We are now gathering information, proposals, finance and people together to promote and develop similar projects beyond the realms of wishful thinking, sidestepping the obstacles woven by privilege, poverty and our hijacked democracy to prevent us creating a sustainable foundation to survive the coming times.
There is now a forum available to collate and promote all this here, by registering with the Hartwood forum you are also subscribed to our mailing list to receive news and info, and can also wade in and contribute if you wish, helping each other to stand up on our own two feet in a world seemingly frozen in the headlights of an onrushing environmental meltdown that looms ever closer.
I first wrote about these ideas more than twenty years ago, short articles like these below, and it has been fascinating to watch similar ideas sprouting everywhere, almost as if some psychic farmer scattered her seeds across the globe, to take root wherever they found fertile soil. Also at that time I had managed no practical experience of eco-building, low-impact or otherwise, but the vision resonates ever more powerfully as the future darkens.
At the bottom of the page are some links to similar projects in the UK currently trying to manifest. Check them out, Lammas in particular is very close to reality, but is struggling with a duplicitous and obstructive planning department, despite enthusiastic support from the Welsh National Assembly, who want all Welsh councils to adopt similar low-impact planning policies as the one Pembrokeshire is trying to strangle at birth. Bodhi I volunteer with, they are actively seeking to purchase a planning authority approved site in central Scotland. Your support for these and similar projects would be welcomed by them.
BOLDNESS IS IN THE BEGINNING.
So said Goethe.... and it surely must be true, to judge by the many who dream of a better way of life, to somehow rest more easily upon our Mother, and on each other. It's a powerful feeling, it feels good. For me, it means leaving Gaia richer than you found her - she gave you life, you give her love. And there are as many ways of loving her as there are people to hurt her.
There is so much talk though. So many words borne on the backs of disappearing forests; all the facts, the exhortations, the suggested solutions, but little that seems to be wholly done, still less at an affordable price! I've long dreamed of living in a house which lived in a hillside, peeping out from among the rocks and the turf - no idea why, but it's been with me since I was a child, Over the years I've learnt to call it earth-sheltered, and added refinements, such as passive solar heating, biofuels etc. And around that house I'd like some neighbours, friendly folk who don't mind being asked to go away for while. Folk with children, because children bring a place alive. And though god forbid it should be peopled with clones of my intolerable self, still I would like my neighbours to share a common ground of sorts, like learning to rest lightly but richly upon our planet.
Our children are important always, but especially now, when the world they will live in, the world we will leave for them, is so fragile and unpredictable. I don't know all the answers, but I do know what I feel called to do with this life - it's to give this dream a chance; once seen working, others will also try.
For me, community is not involuntarily exploring someone else's taste in music at three o'clock in the morning. It's more like a village. One spread across a forested mountainside, with no wheeled traffic amongst the houses. Many would work the forest garden, others would work away, or from home, perhaps by wind-powered computer - as they pleased, and some all of these. Who knows? If it was alive, it would grow the right way of itself, needing from us not so much guidance as attentiveness. And a willingness to reach consensus, to listen openly, and decide through agreement, not through power.
Money and power seem to go together. There is no space here to go into details, and other ideas are needed, but here are a few basic essentials, as I see them: Big hills give you certain inbuilt advantages; gravity for water supply, hydro power, good sites for wind power and partially earth-sheltered housing. Clean air, water and cheap land, You can buy a sizeable hillside plantation for around two hundred and fifty pounds ($400) an acre. Say fifty acres bought between 10 households, could be paid with a rent of £5 ($8) a week each for the first six years till the land is bought outright. Better than that would be a rent of £10-15 ($18-30) a week, with the surplus going to form a common fund, for purchasing common necessities, like fencing materials, a hydro, a Land-Rover (Jeep), whatever is agreed. It'll be self-build housing, with free wood and stone to hand, and if you're unwilling to learn new skills, you could hire others living there, but you must support your home as your own possession, your own committment to making the place work.
I do not believe we can in justice, lay claim to own this earth. We can only borrow it from the future. But the things we make, or buy, do belong to us, and are our responsibility all down the line. Once bought, the land itself would belong to no individual, but to a legal body comprising every adult living there. The rent paid for the bare plots, would continue as a common fund. Things purchased or maintained by tbe common fund belong to everyone and are subject to agreed uses. Your home, or your orchard, for instance, can be sold individually should you wish to move, or leave, but the land stays with the community. Everyone pays into the common fund for the privilege of using their patch; and all receive back the full benefit of that fund equally - for the earth belongs to all of us, and none of us - if we are honest.
Permaculture would play an essential part, creating an environment rich in beauty and usefulness. Replacing the pineforest with hardwoods, coppice, stone fruits, terraces, fishponds, workshops... who knows? You might saunter home from the shops in your ox-cart, and settle down to watch your hydro-powered satellite TV before stepping down to the whole-health centre to treat your patients. Those who prefer to work the land will rent as much of it as they need, and sell their products to those who don't, both in and outwith the village. The same for other products and services, healthcare, woodware, construction skills, textiles, repairs and recycling - whatever. The overall layout and outline agreements determining the land-use for specific plots will be discussed by all who are interested, and agreed by consensus, not majority vote.
It is a project of years, lifetimes even. The plan is far from complete, and it needs other people. Other people with children. Other people with imagination. People who are not afraid to make that beginning.
Permaculture News (defunct) late eighties sometime.
Proposal for a Hillside Permaculture Village
Permaculture, developed first in Australia, and now world-wide, is a
design philosophy of use for the environment, a green science, which aims
to close the gap between sustainability, conservation, and their seeming
antagonist in growth, albeit growth in a broader sense than the purely
economic. Rather than fighting ever more 'efficiently' over the scraps that
remain in a shrinking, competitive market; Permaculture seeks to deepen the
bounty that the planet provides, if tended to, and improved through an
intelligent co-operation with the forces found at work, both in nature and
human society. A change of emphasis from coercion to co-operation.
A Hillside Village would be a pilot project, the philosophy in action,
on a larger scale than hitherto seen in this country; but more than this,
it would be an opportunity to demonstrate that the changes increasingly
recognised as essential to preserve our fragmenting environment, need not
necessarily lead to a decline in living standards, a change certainly, but
perhaps more of a sideways step, one onto richer territory. One crude
example - living in a well-designed and insulated home will not only reduce
thermal pollution, but also householders bills, and the need for fossil
fuel-burning generating plant. Still the same warmth inside, more money in
your pocket, less smog in your lungs.
It can also illuminate a new path for the discards of consumerist
economics; the homeless, the unemployed, the low-paid, the underprivileged.
It enables many who are short on credit and income, but long on time to get
involved, and possessed of a willingness to learn, to create for themselves
what modern society is increasingly failing to create for them - the
self-dignity of independence, the benefits of an outgoing community, the
security of a permanent home.
A Hillside Village would prove the viability of small specialist
economic units in rural areas, with all that means in terms of more
localised services, and halting population decline, It would offer a more
acceptable form of afforestation through mixed hardwoods and native pines;
of sustainable industry, non-polluting, environment-enhancing, not subject
to the capricious tides of world commerce; and of architecture, which by
being based firmly on the use of local building materials, and by using
many traditional techniques, would create buildings which automatically
blend into their surroundings, Set amongst a richly textured treeline
interspersed with small clearings and the occasional paddock. Homes would
be built and owned by their occupiers, largely reliant on a small-scale
self-built infrastructure for power, sanitation and water supply. The
economics of such a project are dependent upon two main factors: The price
of the site, and the nature of the planning consent.
The reasons for choosing a hillside are complex. Given suitable
geology big hills have unique advantages; gravity for water supply, hydro
power, good sites for wind power and partially earth-sheltered housing.
Clean air, water and a low capital outlay on land. A sizeable hillside
plantation of medium maturity can cost around two hundred and fifty pounds
an acre. As an example; one hundred acres purchased between twenty
households, would be financed from a weekly rent of £5 per household over
the first six years. A low-interest, extended repayment loan of this type
could be available from sympathetic commercial sources such as the Ecology
Building Society. Such a low gearing would enable the maximum of resources
(in time and money) to be devoted initially to construction, helped in turn
by an extensive use of low-cost raw materials from site, before going on to
become the backbone of sustainable growth within the village. By avoiding
the high start-up and capital investment costs prevailing throughout the
national economy, traditional crafts and labour intensive techniques become
economic; orthodox services such as building and vehicle maintenance,
retailing and low-tech manufacture can be operated with substantially
reduced overheads - with commensurate benefits to the surrounding locale
outwith the immediate bounds of the village.
The second factor concerns the nature of construction and design for
the site, It is our wish to use materials available on site; stone, soil,
timber, turf, water power, as extensively as possible, consistent with
safety and public health. However the advanced, unorthodox and varied
design of the dwellings and some of the infrastructure, incorporating such
diverse elements as tension frames, passive solar heating, earth-sheltering,
bio-gas plant, combined with sound (but now unfamiliar) traditional practice
such as crook framing, shingling and stone-setting, is likely, from past
experience, to be met with incomprehension or even outright hostility within
a typical local authority planning department. This would cause costly,
time-consuming legal wrangles which could not be supported on the back of a
limited budget, and demoralising delays which would jeapordise the success of
The ideal, from our point of view would be some form of monitored
exemption (a special status on account of the unusual and experimental
nature of the project), with the onus put on planning to examine (from an
environmental impact point of view, the end results of a particular
proposal, rather than the method of achieving those results. The design
philosophy of Permaculture states: Every input that is not automatically
supplied, you must supply. Work is the satisfaction of unfulfilled needs.
Every output that is not passed to thee thing that needs it must be got rid
of.... All undesigned outputs are pollutants, and all pollution is
undesigned output. None of this is necessary if every element is placed
correctly in relation to its needs and outputs.
Operating as a unified whole, the Hillside Village would take a
typical monoculture plantation, of the type that blights so much of the
Scottish landscape, and transform it into a rich tapestry filled with
activity, a safe and secure environment for children and wildlife,
minimally reliant on external services, leaving its own patch of the planet
immensely richer than when found.
Once up and running, the Hillside Village would function on many
levels. As a Scottish Centre for Alternative Technology, as a source of
training and advice for others wishing to set up similar establishments, or
perhaps wishing to learn traditional craft skills in a living environment.
As a true community, of shared aspirations and endeavours. As a tourist
attraction, though primarily the Village would be a working environment, at
its lower edge, road access would lead to a green, edged by shops selling the
local produce, real crafts, timber, organic foodstuffs and beverages; which
could also include a Visitor Centre, given sufficient interest. As a source of local employment both seasonal and long-term, offering training in areas such as organic
husbandry, furniture making, coppice-management, leathercraft, textiles and
retailing. As an inspiration, an unparalleled opportunity for self-help,
for contributing significantly to the need for a new understanding of how
to use our environment, so that it can provide work and comfort not only
in the present, but into the distant future. A sign of hope, in times which
are all too often perceived as a helpless anticipation of environmental
Proposal sent to Scottish Rural Forum - early nineties, well recieved but went nowhere.