Remember when you used to ask your class mates if they saw The Benny Hill Show last night, or Chips? Well now it’s Grand Designs you ask your colleagues about. Well anyway did you see the one a few weeks ago, October 26th to be precise, which featured a couple by the name of Simon and Jasmine who were making a life for themselves and their kids on the edge of a mountain in Pembrokeshire in Wales.
The premise, as outlined by Kevin, sounded ominous. Essentially they had bought a seven-acre plot, for a nominal fee, which formed part of a wider project called Lammas. The Lammas initiative totalled fifty acres and included eight families on plots varying in size from five to eight acres. The thrust of the whole endeavour, as you would expect, is striving for self-sufficiency and sustainable living.
To this end the families are given two years to demonstrate that 75% of their needs and consumption can come from their plot of land. If they fail to do this, they are asked to leave and their plot is turned over to somebody else to try to make a go of it. Initially the whole thing reeked of cult but my fears for the arrival onto the screen of some creepy Jim Jones divine leader type figure proved to be unfounded when it became apparent that the whole thing is being run by the local council.
Now let’s think for a moment about how challenging a proposition this really is. You are given a barren, blank seven-acre plot of land onto which you have to build satisfactory accommodation for yourself and your family and demonstrate that three quarters of all of your consumable needs will derive from that piece of land. All within two years. And with £500.00 in the bank. I don’t pull that figure out of thin air by the way, this by their own admission was all that Simon and Jasmine had to their name when they got started.
What this necessitates is resourcefulness way beyond the typical self-build scenario. Building materials have to begged, borrowed, bartered, invented, recycled, reused, upcycled, devised. The land has to be worked, ploughed, cultivated and prepared to the point that it can start producing a viable crop. All with rudimentary tools and equipment.
At one point as the deadline for proof of sustainability approached, Simon had to divert all of his time and energy from the construction of the house into the building of greenhouses with salvaged glass. Greenhouses that would provide a year round crop and eventually get their sustainability credentials across the line.
Kevin’s visits took place over a period of almost five years, from 2011 to 2016. We saw the vision develop, we saw the children grow, we saw Simon age twenty years. We saw the idyllic summers and the flood of travelling volunteer labour, we saw the grim winters and the desolation and loneliness.
It was all inspiring stuff. And all you can do is tip your hat to people like this. People for whom low impact living means more than putting the empty pizza boxes in the appropriate bin, who really believe in it. Who are willing to relinquish so much convenience and comfort to fashion a life, a livelihood and a lifestyle out of £500.00, inspire their children and provide a template for real low impact and sustainable living.
We’ve seen this stuff before. Disenchanted urbanites turn their back on the rat race to try to live out some idealised version of uncomplicated rural and sustainable living. It’s not new. What is new in this instance is the clustered aspect of the development, the direct involvement and stewardship of the local authority and the strict criteria ascribed to determine success or failure. Such harsh official oversight may seem to contravene the entire spirit and basis of striving for organic living in the first place but if it’s what it takes to get endeavours such as this to fruition, well so be it.
So, could Lammas be a template for the future? Or in Kevin’s summation, “a clarion call”. I think so.