The £300 house at Glastonbury... maybe we can
I've just returned from a week in Glastonbury, where on the outskirts of a festival so enormous and brightly lit it resembles a city, and far away from the pumping rock music stages, all night dance tents and shiny neon bars, I found, in a quiet and beautiful corner, the permaculture area and the £300 house. The house was made from local logs, reclaimed materials and windows found in a skip. On its roof was a stunning edible garden in full bloom. It was a lovely example of permaculture in action, not words or theory on a page but a real home you could live in, in a corner of a festival of the wonderfully wild and unreal; a solid edge to the spectacle.
The house reminded me of some of the examples in 'The Power of Just Doing Stuff' received in the post a few days before I set off. The book is a why, what and how to guide of the Transition Movement, but even simpler than the Handbook or Companion, and packed with examples from all around the world of real life projects where people have - in some cases with little previous know-how or experience to equip them - changed the energy supply of their town to renewables, changed their livelihoods for a more local and sustainable one, or set up thriving food growing spaces, grain mills, bakeries - all without waiting for governments to do it for them. Like the house I saw at Glastonbury Transition is about showing people what can be done and how great it can be, and then giving them the tools to do it themselves.
I returned from Glastonbury to a full inbox, including an update from Eleanor who coordinates the Whittington Hospital food growing project. The Whittington approached Transition Dartmouth Park just over a year ago to see if we would like some of their land to grow food on. We went to meet them but made it clear that we were about getting people to learn to do it for themselves, and if we were to grow food on the hospital site, then staff (and ideally patients) would need to be involved. So they let us come and do a permaculture talk and a design workshop and publicised it to their staff. Following this there was a lull as we waited for the hospital to agree to put in raised beds. In the meantime Mary from Transition Highgate, and I took Eleanor, the Whittington's sustainability coordinator, to visit Edible Landscapes London - the permaculture plant nursery run by Transition Finsbury Park. It's an amazing project run mostly by volunteers and packed with beautiful perennial plants. Eleanor was inspired and raring to go, and took away some plants to get started.
While waiting for the hospital to get moving the keen group of Whittington staff began growing food in a raised bed in the nearby Waterlow Park Kitchen Garden. Since then the hospital site has come under threat from being sold-off, and although there is still the possibility of food growing in the meantime, it's a slow moving process. But the growing group is thriving, and Eleanor wrote in her update:
"Our garden is flourishing and I can see gooseberries, strawberries, nasturtiums, potatoes, carrots and radishes. They will be ready to pick for our salads very soon! I've just watered the plants. There is now a note and pen in a plastic bag so we can note down when we've been there and keep an eye on watering. It looks like it could be weeded but, er, I have no idea what are weeds and what are plants. Let me know if you can go up there and keep it nice."
In a couple of weeks the Whittington group's raised bed will form part of our Transition Dartmouth Park food growing walk - also taking in the primary school growing project we began, a secret garden, a local council estate food project, and ending with a shared lunch in the once overgrown and disused garden of our community centre. We transformed it last year into a thriving growing space, and with no money, some old floorboards, free municipal compost and donated plants, seeds and lots of kind advice, we produced food. Like the projects highlighted in the book, it's intention was to show people who much we can just do, and how we can learn as we do it.
The book is a fantastic tool for us and for others just embarking on this journey. We'll use it for ideas we haven't thought of yet, to raise our level of ambition as we see what communities across the globe, can and have achieved. And everytime someone says 'we can't', we can open up the book and say 'but look what others did... maybe we can'.
Images: 1. £300 permaculture house at Glastonbury; 2. Edible Landscapes London; 3. Whittington gardening club