HIGH up on the North York Moors the heather has been particularly beautiful in recent weeks.

Its purple hues hit you once the road climbs out of Hutton-le-Hole, then over Blakey Ridge you go, passing the remote Lion Inn that some think is the best place in the world to head to when snow threatens in the hope of getting snowed in. Back in the winter of 2010 seven people were trapped in the warmth of the 16th century pub for eight days and nobody was complaining too much.

But further along the ridge, past Ralph’s Cross which folklore has it was erected as a wayfarer for travellers, there’s a narrow single-track road off to the right which drops with stomach-curdling steepness down into Danby Dale.

And it is here, down in the dale bottom where I would head to as my snowbound port in a storm, for here is the village of Botton. But it’s more than just a village. For almost 60 years it has been a bustling community where able-bodied volunteers have devoted their lives to providing an environment that enables people with learning disabilities and other special needs to accomplish things in their lives that would otherwise be difficult or impossible.

Run by the Camphill Village Trust, home life is provided in an extended family setting in a number of houses, with the volunteers – called co-workers - providing succour and support to those with special needs who are treated and looked after as part of the family. In return for providing this precious family life, co-workers get their accommodation and living expenses paid.

The trust’s philosophy has always been that each member of the community has their own unique capability that they contribute to the life of the village.

So they might work on the village farms or in the shop, the bakery or café. They could be found in the village creamery – which incidentally is producing amazing cheeses currently much in demand by Yorkshire chefs and delis – or perhaps the bookshop, sawmill or craft shop. But wherever they go in the village, whatever they contribute, the Camphill ethos allows everyone to offer something of themselves to the community, bringing dignity, self worth and achievement.

Now all this appears to be under threat. Co-workers – many of who have devoted their lives to Botton, bringing up their own families here while providing a family home to those with special needs – are being told their voluntary role will disappear and some of them will taken on as employees. Those who aren’t will have to leave the village.

Villagers will apparently be encouraged to live more independently with paid shift-working care staff taking care of their needs. The fear is that out will go the family home philosophy and in its place will come a hostel-like doctrine similar to the care in the community provision we see in our towns and cities.

And the real foreboding is that ultimately Botton itself will disappear as a result. Paid care workers and managers take over, family homes are broken up, the sharing philosophy ebbs away and the village’s self-sufficiency vanishes. If that happens Botton is therefore no longer required and this beautiful, potentially lucrative 650-acre parcel of land is sold. For many, it doesn’t bear thinking about and some see this as the real reason behind the proposals.

Conversely there are those that say Botton needs to change, that those with special needs should be more empowered, with an increased focus on independence and greater control over their lives. And that the way to do this is to have paid for care staff on hand or on call, with more self-reliant living being encouraged, so that those with special needs have a stronger voice in their communities.

But whatever your point of view the awful, unforgiveable thing is that this has now turned into a battle. There’s evidence of mud-slinging with details of the co-workers’ living expenses apparently being used to paint them as free-loaders, allegations of pictures being taken of co-workers attending a public meeting called to fight the proposed changes, and villagers being told they couldn’t take part in a candle-lit protest vigil until lawyers stepped in.

It’s all got very bitter and recriminatory, which is desperately sad because in the middle of all this are the people for whom Botton was created. Many of the villagers are said to be unhappy, confused and frightened by the planned changes, for their world is shifting off its axis and the distress it’s causing is palpable. But in the clamour their voice isn’t being heard. And it is they more than anyone that needs to be listened to.