It’s a cold Scottish May in 1939. Picture a small but dedicated group of Austrian refugees, living and working in a manse, without electricity or heating, on a bleak, windy hill outside Aberdeen. Some of them are Jewish, escaping inevitable war in their country. But they have come here for a specific purpose – to live with, care for and educate children with additional support needs, at a time when such children were excluded from society.
This manse, Kirkton House near Insch, Aberdeenshire, was kindly rented for the refugees by a Mr and Mrs Haughton, providing them with accommodation and food from the gardens. Shortly after settling here, the men in the group were interned as “enemy aliens” in the Isle of Man and Canada, while the women continued caring for the children. A year after moving into Kirkton House, with the help of a loan from a Mr W. F. Macmillan, on June 1, 1940 they purchased what is now Camphill campus. This date is now recognised as Camphill’s birthday. When the men finally returned to the new site, the community was active and thriving, with about 12 children working, living and learning with the group of refugees.
As one of the first places in the UK to dedicate itself solely to educating and caring for children with additional support needs, favourable publicity from the press earned Camphill interest, approval and respect from the local people of Aberdeen and beyond. This led to people from all over the world wishing to send their children to Camphill and to work and live here.
Over the years, Camphill acquired more land in Aberdeen and across the UK in order to set up new communities where children and young people with additional support needs can be supported to live a meaningful and purposeful life. This then started to grow worldwide. The Camphill worldwide movement – which now has over 100 independent Camphill centres in 20 countries supporting thousands of people – all started here in Aberdeen. This is something that we believe Aberdeen should be proud of.