The community that prays together, plays together

The catalogue for Community Playthings pictures the usual happy children, playing building blocks and posing on nursery furniture. What is unusual is the way the children are dressed: the little boys in checked shirts and braces, the girls in pinafore dresses and tie-on caps. The occasional smiling, supervisory mother is wearing an almost identical outfit to her little girl, white socks and sensible shoes included.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that women do not look their best with a middle parting and a kerchief tied firmly under the chin, but personal vanity is not high on the list of the Bruderhof community, who make Community Playthings. Founded in 1920, the movement harks back to early Protestant Anabaptists called the Hutterites who, in turn, were influenced by Biblical Christians who had lived communally and pooled all their resources. No one in the present-day Bruderhofs has a personal income. The movement started off in Germany, fell out with Hitler, moved to Paraguay, and has ended up as six communities in North America and two in southern England. The German influence is still there in the communities' style of dress, architecture and food. At the Darvell community, in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, there is even a German-speaking hotline to take orders direct from Germany. The second language in the community's school is German.

Down the road in Nonington, Kent, they make foam play-mats and blocks, but at Darvell - an old TB sanitorium - they concentrate on wooden products, made with maple imported from North America. Given that the men who work together in the factory also eat and worship together, as well as live within yards of each other, the management style is unusual. "The first responsibility of the shop foreman and his assistant," says Mr Boucher, "is to ensure that there is a brotherly working together in the shop. Peace, unity and love are important. There are no class divisions between management and the floor. We don't talk behind people's backs and we speak up against it if we have that". In the US, the Bruderhof communities have diversified into making equipment for disabled people (the Rifton range), dog-rearing and even run a charter jet (left over from when they had a community in Nigeria). At Darvell, they make only Community Playthings, though they handle Rifton sales and a publishing house, The Plough.

As well as the workshop, full of bearded, checky-shirted men turning out climbing frames and dollies' cradles for worldwide orders, there is a design team working on new ideas. "This is the life blood of our community," says Mr Boucher. "We have to have new products." The Woodcrest community in America has just designed "a major breakthrough in children's furniture", the Woodcrest Chair: a stackable one-piece maple-ply chair designed not to tip over when sat on by a restless child. At Darvell, they are working on a new "home-corner", a mini unit for playing mummies and daddies. The toys and furniture have to be hard-wearing as, not surprisingly, the community lays great emphasis on its children, and large families are encouraged (Mr Boucher has four children). As most of the grown-up "brothers and sisters" work on the site, babies are sent to the community daycare creche (the "sisters" collect them and the other young children for an hour at home after lunch). The children progress together from the creche to year nine, after which they go to the local state school. Until then, they are perfect on-site testers for new products being developed in the workshop, and the schoolrooms are furnished with Community Plaything products.

It looks rather fun to be a child at the Darvell school, with acres of safe grounds in which to run about, lovely wooden toys to play with and intricate climbing frames to tackle. When I visited the community, the dining hall (the Bruderhofs eat together at least once a day) had been beautifully decorated by the children with flowers. At lunch, after a cheerfully harmonic hymn or two, silence was maintained while a community leader read aloud a children's story.

Life must be a little harder when the children leave Darvell school and trot down the hill in their frumpy pinafores and headsquares to encounter the outside world at the local secondary school (there are no televisions or radios at Darvell), though Mr Boucher assured me that the community's children are very much accepted by the locals. Teenage "dating" is not allowed by the Bruderhof ("We want to avoid the hurt that comes with dating"), and courtship between members of the community occurs only after baptism (usually in the early twenties), under the watchful eye of both parents and community leaders. It goes without saying that sex before marriage and remarriage after divorce are no-nos.

"We would not seek marriage outside the community," says Mr Boucher. "A community of faith is very important... though it has to be 100 per cent voluntary." To the Bruderhof, it would seem that Community Playthings' wooden bricks build more than castles, towers and bridges: they build lives.

Catalogues for Community Playthings and Rifton Equipment can be ordered from Darvell, Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5DR, freephone 0800-387457 and 0800-387531 respectively, or fax 01580-882 250.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments