first green shoots of a simple “Farm Shop” started to spring up in the small space where, the public could visit our creamery.  From there, my enthusiasm just grew and grew, as did the range of products, the eking out of every square centimetre I could find where we could put another shelf and increase our range and, most importantly, the growth of, and connection to, the burgeoning community of people out there in Dumfries and Galloway who longed for the development of a Farm Shop such as this.

There has been a farm shop at Loch Arthur for a long time, but the development of a purpose-built facility with cafe must have been a huge leap. How did it all come about and is there now any danger that the success of the farm shop and cafe can somehow obscure the underlying principles of the community?

I have been known to recall and recount rather frequently, the tale of the day I said to Rene (probably about 10 years prior to the opening of our new Farm Shop and Café):  “We really need to start a proper Farm Shop here. The kind of place we were dreaming of and planning when we left South Africa”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah” she said “that was when we were thinking of setting up shop in some busy university town or city with a dense population that could support such a venture… But, come on Babs (nickname of fondness). A Farm Shop in Beeswing? Dream on!”.

So, how can I resist the temptation now, when walking past Rene’s burgeoning storeroom with three pallet loads of groceries and crafts waiting to be unpacked and a team of five Loch Arthur residents busily pricing and sorting goods destined for the shelves in our humming Farm Shop and Café (Turnover circa £1.5 million per annum) – to pop my head in and whisper (with no more than a modicum of sarcasm), “Farm Shop in Beeswing? Dream on!”

Was it a huge leap? No, it was a gargantuan leap.

In 2005, we were offered to purchase the Beeswing Church.

“Perfect” I said and I was down there in no time at all.  Measuring, pacing, dreaming, calculating. Counters, cold stores, deliveries, parking, garbage, recycling. “Oh My Gosh!”  The reality struck. If we were going to build a Farm Shop, we were going to need space and plenty of it.  Was it a huge leap? Massive!   And it took us the next four years of debate, of questioning, of considering the potential impact on our Community, of immense confidence and of crippling doubt until, eventually in the autumn of 2009, we committed and we started planning in earnest.  So much to think about, so much to consider.

In April 2011, the builders broke soil and for the following 18 months, we watched our Farm Shop taking shape. What a beautiful building, conceived, designed and constructed with care and attention.

On the 29th November 2012 we opened our doors to an onslaught of hungry customers, glad that the wait was over.    The rest, as they say, is history!

A dear, and very intelligent, friend of mine asked me as we sat one day thinking about the management of this new entity.  “Have you got a name for the project?” “Well” I said “that’s pretty obvious. It will be “Loch Arthur Farm Shop”. “No”, he said “not the name of the business. The name of the project. Something that describes its gesture and intention”. Rather uncharacteristically, there was no hesitation on my part. “Gateway” I responded. This is a gateway project. We are creating the space in which our Community can meet, encounter, interact with and be of service to, the wider community.

Now that I have begun to step back and hand the running of the shop over to the very capable and delightful group of people who look after it day-to-day, I can say, with a fair degree of objectivity.  “This shop is absolutely incredible! It is quite amazing what we have created here and what this shop has come to mean for our community, for the wider community of Dumfries and Galloway and for the world!

The growth of the Farm Shop has brought with it an enormous growth in the number of people employed at Loch Arthur (that is, alongside all the people who live at Loch Arthur and work in and around the shop).

The question has arisen frequently in recent management meetings at Loch Arthur of how we are going to stem the rather prolific growth that we have seen in the Farm Shop over the past years and is it starting to be too large an entity and overwhelming the life of our community.

Tricky one, that is. It is somehow entrenched within our DNA that “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

What has the Loch Arthur Camphill Community meant to you personally and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of working in a community of this kind? 

Has this all been easy? Not at all! Has this been a non-stop, blissful cooperation of a well aligned group of co-workers with a unanimous voice and a common sense of direction?   Not quite!

However, what it has been is action and growth through the unrelenting efforts of an “Intentional Community” united in, and driven by, a commonly felt, and somewhat altruistic determination to build community (in the truest sense of the word). And in some small way, to make a difference in the world and improve the quality of people’s lives.

In the words of a recently departed dear friend who lived as a Camphill Co-Worker for most of his adult life:  “what an honour to have been part of this wonderful social experiment!”

Have I been happy to have been part of that journey for the past 35 years of my life?

Absolutely! I couldn’t have asked for more. And yet I have got more. And more. And more!  And even now, in my early 60s and despite knowing that I will live the rest of my life with a degenerative condition, I feel enormous gratitude for the life I have been able to lead and a peculiar sense of joyful enthusiasm for the years that lie ahead.

Would I recommend anyone else to take up life in a community like this? Yes, of course I would. It is a wonderful way of life (if that’s what you make of it). It is demanding, it is all-consuming, it is rich and varied, it asks so much of you and yet has so much to offer you.  It gives you the opportunity to shape the world you live in.

I am reminded of an article I once read, regarding the United States of America.

It started with an image of the Statue of Liberty on the east coast –  the first thing you would see on arrival in this land of freedom and opportunity. It concluded with a recommendation that they now erect a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast, as a simple reminder that “ There is no freedom without responsibility!”

For more information about The Loch Arthur Community, see:

https://locharthur.org.uk/

For more on Barry’s stellar reputation as a cheesemaker, see:

Barry Graham of Loch Arthur – one of the pioneers of the British Cheese revival

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/jul/05/foodanddrink.matthewfort

The Big Cheeses Are Coming To Dumfries & Galloway

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017ckf7 (listen from minute 46)

Published by David Graham Clark

I am a sociologist and writer. Pieces on this site include reflective writings, stories, and memoir on aspects of daily life, along with associated images and videos. In these various ways I try to illuminate what I call the quotidian world, particularly my own.

2 thoughts on “Barry Graham and the spirit of Loch Arthur

  1. Hi David

    I enjoyed reading your latest post. We have a Camphill Community in Malton which has a number of workshops and also runs a very good cafe and shop, staffed by some of the “residents”. We have a felted picture from the shop and a very long mat in the bathroom, made to order, soon after moving in. My first experience of Camphill was visiting Botton Hall when we were on our honeymoon.

    All is well here. Just the two of us for Christmas. Leigh’s mum has priority for visiting Enfield, as she has had to limit her visits the last few months due to surgery and radiotherapy. We will visit them in the new year.

    Seasonal greetings to you both

    Janice

    Like

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview Janice. It’s been very popular! I’m off to Loch Arthur to pick up the Christmas order in the morning. Always a nice experience!
      A very happy Christmas to you and Peter
      David

      Like

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