No. 2 – 22nd June 2009

 Newsletter No. 2 – 22nd June 2009

This Newsletter is produced by the project to create an Eco-Hamlet (or maybe a number of them) somewhere in Britain. Details can be found at You have been sent this edition because you are a Member or Friend of the group, you are someone who may be interested, or you could assist us with publicity or practical support. If you want more details or would like to like get involved, or if you don’t wish to receive further editions, please let us know.

Unless otherwise stated, everything has been written by John Boshier, who would much rather other people wrote most of it!

  • Progress Report
  • Online Survey Results To Date
  • Purchase and development of Eco-Hamlet site(s)
  • Small Farms and Eco-Hamlets
  • Low Impact Living: Consumption Beyond Consumerism
  • Thinking Of Keeping Sheep?

Progress Report

Since launching this project at the beginning of April, there has been an encouraging response. Almost 30 families and individuals have expressed an interest in joining the group, and several others are interested and want to stay in touch. A system of administration has been organised to handle membership. Not all potential members have completed all the steps, but 22 have so far completed our online survey so can be regarded as serious members.

New members are given access to our Google E-mail Group, and invited to complete the online survey that you can read about below.  On completion of the survey, members are given access to our Members Web Site. This is in the form of a wiki, a type of site where any authorised user can edit existing pages and add new ones. The aim is that we can collaborate in gathering information and preparing the various documents we need. Members are quite widely scattered, so organising a meeting appears to be difficult, but I have met a number of members in my travels round the country.

The initial thought was to create a single large settlement, but from studying the survey results it’s obvious that we would need a lot more members to have enough people who are able to buy a site at the same time. So I suggested that we could evolve into a group that brings people together to create a number of small settlements. We could provide a matchmaking service for people and suitable sites, and provide a package of possible legal and organisational structures to get settlements started. We could become a network providing mutual support, and our knowledge and experiences could be shared to benefit everyone. I have looked at a couple of potential sites where this would be possible, but not found anything that inspires other members yet.

Another possibility is to buy a larger site that could be afforded by a few people, but with potential for others to buy in later. We have done some investigation into a possible site in Devon, but not viewed it yet. There are some planning restrictions that may or may not be to our advantage. There is a large house, planning permission for new builds and a barn conversion, and plenty of land. It could be purchased by a few people, and those who are not ready for a year or two could buy building plots when they are ready.

We still have a lot of work and discussion to do, but it has been a worthwhile exercise so far.

Online Survey Results To Date

Every new member is invited to complete an online survey to find out what they are looking for, and what resources they can provide. As it uses a free service it is somewhat limited, and with hindsight some of the questions could have been put differently, but it’s proving to be a very useful tool. So far 22 have been completed, and there are a couple of new members from West Wales who have yet to complete it, so Wales may not be quite so high up the list of locations as it should be. Here are details of the results so far.

1. How many people and domestic animals will live on site, and visit?

In total there are 35 adults, 9 children under 13, and 3 teenagers. Taking into account single adults and those in couples, a total of 34 bedrooms would be required. 10 households contain a single adult, 1 contains 2 adults living separately, and the others are couples, with one having an adult “child”. Guest bedrooms would also be needed, and as will be seen later, most people are prepared to at least consider having shared guest accommodation.

There are also 12 dogs and 8 cats, making it likely that any settlements we create will be very pet friendly.

2. What type of accommodation is required, or acceptable?

19 out of 22 respondents would live in an attached or detached house. 12 would only live in a house. 3 would choose to live in a mobile home or yurt. Some who would like a house would also be happy with a flat, bedsit, mobile home or yurt, and 2 would accept a room in a shared house. Also considering online and face to face discussions with members, the aim should be for a neighbourhood rather than a commune. Some people are very private, but would value the benefits of having like minded neighbours and some shared facilities, while others are more community minded, but still want their own front door to a home where they can cut themselves off and have total privacy. So we should be creating a neighbourhood and not a commune.

3. How much land do you require, and for what purpose?

This is a very difficult question to answer. It depends on the type and quality of land, and on how much an individual needs, or wants, exclusive use of, and how much can be shared. For example, someone may want land for growing fruit and nut trees, and someone else may want to graze sheep. Maybe they can use the same land. The survey has various boxes to tick for various options, such as large garden, 0.5 to 1 acre, 5 to 10 acres etc. Some people have ticked one box for the total they require, while others have ticked several boxes to indicate how much they require for different uses. In total the 22 respondents could require up to around 55-60 acres.

The survey also asks for what uses people would be prepared to share land. Reasons for not sharing could be wanting privacy or concerns about working with other people, or because they wish to use the land for a specialised enterprise. 35% would share land for leisure and livestock, and 57% would share for food production and woodland. 13% would share for other, undefined, purposes. This fits in with the desire for neighbourhood rather than a commune, where people can have their own home and their own land. There could also be “common” land, and land shared by small sub groups for special purposes.

4. Where would you live?

This is a complex question, listing various parts of Britain. Some counties are individually listed, in Western England and Southern Wales, as these are the areas preferred by early group members. Other regions are covered by more general categories, so the whole of mainland UK is included. Each option is divided into North, South, East, West and Central. There are also broad options for people who can’t cope with that much detail! There is also an option to say if the respondent would definitely live there, or may consider it. This is a lot of information to analyse, but it gives a very useful guide to how many people would live in a particular location.

Top choices with 65% are East Devon, the whole of Gloucestershire and South/Central Somerset. Next at 62% comes the rest of Somerset and Devon, except the centre of Devon, presumably the rather bleak parts of Dartmoor! North and West Cornwall, and Central Devon come next on 57% , In most categories the majority of people chose the “maybe” option rather than “definite”, so these choices are not as clear cut as they may appear.

Over 40% choices are the rest of Cornwall, Dorset except the eastern part, Pembrokeshire and South Wales. Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Powys, and Southern England came in between 30-40%. There is no part of England, Scotland or Wales that less than 3 respondents would consider.

A later question asks when people will be ready to move, and combined with these results suggests that a number of small projects, rather than one big one, may be the way to satisfy most people.

5. How will you make a living and pay your share of living costs?

This question asks how people will make a living and pay their way. Choices include income from pensions and investments, off site work, and various options for on site work. Most people would have more than one income source and some ticked all boxes, suggesting an aim for resilience as opposed to dependence on one source. 35% (8) would have an income from pensions or investments, but only one would have this as their sole income. 61% (14) would have income from off site work, but only 2 would have this as their sole income. 48% (11) would have a home based income, 57% (13) a land based income, and 26% (6) would trade partly with others on site. 10 people would need an on site office or workshop space.

6. What skills do you have, or are expecting to acquire?

This question asked which of 15 skills people have, covering some of the main areas needed in a sustainable settlement, although it’s far from exhaustive. For each option there is a choice of skill level, Qualified, Expert, Amateur, Learner. Totals of people with, or who are aquiring, skills are listed below, showing that engineering is possibly the main weakness.

Building Maintenance
Renewable Energy
Energy Efficiency
Health Care
Alternative Medicine
People Skills

There are qualified and/or expert people in all categories, so there is potential for passing on skills, although as this covers the group as a whole there may be skills gaps in a settlement that is actually created.

7. What resources are you willing to share with fellow residents and local people?

14 categories were listed, (Vehicles, Some Tools, Laundry Facilities, Guest Bedrooms, Some Land, Offices, Workshops, Social Space, Renewable Energy, Composting, Food Growing, Woodland, Farm Animals, Businesses) and respondents asked if they would, or would consider, sharing. Only one person seemed unwilling to share anything, and between 74% and 91% of people would consider sharing everything listed. 2 would not share laundry facilities, and a few would not share offices, farm animals and businesses, but this could well be because they don’t want these facilities, or have practical reasons for it. In most cases the majority said they would share, rather than may share, so sharing facilities would certainly be a feature of any settlements we create.

8. When will you be in a position to move into an Eco-Hamlet? Is it important that we act quickly?

Options ranged from “I need to act ASAP” to “Over 2 Years”, and there was also a “Don’t Know” choice. 9% (2) need to act ASAP, 30% (7) are ready now or will be within 6 months, and another 17% (4) will be ready within a year. 22% (5) will be ready in 1 to 2 years, and 4% (1) in over 2 years. 13% (3) don’t know, and this could be because of personal circumstances, or because of trouble selling their house.

Combined with the results of the where do you want to live question, this suggests that creating one large settlement may not be the best way forward. We would need to find a lot more members to have enough who were ready at the same time, and this would result in disappointment for those who couldn’t wait, or are not yet ready. Buying a large site that a few people could buy, and others could buy into when they are ready, would be one option, if a suitable site could be found. Or buying a number of small sites and creating a network of small settlements, may be a better way to produce a successful outcome for the most people.

9. Can you help to finance the project?

This question asks how much money everyone could contribute, in a few fairly wide bands. As this Newsletter is being widely distributed it isn’t appropriate to give detailed results here. However, we do have a mix of people, from those with substantial amounts equivalent to the value of an above average house, to those with no money at all. One of the aims of starting this project was to bring together this mix of people in a settlement where everyone is valued and feels accepted, so from this point of view it’s succeeding, but it will be an interesting challenge to find suitable sites with the money we have available.

All the people included above will not end up living in the same settlement, but I think the results do give a pretty good idea of what people are looking for, and where they want to live. Turning this information into reality will be an interesting challenge!

Purchase and development of Eco-Hamlet site(s)

A consideration for having up to 150 member family groups in the Eco-Hamlet project, by Rachel John.

It is interesting to know the way that the St Werburgs in Bristol site was funded – it is 20 property self-build site.

20 family groups got together – each put £5,000 in the pot giving a budget of £100,000. This £100,000 covered the cost of project managers, solicitors, surveyors, architects, planning fees, site finding costs, Site Securing Deposit.

The Site Securing Deposit was paid at acceptance of offer on the site (non-returnable). This allowed the buying group to legally pin down the purchase of the site.

The securing deposit also allowed the group to set a date for completion that allowed for the professional work required to obtain full planning permission on the site that coincided with purchase completion. Done in such a way that everyone in the project was guaranteed their plot on completion of purchase of the site and all who needed it had permission for temporary accommodation at the site during the build of their permanent accommodation (either self build or package deal).

Each member of the collective had or set about raising £30,000 for Exchange of Contract at completion of purchase of the site – giving a site budget of 20 x £30,000 = £600,000. Done cleverly there should be a budget in this for the communal specific costs such as water, power, access grids.

The next funding required was by each self build family group for materials and labour for the building of the property.

Take this into possible Eco-Hamlet. Think slightly bigger to become a complete hamlet/village of up to 150 units (commercial scale of development would put us in with a chance to work with the RDA and Rural Renaissance.

100 family groups each give £5,000 for project management, site finding, site secure deposit and planning. Gives £500,000 – plenty of cash flow to secure an excellent project leader with assistance and professional services to find a site or several sites to suit all.

100 family groups each give £30,000 to buy sites gives site purchase value of £3million.

Work with agencies to include up to a further 50 funded plots (for low income households) with same rules, changes the set up pot to £750,000 and the purchase pot to £4.5million.

You’d think it would be possible to buy into development with this co-operative amount.

This is a bit how the Springhill Co-operative was funded for the 77 house unit in Stroud. There are various eco housing management groups that could help enable this which could be brought in to set it up.

It means that the family group budgets are £35,000ish each to get a plot and then the cost of their build package is down to the individual family group. There are some excellent packages out there starting from as little as £20,000 for a kit place and £45,000 for a delivered and fitted fully functional 40 x 20 log cabin (these log cabins go down in price when bought in bulk). Or build your own low impact development for as little as you possibly can.

Some thoughts for us to consider the scales of things.

Particularly relevant to also look at Paintworks in Bristol and the live/work units there (too expensive for me and placed in a city centre with not even a garden). This is done on a trading estate. Sets a preference for live/work units on Trading estates – most of which sit neatly between town and country – and possibly an ideal placement for an Eco-Hamlet.

A way forward is to set up the account to collect the £5,000 from each family group – then we know it is serious. And to show the availability of £30,000 for purchase completion. Once you’ve got the site – then it is very real and very exciting.

Small Farms and Eco-Hamlets

I’ve been to two very motivating, but scary talks recently. While in West Wales, I attended a talk by the Director of the Soil Association, organised by Transition Teifi, and last weekend at South Somerset Green Fair and Scythe Festival, a talk with three excellent speakers on the subject Small Farms: Big Future?

As Director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden’s job is to administer the organic farming regulations. This involves plenty of bureaucracy imposed by the EU and British Governments. He owns a farm in West Wales, and after hearing a talk by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, totally gets Peak Oil, and is a supporter of Transition. On discovering Peak Oil, he started to look at his own farm. Despite being a pioneer of organic farming, he realised that it is totally dependent on oil, and is making slow progress to address the problem, but has a very long way to go, although he has no intention of going back to the horse and cart. It was worrying, but not surprising, to hear Patrick talk about how “the system” is totally committed to agri-business and fossil fuel use. Apparently there is no alternative plan for feeding London if the supply chain fails, and they just don’t get the concept of sustainability. We then went on to an inspiring discussion on what is happening in West Wales, and ways to do more. There was agreement that there is much potential in the area to develop ideas that could spread to the rest of Britain.

The speakers at the Green Fair were Julian Rose, landowner and campaigner for small farms in Poland, John Vidal, Guardian Environment Editor, and Robin Maynard, who has just left his job at the Soil Association so is free to say whatever he likes! Any one of them on their own would have put a powerful argument against the way agriculture is going, but together they made a devastating case for revolutionary change. “The system” is driving relentlessly towards big farms and agri-business, and getting rid of small farms. Julian Rose is involved with trying to protect 1.5 million small farmers in Poland, the last country in Europe where small farms are still a big part of life. He told us how when confronting a dozen stony faced bureaucrats from the EU Commission, it was made very clear that their purpose was not to support small farms, but to bring the farm workers incomes up to the level of workers in urban areas, by getting them off the land. From everything the speakers said, there is a global, and often very secret, campaign to get agriculture under the control of companies like Cargill and Monsanto, and small farms have no place in this plan. It’s all about a small number of massive specialist farms with monocrops, patented seed and totally dependent on chemicals and oil. The view was that with Peak Oil, Climate Change and soil destruction, this method of farming cannot feed the world into the future.

The case was made for a return to small mixed farms. Not only can they produce a higher yield per acre than industrial agriculture, but they are more resilient to crop failure and changing markets, as they have multiple income sources. With the government wanting to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs to replace those lost in the current recession, a massive proportion of those jobs could be created in agriculture and associated local businesses.

In the discussion afterwards, the point was made that not all of the Government and EU is so anti agriculture, and that we need to be working with them rather than against them. There was also discussion about changing planning laws to allow low impact development in the countryside, to enable small farmers to live on their land. Land reform was also discussed, taking land away from big landowners and putting it to productive use. Someone mentioned a local farm that was sold entirely for pony paddocks when the elderly farmer, with no descendants who wanted to take it on, died. The policy of selling off county farms that gave young farmers an opportunity to get started needs to be reversed. There was a lot of positive discussion, but a lot of action is needed.

So what does this have to do with Eco-Hamlets? The way I see it, the only way that many people can make a living from the land is to have a long battle with the system. They may be able to raise the money to buy agricultural land, but have no hope of buying land with planning permission to build even a modest home. The planning system does allow people who can prove they make a living from their land, and have a need to live on site, to build a house there, but it it is usually a long and stressful struggle with no guarantee of success, although Simon Fairlie of Chapter 7 told me that most people get permission eventually. People are campaigning to change to planning laws, but it’s a long process. We are heading into a fast changing and uncertain world, and there may not be time to wait for the planning system to change, so are there other ways to solve the problem?

My idea of an Eco-Hamlet is that it is a diverse settlement of farms, smallholdings, people engaged in rural crafts, working in local businesses, teleworking for businesses further afield, and a supportive home for retired people and those unable to make a living. I would love to create it on a green field site, so we could build housing and work spaces that are ideal for our needs. To do this would be likely to involve a long struggle with the planning system that I don’t think we have time for, and it doesn’t address the problem of how to adapt existing housing. Working with existing housing, adapting it to use space efficiently and minimising energy requirements, would mean that we could bypass many of the planning issues, and also set an example that many ordinary people could follow. Some residents could set up businesses to help others to adapt based on the experience.

To make this happen we need people with money to buy and develop the site, but I want there to be space for people with little or no money too. I would like to provide an opportunity for people to have land to buy or rent to create small farms, smallholdings and/or market gardens. There would be accommodation for them at a fair and affordable rent, so they could live on site, and from the day they move in they could get on with developing their land and livelihood, without being held back by the planning system. Not only would it help them directly, but it would also create demonstration sites to help with the fight for small scale sustainable agriculture. At an appropriate time, the Eco-Hamlet residents as a community could put pressure on the planners to allow building a low impact home on the land. So the small farmer eventually gets an affordable home and farm, but without the expense, stress and wasted years of fighting the system, and the Eco-Hamlet residents have access to really local food.

Low Impact Living: Consumption Beyond Consumerism

Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th June 2009
Karuna, Picklescott, Church Stretton, Shropshire SY6 6NT

A weekend of camping, discussions, workshops and contemplating change Cost: £20 weekend or £10 per day / donations

The focus of the weekend is on the impact of modern lifestyles, and the need to change human lifestyles to address climate change or resource depletion rather than trying to adopt “gadgets” (such as green consumerism or sustainable consumption) to “solve” these problems technologically.

More details at

John will be there, but they could do with a few more people booking. anyone else fancy going?

Thinking Of Keeping Sheep?

Here’s a couple of extracts from a recent Smallholders Online Newsletter that might be of concern to anyone thinking of keeping sheep:

Farmers’ £65m bill to fit an electronic tag on every sheep

“From 1 Jan next year Britain’s 30 million sheep will be required to wear a hi-tech tag which can monitor their movements. European commissioners claim the electronic ID (EID) tags will help contain an outbreak of disease such as the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001. Farmers will have to burden 92 per cent of the cost themselves at a cost of £5,000 for an electronic tag reader and up to £1.50 per tag. The proposals have been described as “crazy” and “unnecessary”. John Hore, a farmer from Pilning said: ‘The strength of feeling is such that it is quite possible we will see farmers taking to the streets. We are just not being listened to. And we need our government firmly behind us. We have 30 million sheep in this country – probably more than the rest of Europe put together.'”

The Daily Telegraph (15 Apr, p.3)

Sheep tags: Is this not outrageous?

Hi Sky,

This has been known to be happening for a long time now.   All the British sheep societies have been trying to fight it with no result.   Our local abbattoir had a visit from EU officials a few weeks ago for an investigation into how it would ‘help’ them keep track of animals going through the system.   Also there on the day were various people from farming unions, vets and sheep breeders, but at the end of the day they had made no impression on the EU officials who couldn’t see any difficulties in what is proposed.

The main problem we have is that British farming has  been effectively  nationalised and as long as people are accepting government subsidies they have to do what the government (i.e. Brussels) says.   Unless everyone rises up and refuses to cooperate together it will be forced on them.   Defra can and will withold their subsidies in retaliation.   (It won’t affect me as I didn’t choose to give them my farm- I have another job rather than take subsidies)

Personally, I have a bigger problem with the new tags than most people as I breed miniature sheep  (among others) and already have difficulties buying a small enough tag with a thin enough stalk to go through their ears without smashing them up completely.     The sheep are Ouessants and stand a max of 14” at the shoulder- they are SMALL. If I hang an electronic tag on them they will be walking around with one ear on the ground!   Does the EU think my sheep will accept this new lifestyle without trying to get rid of the annoyance?   I wonder how many replacement tags each sheep will have needed within a year!

It should be pointed out , though, that it is not necessary to spend £5,000 on a tag reader.   There are very much cheaper basic ones available, and maybe it is not necessary to have one at all unless a farm is making use of computer recording for breeding information etc.   It will be the markets and abbattoirs who need the big readers.


Lesley Wickham

You can subscribe to the newsletter at