Starting an eco-village is such an enormous and ambitious task that few attempt it and many fail early on. Despite a plethora of books about eco-village living, few detail the full painstaking journey of founding one (Diana Leafe Christian’s Creating a Life Together and Jan Martin Bang’s Growing Eco-Communities being the two main exceptions). This book does just that, and more, by reflecting upon the birth of the Lammas eco-village (now called Tir y Gafel) in Pembrokeshire, west Wales. Still in its early stages (planning permission was awarded in 2009), the book is a beautifully honest and personal account of how Lammas came into being.
It is the honesty of the story crafted by Paul Wimbush which makes this a joy to read. Interspersed with snippets of personal diary the book is raw with emotion, struggle, energy, disappointment and ultimately success. By including all the detail of the four year journey from inception to reality, Paul reflects upon all the difficult moments when the project looked set to fail, the intractability of the British planning system, and the sheer slow and laborious work of the early years of the project. Yet this book is all the more inspirational for being honest about what happened and what was required. This honesty extends to including details of costs involved, the difficulty of forming convincing business plans, and the reliance on volunteer input.
Paul begins the book in his early years as he discovers and lives in Tipi Valley, then Brithdir Mawr and finally Holtsfield, all in Wales. At each place he learns more skills (living with fire, living on the land, carpentry, working as a group, animal husbandry etc) and more about how he would ideally like to live. Through this journey of different communities he develops a need for permanent purpose-built eco-housing, space for privacy, freedom and more structured social organisation. His experience of various planning battles and fraught legal situations created a desire to secure planning permission upfront for Lammas, rather than endure the retrospective planning fights of so many other eco-villages in Britain.
The second half of the book traces the journey from the conception of Lammas to its planning victory; from finding the land, the people, the design and structure, to traversing the local planning system, local opposition, and coping with low morale as planning applications were repeatedly rejected. The message is clear that we need new policy and political frameworks to enable eco-villages like Lammas to be more easily replicated.
The book is at times saddening, but ultimately optimistic, and even for those unlikely to embark on such an adventure, Paul’s journey and beliefs are cause for reflection on one’s own choices, needs and life decisions. As Paul himself argues: ‘It is possible to live lightly upon this land. Development can be low-impact. Our structures can be beautiful. Farming can work alongside wildlife. Permaculture can feed us. There are alternatives. They are available now’ (p.158). Having read this book I am even more convinced of this than I was before.
FeedARead Publishing, 2012
[Review first appeared in Permaculture Magazine]