How I Work in Community

March 22, 2017 by

When meeting people for the first time, I’m usually asked what I do for a living. When I say that I work in a furniture factory, you can almost see their eyes glaze over. The work is pretty much exactly what you would imagine it to be: drilling holes in wood, sanding, varnishing, driving screws, packing boxes. Building furniture is what we do to make a living at the Darvell community. It’s our one horse, and the factory where we produce the furniture is a place where everyone who lives at Darvell needs to be able to come and find a place to participate.

After some years of practice I have found that it is possible to get excited about manufacturing. Mention a term like “lean manufacturing,” “vertical integration,” or “vendor-managed inventory,” and I could talk about it at some length. I’ve learned not to.

two men talking together in one of the Community Playthings wood shops

What is infinitely more interesting are the people who work in our factory. In an environment where people of all ages and abilities come together there is a lot of opportunity for personalities to clash, and there are times I find it difficult to keep a straight face. Conversations similar to the one quoted below are fairly typical:

“Come over here and look at the finish on this pile of parts. Do you know what this is? This is, basically, crap. When we send out parts of this quality, our message to our customers is: WE KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, AND WE DON’T CARE.”
“Well, I’m not so sure the parts are that bad, they just look a bit ugly. We don’t make luxury furniture, we make high-quality furniture. The parts are functional; they’re not going to break.”
“Come off it! Our sales people keep telling buyers, ‘Come to us, we know quality, we’re the best there is’ and then we send them stuff that looks like the north end of a southbound horse.”
“Talk to Jim about it. He looked at the parts with me and said they were fine.”
“Jim! Jim is to quality what Genghis Khan is to childcare!”

Like any other work department within our community, we learn quickly what kinds of work different people gravitate to, what work they shy away from, and what things are likely to drive them up the wall. Pete finds it incomprehensible if the work instructions are not in order, Amy can’t understand why the young men don’t tuck their shirts in, Roger will not tolerate any kind of mess left in his work area. This is the coal face of community life; it is impossible to avoid people, so the challenge is how to get beyond frustration to tolerance, then acceptance, and finally to affection. It is not something which comes easily or naturally. I would say that learning to love people within a close community is nothing but the grace of God.

It’s an easy thing to take for granted; the love between us is not something we think a lot about and one can forget it in the day-to-day grind, but there are times when it comes forcefully home. Some years ago I went through an intense personal crisis. I remember days when it was all I could do to get to my work place in the factory and start in. The things that meant most to me in those days were the small expressions of care: someone going out of their way to say good morning, someone sharing a candy bar with me, a friendly smile – all just about enough to bring me to tears.

Arriving at work one day I found this quote from Philippians 3 taped to the machine I was using:

Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Amen. It’s about more than building furniture.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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    Frans Baatenburg