Exciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester. The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities. He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.
He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment. So the psychological damage of this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends. And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting. The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.
A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them. From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless. As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break. However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday. Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach. It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!