The purpose of Landmatters co-operative, as is reads at the gate is
“To embody a deep connection to the web of life within a thriving community actively creating a sustainable world”.
We meet at the main Bender at 9:30 for check-in. Not everyone is here today due to illness, but the core group here consists of 9 adults, 1 long term volunteer and 7 children. Simian and Miranda are due to arrive today to start a 6-month trial period, after which there will be a two-way decision on whether they will come onboard as permanent residents. Every member of the community co-operative pays a monthly contribution toward shared costs, and residents pay a £3000 to join the cooperative, which entitles them them into an equal share of the land. With this in mind, somehow the impossibility of being able to live on the land, in a countryside that is predominantly monopolised by the wealthy, seems a little more possible. We watch the documentary which informs part of the story of how the project got here. It is certainly hard work, and takes tenacity, determination, but it is possible, and Landmatters is a living example of this.
We gather around the large wooden table, where we begin with a short meditation, then jobs for the day are assigned. Here there is just one communal work day, which makes up part of the 12-hours of required work that all residents are asked to commit to. My first job is to go to the borehole and fill 10 plastic 5-litre water containers for the day’s drinking and food cooking water. At the borehole, I am hotly pursued my 2 male geese – I am told to flap my arms and squark like a goose toward them off – what a wonderfully ridiculously hilarious site that must of been! Much to my relief, they backed off – I had successfully protected mother (Liz) and baby, who was by this time laughing hysterically – and we went on to work the hand pump and fill the bottles, which went back into the wheel barrow and up to the main Bender.
I collect a large jerry can of water from a massive rainwater-harvesting butt next to the barn. This will provide the washing up water for the day, and is kept warm atop the woodburning stove. Immediately, this routine puts me directly in touch with the preciousness of water. I later find out that before the borehole, they had to do a 40 minute round-trip to the stream at the bottom of the valley to gather water. We walked down there, and I can tell you, the ascent is pretty steep and unforgiving, even without several litres of water in my hands…
We prepare a communal lunch. Normally the community eats separately for lunch, meeting for meals on three evenings per week, but they make an exception for the larger group. It feels to me such an important part of community life to cook and eat together, especially on shared work days, if only to maintain that sense of togetherness, and make life easier for everyone – it also makes sense economically – just 2 people cook, and other 2 people clean, and food and cooking energy is spread more evenly. It does seem to be an ongoing debate in communities – to eat together, or not to eat together?
Pete spends the morning fixing the goat shed with Tom, and building a new milking shelf. The goats are milked twice a day, and the milk is used, and also turned into cheese by the folk who live here. Pete comes to lunch glowing after connecting with a few goats – giving them cuddles and hanging out with them – such lovable creatures.
In the afternoon, Tom gives us a tour of the land – 22 acres of pasture, bordered on the north-west by 17 acres of semi-natural ancient woodland, which slopes down to the stream. The pasture is dotted with raised beds, and edged by the individual dwellings, which are either straw-bale round-houses or benders. The land has incredible views of deep, undulating hillsides and treetops. Tom, a 35 yr-old Morris dancer with a 10” beard tells us of his passion for folk law, and his love for dancing – the antidote to the restrictions of the civilized world… he has danced from Olympia to London, meeting folk, sharing stories, and dances. Hear more here…
Simian and Miranda arrive in the afternoon – finally settling after 8 years of transitory existence. Their new home, Simian boasts as The Biggest Bender in Europe – and who could argue with that?!! See Simian talking about his experiences here.
That night, we eat together, the room is buzzing with children back from school and the group coming together after a day working on the land. We watch the landmatters documentary, which provides some insight into the reality of bringing a project like this to life… living evidence of what is possible if you put your heart and mind into something you believe in.
Life here is tough, especially in the winter months. With no running water, no electricity, no heating, the land is a harsh place to be. You can understand how easily and willingly we have been drawn into a world of creature comforts – who can blame us? Winter in the UK is pretty hardcore… how do we find a way of living happily, healthily and sustainably through these months? I also feel somehow that to embrace this part of the cycle is so important, with its challenges – it connects us to the earth, and forces us to acknowledge our human limitations. Rest, retreat and hibernation are part of our natural rhythms. Winter is a time for doing less, reflecting, and going inwards, just as the plants and trees show us.