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News > General > John Young and the Glencraig Community

John Young and the Glencraig Community

Former Sullivan Headmaster John Young discusses his involvement with the Camphill Community at Glencraig.
11 May 2022

Image caption: Glencraig's Head of School, Patricia McIlhone, Head of Social Care Fiona Robinson, Paul Betts and John Young pictured at a C03 Awards Ceremony.

Hard to believe for those of us he presided over that it has been almost 25 years since former Sullivan Headmaster John Young retired. However these days, he’s very actively involved in the Camphill Community at Glencraig, where he is Chair of the Management Council.

In fact, the Sullivan connection to Glencraig is strong. As well as John’s involvement, Paul Betts, the organisation’s first Chief Executive, who was appointed just over 3 years ago, is a former pupil of the school (Class of 83).  A number of other ex-pupils are involved in the charity and indeed John Frost, another former Sullivan Headmaster, was also a trustee of Camphill.

You may have passed the Glencraig Community, nestled between the woodland and sea at Seahill, but are perhaps unsure about what it is or what goes on there. It’s a wholesome, peaceful and secluded setting, occupying a large site with a series of building styles, wooded areas, a market garden, barns and a farm.

Camphill Communities

Camphill is a world-wide movement dedicated to building communities where everyone can find purpose and belonging. The first Camphill community was founded in Aberdeen in 1939 and members found their purpose living and working with children with learning disabilities, most of whom came to Scotland as refugees avoiding the rise of Nazism, and who at the time were excluded from education and many other dimensions of society.

Camphill has created communities where the individuality and potential of even profoundly challenged children were developed.  Glencraig was the first Camphill Community in Northern Ireland when it was established in 1954 and the core work includes a School, a Children’s’ Home, 12 Adults’ Residential Homes, a Day Care Centre, and range of Day Opportunity activities, all for those with special needs, learning difficulties, autism or other health challenges.

There are now more than 100 Camphill communities all over the world and in addition to caring for each other, those living within the Camphill centres also care for the land and the environment around them.

John Young and the Glencraig Community

John Young’s involvement with Glencraig came about entirely by accident.

“I had been involved with chairing the Holywood Music Committee for a number of years and through that met a man named Bill Lockhart who was the Chair of the Management Council at Glencraig at the time.

“He asked me if I would be interested in joining - they wanted someone on board with an educational background – and, while I’d driven past Glencraig many, many times, I never really knew much about it.

I came on board around 7 or 8 years ago, and I’ve been there ever since”

Glencraig was the first and is the largest of four Camphill Communities in Northern Ireland. It has some 50 residents, mainly adults and young adults, although in recent years it has opened a children’s home. It also offers a school and day services for a further 30 children and adults and operates an organic farm and market garden which serve to feed the residents and staff within the community.

“It’s extraordinary and really very hard to understand why it works, but it does, and it plays a hugely important role by providing care and attention for people who might otherwise be very challenging for families to cope with at home.

“A lot of that has to do with the approach which is welcoming, individualised, focused on care and life-long learning, but also committed to encouraging activity.

“Residents are able to work within the community, on the farm for example, or in the gardens and can often acquire a significant amount of responsibility and develop a sense of pride in what they do.

“Glencraig enables them to live as full as life as possible with a purpose.”


Funding & Staffing

The organisation has charitable status, and is funded through individuals being placed by one of the Health and Social Care Trusts or by the Education Authority which refers children to the school.

“We are the last port of call for the Education Authority. Typically a child or young person with severe learning difficulties will end up in a special educational unit within a school or in a special school, but if the school can’t cope, Glencraig is the next option.

“The Health and Social Care Trusts are very interested in placing people with us, particularly within the children’s home, and we could probably fill this several times over.”

Glencraig employs around 300 staff as well as a small number of co-workers who were the original founding family of the community. Co-workers are not paid or employed but instead work, for example, as a House Leader, looking after residents, in exchange for bed and board.

However, the number of co-workers in Glencraig is in decline.

“We used to be able to recruit co-workers from continental Europe fairly easily but because of regulation changes and Covid that’s become much more difficult, so we have fewer of them and a growing employed staff team."

Glencraig’s other challenges relate to funding, much the same as any school or social care activity, where what they need to provide the care that is expected is often greater than what they receive.

How do they bridge the gap?

“We manage resources very carefully.

“We’ve recently taken on responsibility for our own maintenance and repairs which we can do much more efficiently than our landlord was able to do. We also have a dedicated fundraiser and we look at ways of developing our services so we can meet the needs of the Health and Social Care Trusts as best we can.”

Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Awards 2022

Glencraig was recently shortlisted as a finalist in both the Care Home of the Year (Adults & Children’s) and Day Care Service of the Year at the 2022 Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Awards.

The awards are designed to recognise the huge amount of good work that is carried out across Northern Ireland by staff from the National Health Service, the Health Trusts, the Voluntary & Community Sectors, and the Private Sector, who together make up our Health and Social Care system.

Being shortlisted in itself was a great recognition of the value and respect that others place on Glencraig and the icing on the cake came when the Day Care Service was runner up in its award category, receiving a Highly Commended Certificate,

For more information or to support the work of the Glencraig Community, please visit

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