Self-reliant residents live the good life in eco-village

Lammas eco village, Pembrokeshire

Lammas eco village, Pembrokeshire

At first glance, with its wood-and-wool structures, it could be a village from a bygone fairytale or the latest Hobbit movie. But, as Sion Morgan finds out, the residents of pioneering West Wales eco-community Lammas believe it may just provide a glimpse of the Wales of the future…

THROUGH winding country roads you can first catch sight of the grassy roofs and rustic structures of Lammas – hailed as Britain’s first low-impact, low emissions settlement.

Appearing to belong to a Lord of the Rings film set or some idyllic historical fantasy, the Pembrokeshire community is celebrating only its second birthday.

It took Lammas pioneer Paul Wimbush four years and a planning appeal to win permission for the village, which is now home to former teachers, engineers, shop owners and even a political researcher.

Having spent years living in other sustainable communities around Britain, he has been instrumental in developing a model that can be replicated across Wales based on innovative environmental design, permaculture and green technology.

“For £60,000 I have got everything you could hope for here,” he says.

“Six acres of land, a three-bedroom house, hot and cold running water, electricity, I’m currently building a barn which will house cattle which we hope will arrive in the autumn, we’ve got willow crops for fuel, plums, blueberries you name it. I used to work as a painter and decorator in Swansea. You tell me what I could have had there for £60,000 – probably a caravan.”

Lammas – which is officially the name of the organisation to promote eco-villages in West Wales, but is the name by which the settlement of Tir y Gafel is popularly referred to – is on track to provide three-quarters of its inhabitants’ food, water and energy needs from its own land, a target which they want to reach within five years.

The village, near the village of Glandwr on the road between Tenby and Cardigan, is completely “off grid” with no mains water, gas or electricity.

Most of the nine proposed homesteads are now under way and three are complete.

“So far we are producing 100% of our fuel needs, 100% of our electricity needs and 100% of our waste treatment,” says Jasmine Dale, who lives in a wooden hut with her husband Simon and children Cosmo, seven, and Elfie, six.

“The idea here is not to be self-sufficient – the term we use is self-reliance.

“We are not talking about the 1970s here where people lived together in communes – most people who live here hate the term ‘hippy’.

“We love our mobile phones, the internet, some of us are really into our technology.

“The idea is to eventually supply 75% of our own basic needs and so far we are already achieving 11%.

“We supplied 60% of our own vegetables last year. Water is fine as there is a spring on the land.

“We make enough electricity from solar panels to power a laptop, charge a mobile phone and keep the lights on.”

Plus she says the village is about to switch on a micro hydro turbine which will provide further electricity.

Mr Wimbush, who lives in a hand crafted wood-and-wool house with his wife Hoppi and their three children, reinforces the notion that Lammas is not a throwback to hippy culture but a way forward.

“The idea is that it is like any other village in the sense that people could move here, live here for a couple of years, sell their land and move on without ever speaking to any of us.”

And he believes that his home is a future model for others.

“It must be,” he says. “I genuinely believe that in years to come this will become a common way of living and I would recommend it to anyone.

“We have relied heavily on volunteer help and grant funding and there is some experimentation in our building techniques but what we now have here is a viable alternative way of living which seems to be working quite well, it is an affordable, sustainable, attractive opportunity and I would encourage young families to look at it.”

Planning permission requires that residents earn an income from their plots.

Many plan to do so by rearing geese, making and selling willow products, growing rare herbs and keeping milk-producing sheep.

Art graduate Kit Owen plans to open a craft shop on his plot, to sell wooden furniture.

He says: “For me the most important idea is learning and passing on knowledge.

“It is rare to find someone today who can trace their family tree back to a time when they reared their own land.

“People have lost those traditional methods. When I die some day I want my death to be insignificant here in the sense that someone else can carry on what I have built.”

The most obvious evidence of that message is the Community Hub nearing completion at the centre of the Tir y Gafel eco village.

It will soon become a launch-pad for the research, education and promotion of low-impact living possibilities.

This will be achieved through the provision of hands-on courses, tours, presentations, visitor and volunteer opportunities along with a range of outreach work.

In December 2009 Lammas won a £346,935 award from the Department of Energy and Climate Change for the construction of the Community Hub building and work started last January.

Mr Owen added: “We’ve had people from around the world getting in contact about advice and information about setting up their own models, the hub is a way of continuing that work and integrating ourselves with the community as a place where we can sell our produce.”

According to Mrs Dale, any initial prejudice from outsiders and her own family has begun to dwindle through such integration.

“Our children attend the local schools, we talk to people in the village about what we do here people come up and visit and are genuinely interested in the project,” she said. “The was initial concern from people, probably stemming from that 1970s stereotype and it has not completely gone, but anyone who has been here seems to have been converted.”

She adds: “My in-laws visit all the time, and help out with a bit of DIY, and again there was an initial resistance from our parents when we first mooted the idea to them, but they have been incredibly supportive.”

For Mrs Dale and her husband moving to Lammas has been a lifetime commitment.

“It’s been tougher than we ever imagined,” she says.

And she expects the coming years to be a learning curve.

“Every spare moment is spent working on something, building, harvesting crops, it’s difficult but the eventual reward will be creating a home.

“We have room here to build a second house which we hope to do one day, and we hope one of the children will live there.

“Of course essentially we will let them decide their own futures, if they want to move to a semi-detached in the city we will not stand in their way, although I suppose I would be a little bit sad.

“But for the moment we are loving the lifestyle.”

BUILDING Lammas has been a continual fight against bureaucracy for its villagers.

Earlier this month, Pembrokeshire county issued summons against some of the pioneers for breaching building regulations.

Breaches relate to fire hazards, outside lavatories, the use of ladders for staircases and the uncertain specification of some of the recycled materials the homes incorporate.

Cassie Lishman, mother-of-three, who has built a pink cob reciprocal-framed roundhouse, says she is in breach for her cotton ceiling and for the lack of a plastic radon barrier under her handmade earthen floor.

Some materials such as the timber from their woodland and recycled windows do not have standardised ratings recognised by inspectors.

Jasmine’s home does not comply because the composting lavatory is not inside the house and there is no mains-connected fire alarm.

“How can we have a mains-connected fire alarm if we have no mains?” she said.

“We need to start a debate about an alternative building code for low-impact homes.”

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor: Sion Morgan, Western Mail

 Date / Fecha: 09/07/11

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