Back to school? Not this time!
For many of us a new academic year starts in early September. It signals fresh beginnings, therefore resolutions, pledges and promises to be a better student or teacher are expressed. As a secondary trained teacher I’ve experienced this for long enough for it to have become a routine. This year, however, the new term hails something different.
It’s time I graduated! Ahead of me lies some serious research into whether an aspiration to build a low impact house and provide for my basic needs off the land is not only possible for me, but also an enriching way of life. Or is it just a mad pipe dream? This research is not the sit at a lap top type but a far more unfamiliar thing: can I go outdoors daily - month after month, learn to manage woodland and chop and store wood? Can I learn to tend livestock, tend crops, harvest and process quantities of food much greater than I am used to? Can I cope with off grid power? Can I learn the skills of house building? Can I earn enough cash from a micro enterprise from the land? The yield from this academic year is not just “Can I? But do I really, really want to?” And the only way to find out is to get away from this blessed lap top, my email account and a Google search engine.
My experience of transition has been slow and relatively gentle but change there has been for sure. I no longer want to work in places that are contrary to the basic premise of “earth care, people care”. Over the last five years that gentle change has included getting an allotment, keeping chickens, joining the education group in Transition City Lancaster, supporting the running of the film programme and facilitating the 100 mile meal project. De-cluttering the house of stuff and limiting all consumption of new stuff, undertaking a domestic energy review and transferring to a renewable electricity company, undertaking a financial review and transferring savings to the Ecology Building Society. But a further reaching transition has been to explore right livelihood and disconnect the links between borrowing for a roof, over-working and travelling long distances to work. A low carbon future means all of this has to change. How?
One way has been to research low impact, self build housing, and intentional communities. Last year my partner Rob and I visited Lammas in Pembrokeshire; a pioneering eco-village which had struggled to gain planning permission using One Planet Development Policy; a Welsh mainstream policy which allows building in rural areas if it is evident that the ecological footprint of the dweller is reduced from 4.4 hectares to 1.9 hectares and that basic needs can be met from the land. Paul Wimbush’s new book “The Birth of an Eco Village” catalogues his story and persistence to reverse the usual trend of off grid communities to apply for planning permission retrospectively.
Lammas gave Rob and I good insight into planning policy and an understanding of how to plan a small 4/5 acre plot. This way seemed to offer both Rob and I a way forward to connected home and livelihoods that are truly ethical and that we can afford. We left not only with the confidence that we could do it, an acceptance that we would move to Wales but also a commitment to a group of other like minded people to meet again and discuss ways forward.
This year has been a year of great optimism, new friendships and the hard work that building a new organisation involves. We worked through a shared vision, a basis of unity, got training and explored consensus decision making, researched building regs, set up a website for internal discussion. We kept the group closed and focused and we chose a name “ Bedwen” Welsh for Silver Birch. We set up as an unincorporated organisation. We searched for land. At the end of our year we are now two groups labelled the Southwest Wales group and the Borders. This summer we organised a group volunteer project and built a compost loo at Monkton Wyld Court. A much needed hands on antidote to a 12 month transition from a dream to a more defined vision which came about largely by long meetings and lots of talking.
Back to school: As the kids don their new uniforms and write their new date on their new exercise book it is my intention to stay away from the classroom. But I continue to make some September pledges; to develop a much more physical relationship with nature, to explore a low impact life, and to get the hell off this computer!
We will start to volunteer on farms and in communities from mid September.
If you know of Land for Sale: 10- 50 acres of mixed pasture and woodland with a spring, in Wales, please contact me: email@example.com
Experience week and Eco Village Conference at: http://www.lammas.org.uk/
For an analysis of ‘OnePlanetDevelopment/ TAN 6’ try The Land Autumn 2010 or of course Google it!
Photographs: Putting the roof on the compost loo (Gwen) Gwen on new shingle roof and Compost Loo Monkton Wyld (both Rob Oakey)
Guest Blogger: Gwen Sanderson resigned this summer after 15 years as an English/Special Needs teacher. Originally from Cumbria she lived in Leeds for 12 years and undertook an MA in Global Sociology in 2005 at MMU. She lives with Rob Oakey in Lancaster.