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Richard Perkins
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(IM)PERMANENCE Film The Lammas Ecovillge of Tir-y_Gafel

Posted by Richard Perkins about 12 years ago

A family global Permaculture based documentary journey/ series



A wonderful weekend at the first Lammas eco village Tir- y- Gafel where we visited four families on their plots and met others living and visiting the site.  Tir- y – Gafel is a beautiful piece of land subdivided into 9 family plots of around 5- 7 acres with communal land linking up the space and offering communal woodlot, track ways and water bodies.  Water flows abundantly through the site with plans for a fairly extensive hydro rig that will supply plots and the community hub building with more electricity than they can use.  Currently, in the first few years of establishment everyone is still setting up homes, growing spaces and the small enterprises that they will all need to demonstrate meeting 75% of their needs from the land in order to meet planning regulations.  Currently families are at various stages in their establishment, some homes finished, some being built, some temporarily living in static caravans as builds progress, but all living very much low impact and generating varying amounts of food, fuel, water and energy needs from the land.  Its hard to imagine what all the excess power will be used for, and the site must remain unconnected to the grid under planning regulations, so there’s talk of electric heaters to save wood for compost, craft and construction!  Sounds bizarre in this setting, but that’s the creative and considered dance this group of people must constantly flow with in order to met their own needs and goals as well as satisfy the seemingly open but restrictive planners perspective to this whole concept.

The annual monitoring was in full swing, and I chatted with Leander in the clamp between media streaming about the effects on the community of having to monitor and report back on annual production stats and finances.  Others soon reflected the same sentiments as Leander,  it’s a double- edged sword that has both allowed this development (and now opened up the field for many more low impact developments across Wales) and also hinders the participants with a heavy load of paper work that unfortunately accounts little for the less tangible “human” elements that perhaps speak more fully of how the successful the project is rather than extrapolated and abstract statistics about kilograms of carrots per metre square.  Its difficult, and deep gratitude must be afforded to these folks willing to undertake work on behalf of wider change and progression.  It’s a strange beauracratic mystery what actually constitutes the future for housing and sheltering the current and future population of this country.  As Simon Dale eloquently explained to us, the rigid boxes and limitations of national and international data crunching set ups cannot possibly enquire upon the qualitative aspects that form the main impetus behind a project of this nature in the first place.  We all see the need for some level of regulation and obviously safety, but really the current approach takes so much responsibility from individuals and families to provide for their own needs skillfully and satisfactorily.  When you consider many of the builds here cost between 3- 10000 GBP and were built by openly non builders (yet meeting structural engineering standards) using materials available locally and in the whole on site, you cannot help to question why such huge levels of resources go into monitoring abstracted and reductionist details as well as badly designed high embodied energy buildings across the UK when these solutions are so vastly juxtaposed to these strategies.

People are creating enterprises growing food, value adding to home grown products, craft working as well as being able to value the things generated and collected on site that contribute to their family needs.  Firewood and spring water have a value alongside the food grown to feed each plot.  This is offset with the small enterprises and needs to total 75% of the families annual needs in order to meet planning conditions, and everyone we spoke to seems confident this is achievable.  Living a low impact life like this means most plots are already meeting a lot of their needs through minimizing what they buy in and using local and natural materials to meet their needs.  Meeting 75% of your needs looks a lot easier when you do not have to buy in and export all kinds of waste products, which are often nutrients that can be cycled back into productive cycles.  Here toilets and grey water from the houses are treated and cycled back within each plot, food scraps are composted and some families are already producing only a sack full of unusable trash each year despite only being on the land 3 years so far.

We were very impressed how much each plot has developed in the short time people have been on the land.  From bare and heavily overgrazed sheep pasture the track- ways, earthworks and plantings that pepper and flow through the landscape have dramatically changed the feel compared to the barren and expansive vista that surrounds on the rolling hillscapes.  As windbreaks establish and take hold microclimates are already moderating and buffering the microclimate of each little plot.  Equally impressive to us was the low start ups each of the plots has had to invest.  Buildings ranging from 3000 to 15000 GBP remind us that housing can be fully affordable, personable and quick to build if we have the freedom to express our abilities and design to meet our needs whilst utilizing locally available, low embodied energy and waste materials.  Some of these dwellings were up in several months, often with no prior building experience and in one case, with all materials coming from within a 5 mile radius!  It’s a far cry from the overwhelming struggle of our own generation to get established on the property market and commit to a life long debt that traps us into patterns of work, consumption and disengaged responsibility that is the norm for most people in this country and indeed the modern industrialized world.  What’s more, many of these sites are running at around 70 000GBP including land purchase and enterprise start- up, which is mind blowing when you think about it.  The freedom for children to play and roam in nature, a space large enough to house, feed and generate income for a family all within the context of a supportive and safe community of like minded folk.

Tir- y- Gafel was established with the intention that everyone was investing in a wider project to secure their own land and opportunity to build and generate income.  Our understanding is that only one family remains of the original core group and it became clear during our stay that most people we spoke to on site have the desire for more connection and community focus and activities.  Most spoke of ways they would do things slightly differently at the project and it all centered around the people side of things.  We are especially interested in this aspect also, as it is our experience that projects of this nature usually face their greatest challenges amongst people aspects as opposed to finances, skills, resources, etc which are usually not very hard to find amongst the group or locally.  What was clear speaking and listening to different people on site was that people came from very varied backgrounds.  Some from city life, some from previous intentional communities, and each and every person naturally comes with their own interpretations, preferences and boundaries.  This is usually always the greatest challenge in terms of finding the context or format for effectively meeting, making decisions and celebrating connection and life together as a wider family.  It appears Tir- y- Gafel is at a phase where various people are feeling a need to shift focus to include more community connecting activities or events and are already exploring means to move into this.  Our impression coming away from the site was that this shift is bound to happen more intensively soon and the impacts will clearly be empowering and beneficial, as that seemed really the only thing that was not going really really well for people.  We reflected in the drive south how its just like living in a terraced street with the same desire- those with the desire for more community need to get creative and find ways to engage, include and empower others who probably also share that basic desire at some fundamental level too.

With evening approaching, the sun sinking and casting long sweeping shadows along the pasture, my design eye really caught the beauty and understood the inherent patterns already established on the landscape.  Visualizing 5- 10 years down the line I have no doubt that this place will be breathtaking in all aspects.  It really is a very special site.  As dusk set in I watched fish rising in the mill pond collecting their evening quotas of low flying insects, the bubbling of the drinking spring holding rhythm as it trickled down into the pond.  I drank and gave thanks for all the great work that has already been accomplished here, the wider ripples that have effected change in policy and governance.  The beautiful families and individuals we met here with their warm and open hearted welcome have left a strong impression on us, and I feel sure I will return when back this way.

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