The First Two Residents of Camphill MK

We want to share a profoundly inspirational story about the very first two Camphill MK residents – Nigel and Mervyn.

Nigel was a resident at the Delrow Community but chose to come to Milton Keynes to help set up the new community in 1980 and be considered a founder member. He initially lived in the recycling shop in Olney with the first co-workers before moving to Oberlin once the community had acquired the Pennyland Houses. Nigel was something of a celebrity, and his story is quite an astonishing one that deserves to be told!

Nigel lived with Down Syndrome, which was often associated with severe intellectual disability and shorted life spans, often resulting in them being admitted to institutions or separated from society. Nigel had a very dedicated parent who taught him to read and write at a young age and even encouraged him to keep diaries. In 1967 while he was living in a Camphill Community, he wrote a book called “Diary of a Mongoloid Youth” (the accepted term for those living with Down Syndrome was indeed “Mongoloid” not so long ago). In the same year he was also the subject of a BBC Documentary called “The Special World of Nigel Hunt” (you can still watch it here). Given that this was the 60s, a person living with down syndrome having a book and documentary published was quite remarkable.

There is still some information about Nigel online – in particular, an account from one of the owners of the recycling shop who recalled:

“It was our good fortune that Nigel came to work with us when the Camphill Village Trust was setting up a new community in Milton Keynes during 1980-81. Nigel stayed for nearly a year but in his own modest way it was some time before we discovered he’d written a book, and even longer before we were able to obtain a copy of it as the library was out of print. It seemed to us that this book was in urgent need of recycling. Nigel made an enormous difference to the working of the company.”

Nigel stayed with the new community for a few years before moving to Ireland in the mid-80s, but it’s interesting to note that CMKC’s first resident was in fact, a bit of a celebrity – pretty remarkable.

The other resident was Mervyn Thomas. Mervyn was a keen gardener and would role up to the Michael’s Akyre garden most mornings asking what he could do to help or decide for himself what needed doing, grab a hoe and head off to do his own thing. He was like the Community’s benevolent uncle and was adored by everyone. John H, a former co-worker, shared an amazing story about Mervyn, which is recounted below.

Mervyn could become a bit grumpy now and again and could be heard muttering to himself in a somewhat disgruntled manner. When asked what was up, he would mumble something about a “trophy” or “I should have won that trophy, you know”. It was difficult to get to the bottom of this story, which had clearly upset him a great deal at some point. One of his unique gifts was the ability to play the saw with a violin bow. He could sometimes be persuaded to play on special occasions, and some eerily beautiful and ethereal tunes would drift out from his ever flexing saw. No one was quite sure, but it was assumed that Mervyn had taken part in a talent contest where he had played his saw at some time in his past. Somehow he had narrowly missed winning the top prize, a silver trophy. Mervyn suspected that there had been something underhand about the judging process and he felt somehow cheated by the result. It had clearly bothered him ever since.

When the pace of life at CMKC eventually became too much, he moved to a retirement home on the coast. Before leaving CMKC, he was presented with a surprise gift from the Community at his retirement party. What else but a silver trophy! The look on Mervyn’s face was priceless; a satisfied grin split his face from ear to ear. An ancient injustice had been put to rights. Mervyn remained fondly remembered for many years by all who knew him. When he died, some years later, his photograph was the first to be placed on the wall in the CMKC hall.

Both men have sadly passed away now, but they are an important part of our legacy and history and will be familiar names to many of our older residents.

Pictures: Nigel Hunt’s book, Mervyn playing the saw bow and Nigel and Mark Skinner in Oberlin.

Categories Blog/Camphill History/Camphill life/Features/Residents

Post Author: Alicja McCarthy

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Camphill Milton Keynes Communities, Japonica Lane, Willen Park, Milton Keynes, MK15 9JY.

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