My name is Neil and I’ve started this fund in support of my dream of creating a new sort of sustainable community. It feels uncomfortable for me to put this out into the world as I'm uncertain whether others feel similarly to me, but I feel compelled to speak up now.
For those of you in a hurry, here's the short version (a fuller version is further down the page).
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing models obsolete.”
- When I look around me, I see that human wellbeing is suffering, our social support systems are disappearing, and the world's ecosystems are under unprecedented threat. For myself and many of you that I speak to, this isn't what we want for ourselves or our children.
- We have the power of choice and the agency to decide. If we listen to these warnings and act now, we can create new ways of living and working that support human wellbeing, social connection and sustainable ecosystems.
- I am committing here to doing what I can. For me, this means learning from others who have already done similar things and then taking action to i) acquire a piece of land, ii) steward that land to restore wild nature, iii) create community that nourishes human wellbeing.
- I want to dedicate the next chapter of my life to this, and I don't want to do it alone. So I'm asking for your support. If what I've said here speaks to you, please do connect with me to start a conversation, or, if you feel moved and able to do so, make a financial contribution.
If you would like more detail about all of this, please read on.
When I look around me today, here's what I notice - I wonder if you see the same?
- Human wellbeing is suffering for too many of us. Depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness are higher than ever - addiction and unresolved childhood trauma are the big elephants in the room. We need to shift to ways of living and working that support people as embodied, feeling human beings first and worker-consumers second. And we need more safe spaces for people to express and be heard in their pain, so that we may heal wounds that have not been tended to.
- Social and community structures are disappearing. We are relational, social creatures for whom safety is primarily experienced in smaller numbers of under 150 people. Yet over the last 20+ years, things that keep us well together - family and local community - have fallen apart and been replaced by either isolation, or digital connection. Socially and politically, we are more polarised than ever, with divides across age, race, class, income, gender... We need new forms of community that allow us to safely be our unique selves, together.
- Climate breakdown is happening. We must act soon or face the extinction of our species. This means those of us who are willing and able doing what we can to i) steward the land and support the return of wild nature, and ii) move towards more sustainable sources of energy, food and shelter. There is still time, just, and there is hope.
We currently see phenomena such as depression, anxiety, extreme climate events or species decline as problems that need to be fixed. What if rather than pathologising them, we saw these things as incredibly valuable messages that hold the key to our future: cries from our bodies and the Earth saying "help, we're out of balance"? This is the voice of harmony, of homeostasis.
Now is a time to listen to these warnings and reintegrate some of the old ways that are lost but not forgotten - ways of connecting with our deeper selves as embodied, feeling beings, with others as social, communal beings, and with the wider planet as part of, not separate from, nature.
I dream of living in a new type of community that supports this restoration of lost connections.
Without knowing it, I think this is the direction life has been taking me in for a while now, as I’ve found myself being drawn more and more to natural ways of living in my work as a wellbeing coach and on my own personal journey. I’ve camped out under the stars in wild places like Dartmoor and the Pyrenees, spent a year immersed in nature connection at Schumacher College, sitting round the fire, singing songs and telling stories like my ancestors might have done. I’ve visited some amazing rewilding projects in Wales and Sussex and have seen people undergo incredible healing when they start to undo some of the disconnects of civilisation and reconnect with the yearnings of their more wild, animal body.
I write this after six months living by the sea on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, taking long walks by the beautiful Helford River and learning to grow organic veg. As a lifelong asthmatic, I’m amazed that simply leaving London for cleaner air has helped me come off the steroid inhalers for the first time ever.
I’ve now reached the point in my life where I want to pull all of this experience together and create something from it that feeds my soul and is of service to the wider world. And I don’t want to do it alone.
So, I envisage creating a community based on four key pillars:
1. Human wellbeing. I yearn for a simpler life where I can find balance between play, work and rest: a rhythm of life that is more in keeping with what my body needs. There are also some primary needs for connection that are not being met for many of us - the needs to be seen, heard, loved and valued by other empathic human beings, for example. Time and time again in my work in groups I have seen how people thrive when they get to be themselves and can feel accepted by others. There needs to be space for the individual in this collective.
2. Land stewardship. Our roots are in the land, and feeling our roots is never so important as in times of volatile change like the present. So this will be a land-based community, following the principles of rewilding (supporting the return of wild nature) and permaculture (a sustainable approach to cultivating the land).
3. Sustainability. As human beings we have a right to clean air, water, shelter, energy, food and waste disposal. We also have a responsibility to do our best to meet those needs in ways that support rather than threaten the wider ecosystems we’re part of.
4. Social integration. Inspired by other land-based communities such as Soul Fire Farm in the US and La Bolina in Spain, I am keen to make this community a place where people from different walks of life can connect and co-exist across social and cultural divides for the sake of healing and development. There is great learning and an “in your bones” enjoyment to be had from spending time in nature and working the land together in a diverse group of people.
I don’t yet know exactly how I will meet the people or raise the money needed to make this dream a reality - that’s all part of the fun of diving into the unknown. I do have an idea of what I need to do to get started though.
This summer, I will travel to Italy to spend a month in the eco-village of Damanhur where I will learn how to create a sustainable community and way of living. You can read more about the Ecovillage Design Education programme here. From there, I intend to visit La Bolina in Spain to learn about their pioneering social justice and sustainable agriculture work with migrants. These experiences will then feed in to a funding bid to acquire a piece of land where the project will be based from 2020.
How you can help
It will cost around £5,000 to get me to Italy and Spain and to set up the infrastructure needed to kickstart this project, some of which I will provide from my own income. If you feel able and moved to, you can also make a financial contribution.
But money is not everything. This feels like a radical departure from the life I have known and an exhilarating yet scary step to take, so a simple “good luck” or “love this, Neil” is plenty. You can also help out by letting me know if you hear of available land (ideally 50+ acres in Europe).
Thank you for your support in bringing this seedling dream to life.