Even with our enlightened attitudes today, people with learning disabilities are often marginalised. But there is an international community, founded by Catholics in France, which welcomes people with learning disabilities and brings them to the centre of things, including into the heart of the Church where they wish this. It is called L’Arche (The Ark).
The approach of L’Arche is to create small communities of people, with and without disabilities who live together and recognise and nurture one another’s gifts and qualities. The aim is to integrate people as much as possible into their locality not only by social and practical access, but also by forming friendships and links that endure and support people spiritually and emotionally.
Such an open attitude can be liberating for all involved. Founded in 1964 near Compiègne, in Northern France by Jean Vanier, and, 10 years later in the UK, by Thérèse, his sister, L’Arche now has 147 communities in 35 countries, spread over five continents. For the past 11 years, there is a thriving L’Arche community in the Diocese of East Anglia – in Ipswich.
The original community in Ipswich, “The Cornerstone”, is set in an attractive house in a leafy part of town and is a welcoming home rather than an institution. The seven house members, all local and with varying degrees of learning disabilities are known as Core Members. Their eight support workers, most of whom live with them, are called Assistants. Enthusiastic and open people – many are young – they come from all over the world. They are well-trained and competent in caring but also enjoy the fun side of a shared life. Assistants and Core Members share their faith, pray and celebrate together, socialise and holiday together and there is a varied programme of work for the Core Members among other local projects and enterprises.
A number of satellite communities are being developed, some smaller, encouraging people to develop their independence. L’Arche Ipswich is also developing a courtyard community on a recently purchased site in Ipswich and needs people as assistants (possibly on a gap-year or sabbatical), volunteers, fund-raisers, accompaniers and supporters of all kinds. Please contact: