Tuesday, 1 March 2011

My [not so secret] life ambition

I'm building a village. Making a start - however small and slow - in the field with 'studio bedrooms' for the older children.

What do I mean by 'village'?

A group of families - extensions of my own family, I hope - living together on their own land, each in its own private unit. It has some communal outdoor space, with food growing in and around it and places for children to play together, etc.

Why do I want to build one?

Because it's the key thing that's been missing from my life, and it seems to me like the most sensible way to live. Labour doesn't have to be bought in - it's exchanged and shared freely, especially amongst people who love and trust each other. Childcare in particular is pooled, but I don't think it can rightly be called childcare unless there is that deep, familial bond of love involved - ditto the care of old people. And each other!

Isolated, nuclear family living can be a lonely and stressful business, as can living, traveling and working amongst strangers all the time. I think it does take a village to raise a child, and to educate one, and grow food, and build houses and throw parties and work out ways of becoming collectively safer and stronger. We all probably want to leave the world a better place than we found it, don't we? This is one of my ways of doing so. If I know my loved ones are well provided for physically and psychologically - by means of them having the option of living in this village of mine - I'll die happy.

How on earth does one go about building a village?

Well, I'm not calling it a life ambition for nothing - it seems to be taking my whole life to achieve it. First, I think you probably need to have as many children as possible - which doesn't leave a lot of time in the early years for village-building. So the shared childcare element is a gift for the 2nd generation, not the first one!

Next, home educate all the way: it's great for village building on the principle that wherever you spend your days is the place where you put your energy, which is the place you choose to strengthen. When everyone's out elsewhere all day the family's energy is dissipated - therefore weakened.

Thirdly, a village needs land for building on. This doesn't necessarily need to be *with planning permission*, though we're finding that it's useful to start with at least one pre-established residence which in turn enables the others.

But we've lost our birthright in this country [birthright = enough free land to build a house and support oneself in one's country of birth IMO] so houses, land, living are all expensive things to pay for. The solution to that problem? I can think of a few, though none are perfect:

  • Squatting, though it's probably not very stable/permanent. Ethically justifiable in most cases though, IMO, due to the theft of birthright.

  • Buying, though in most cases this means a mortgage for the first generation which are increasingly difficult to come by and pay for. Also, you usually pay back (over 25 years) at least twice as much as you borrow, though this is mitigated by times of high inflation and low interest. (Like now!) Borrowing so much money (or having to pay so much just for somewhere to live) is never a good thing, but if only one more generation does it (the first one of the village) it can be seen as the lesser of all evils. Plus, village-dwelling adult children will work to help to pay it off so the load is shared between more people.

  • Renting, though again it's not stable. But I guess the village could be a mobile one. Actually yes, traveling together could be another way of building a village. Not my choice, due to the prejudice and uncertainty from which such people suffer, but another way.

Central and local government doesn't really want people to be building villages, I don't think. Strong families make weak governments and vice versa, so it's in the interests of anyone who wants to control and exploit a population to be constantly separating and weakening the family unit, not enabling it to use its own strength and be united. Also strong families do things for each other for free (childcare, plumbing, electrics, computer repair, decorating, building, entertaining, cooking, cleaning, taxiing, admin work) instead of paying other people to do it. So The Man can't get in there and either extract taxes or insert regulation, both of which pay for and justify his own existence.

Governments need to break natural social bonds (the kind that naturally arise between friends and family members - village dwellers!) and build artificial social bridges (what happens in contracts between strangers) to strengthen their own position. But they do this at the expense of their own people, who thrive better (I think) with natural bonds. In villages.


Anonymous Untwining said...

I love this. And I think that as people start to understand that the *fiat* currency they use every day has no inherent value anymore, more people will gravitate to this way of living. Eventually they will have to. You are way ahead of the curve :-)

There's nothing wrong with currency in place of direct exchange per se. As communities such as this grow, it's natural for some people to want use tokens to increase the options of what they can exchange with each other indirectly to get what they want and need.

Governments don't want people to have their own currencies either, of course, for much the same reasons you state in this post. I shall continue to watch your life ambition with interest xx

1 March 2011 at 17:17  
Blogger Wigan Pixie said...

You are spot on with what you say Gill. That is my dream too but, with my lack of childbearing ability, I'm hoping to get like minded people involved. Good luck with it all.

1 March 2011 at 18:39  
Blogger Michelle, Nottingham said...

Wow Gill, I love this blog.
We've recently been talking about our elderly relatives and how we don't want to "put them in a home". The "village" would solve the need to do that; pooled family; pooled child care; pooled support. Fabulous.

1 March 2011 at 19:36  
Anonymous RuralAdversity said...

my family and friends (no children) have had this plan for a while, too, it's just so difficult to achieve for the reasons you state. Thanks for putting it so eloquently! I'm envious that you're starting already.
We've worked out who has which skills to share, that kind of thing, but it's not likely at the moment. Some people need to keep their current jobs, for example, so the land has to be near that, and that's too expensive. Emigration is a thought, though.

1 March 2011 at 22:13  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Lisa. As others have mentioned elsewhere, we will still trade our skills for money while we can. It's actually impossible to be fully self-sufficient in this country though, did you know? If you have no monetary income and you refuse to claim benefits, *you still have to pay council tax*. I've checked and checked this in disbelief, but it's true. It's a reduced amount - about £5 a week per adult for us I think, but still: money to find from somewhere. If I was ever summoned to court over it, I'd be tempted to take cabbages by way of payment - which, of course, would be rejected. This single fact makes the real agenda behind that tax in particular starkly apparent, IMO.

What I'm feeling the need to be is off-grid ready, and self-sufficient ready, to give us some protection for when things get worse. I think that feeling is a big motivation behind my village plans. But the main thing is just common sense, and the sense of deprivation I had when what I needed as a child and younger adult just wasn't there for me, because it didn't seem to exist anywhere any more.

Wigan Pixie, I hope all of your good dreams come true, in every way. I know there are lots of those kinds of networks springing up now, aren't there?

Michelle, thanks. Care of old people is another area that I think society fails in, too. And they'd have so much to offer in a community! All that wisdom, all those skills to pass on. It's insane to just lock them away out of sight and mind, isn't it? I'm hoping my transition from active to passive family member will be as seamless as my older children's morph into adulthood has been. My plan is to keep working until I absolutely can't, then learn to knit or weave, or make jam, or something! And tell stories. Just generally be useful. Might be a pipe dream though. (And I will not be smoking a pipe either, as I understand some of my ancestresses did!)

Rural Adversity, it makes me angry that it's been deliberately made so difficult to achieve this simple, natural, basic way of life. We need to repeal the enclosure acts! And all of the planning laws, IMO. This would bring the cost of land back down to something more affordable and enable people to make use of the land that was available. If we didn't have this place or any prospect of getting something like it, I'd be looking around for spare, unused land to press into service. Guerrilla allotments, for e.g. - brilliant idea. And who does it hurt, if the land was going spare anyway? Nobody needs more land than they need for their basic living requirements IMO - enough space to grow crops, keep a few animals and play. Until about 3 decades ago, many new houses - including social housing - were built with this in mind, weren't they?

Everyone should have it. It's a basic human need. Access to supermarkets and parks is not enough, IMO.

2 March 2011 at 08:34  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Hope you read this


2 March 2011 at 10:05  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Just wanted to add, re enclosure and planning that one of the problems of land use is that you can't go on supporting a growing population on a limited area of land forever, and that if you allow people to do what they want with their land, you generally end up with wealthy or socially irresponsible people doing what they want with theirs and everyone else having to lump it.

There are definitely problems with Enclosure and Planning but they were attempts to address real problems - namely recurring famines and a blighted landscape. That was one of the purposes of the Permaculture movement - to see how land could be used for food production efficiently and sustainably. It can be used more efficiently and sustainably than it is, but it's not a simple case of everybody growing their own veg and keeping some livestock.

Basically, just because some people can live OK off a few acres, it doesn't mean that everyone can, and that's the problem. Solve that and you'll be a living international treasure.

2 March 2011 at 10:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Land is Ours/Chapter 7 are worth looking at - http://www.tlio.org.uk/ and http://www.tlio.org.uk/chapter7/


2 March 2011 at 12:00  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks for that Suzy - definitely something to bookmark!

Re: enclosure and planning, I know that's the argument for maintaining the controls but in actuality, I think only a relatively small proportion of the population would want to live outside of towns and cities now. I'm against regulation, but would be able to bring myself to support something that limited land ownership to somewhere around the amount that can be reasonably used, and can see that some protections and provisos might need to be in place, although this goes even more against the grain for me!

"..recurring famines and a blighted landscape." I'm not sure I believe that the practice of freely grazing a few sheep on an area of designated common land, for example, would lead to this. Properly tended veg gardens don't really fit with that picture either. If there were recurring famines and a blighted landscape in this country (before the advent of corporation concrete!) then I suspect this was probably more related to imbalanced land access and ownership than to it being shared out properly!

We don't need to make massive changes IMO - most people aren't ready for them. Just to make rural plots of land available at reasonable prices on which families can build dwellings and grow food. Everything else - the factory farming, the mass importing, the office working, the commuting, the supermarket shopping and everything else that goes with modern urban life can stay for those who want it.

But in 1708 Patrick Colquhoun said: "Poverty ... is a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilisation. It is the lot of man – it is the source of wealth, since without poverty there would be no labour, and without labour there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth," and I suspect that this is still, 300+ years later, the real, now hidden rationale for life to be made so deliberately (and IMO unnecessarily) difficult for most people - amongst other reasons, like: just because they can, and so on. (Thinking about global economics and fiat currencies.)

The more I read and hear about the permaculture movement, the more I like it! It's not just about planting and food, is it? Lots of useful information, ideas and theories there.

In answer to your last paragraph, I can only reiterate that I don't think most people want to live off the land, so providing enough land for everyone to do so isn't the problem. And providing enough for the people who do want to is probably quite feasible. Why does it have to be one way or the other, when both ways of living could work side by side, and mixed up together?

Thanks very much for those links Karen. Wow. Lots of reading for me there!

2 March 2011 at 18:46  
Anonymous suzyg said...

I understand what you're saying Gill, and I completely agree that there needs to be a re-think about constraints in rural environments for the people who want to live in them.

Unfortunately *everybody* ultimately lives off the land and that's the reason why it's an issue for everybody. If we tried to develop truly sustainable large-scale food production in the UK - and there are good reasons why we should - it would mean significant changes to rural landscapes, rural economies etc. For the better, I suspect, but it would impact on rural communities. I don't think you can separate the two.

But anyway I wish you every success with your project.

2 March 2011 at 19:15  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks :)

I don't really concern myself with large-scale food production, although I understand someone has to and that there are probably wiser, more efficient and healthier ways of doing it than at present.

Just a point about the kind of land I envisage being given over to parcels of land for 'Off-gridders' though: I imagine it can be done without impacting on current agricultural land. Near where we live, there's a lot of spare non-farming land - thousands of acres of it, producing nothing and doing nothing.

2 March 2011 at 19:27  
Blogger Alex said...

Excellent blog, and very interesting discussion. The Town and Country Planning Act, which started in the late 1940s were also to stop willy nilly building on good land and to control the rebuilding of bombed out urban space. At the time it was a very good thing, and were many of the susequent ammendments. Now, however, they need changing. We should have more rights to build small, low impact dwellings.
Working habits also need to change. People used to work close to home, moving to the work when necessary. Now we travel miles each day, wasting limited resources, including our time, for no gain.
Good luck Gill

11 March 2011 at 08:28  
Blogger Gill said...

Blimey, what *massive* political changes there were just after the war! I didn't realise the The Town and Country Planning Act dated back to then as well.

I agree with what you've said there Alex. If we're to have planning laws, they should be workable ones for everyone. When you see what's been granted in terms of retail and industrial development, it becomes clear that the issue aesthetics really can't be all that prevalent in making decisions about people's housing plans.

11 March 2011 at 12:48  
Anonymous Catty Marrin said...

We're moving to Canada (from West Yorkshire incidentally) to do just this! A shared space, off grid, children and elderly- together. I'm 20- so starting this dream young. We'll be going in about 3 years, we've got the land already :)

13 June 2013 at 20:57  

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