The vision

Currently there is not a shared vision for the site. The trustees have agreed the Strategic Plan for a community farm. Some community members share that vision. Other community members envision a Hoathly Hill sustainability project. Others have a narrower vision of the field serving community member interests.

Personally I see both the community farm model and the sustainable Hoathly Hill model as compatible with each other as well as the Trust’s object of education. I believe both models meet permaculture ethics and principles. The narrower vision of the field serving community member interests with no consideration for working regeneratively with the land or collaboratively with others does not meet permaculture ethics or principles.

The vision of diverse projects working in harmony and regeneratively with the land and in collaboration with each other, the community and the wider community could be a model of permaculture design using ecological principles. For example, using the ecological principles set out by the Centre for Ecoliteracy, this model functioning at its best could demonstrate:

  • networks: all projects are connected through beneficial relationships
  • nested systems: systems within systems, integrated and supporting each other
  • cycles: resources are cycled and exchanged within and between projects and with the community
  • flows: valuing, capturing and storing the flow of energy into the land and projects
  • development: recognising the natural succession on the site and in projects and valuing the role of collaboration and learning
  • dynamic balance: adapting to change, valuing diversity, working with the marginal to provide resilience of the site and projects over time

This pattern also can be replicated for each project and the way they work with the land.

Design process

This design was very much formed by the community context and reflects very much the difficulties of community processes at Hoathly Hill currently. Previously the person working the land was often abusive towards other community members. The Strategic Plan and appointment of the Steering Group was met by some community members with hostility and high emotion. It is difficult at the moment in the Community to find openness for exploring questions facing us, finding out options and working creatively together. There are many people who do not wish to work collaboratively or with the land. This is not fertile ground for people to commit to working on a collaborative project on the field.

A collaborative, sustainable, educational project on the site was certainly also not a vision held by all community members. There was a lack of understanding in the community that the field was an asset of a charitable company which ideally would be used to further the charitable aims of the company and not the private interests of community members. The slow, incremental design process, with many design cycles and a framework of collaborative, sustainable, educational projects is an attempt to build engagement with the land and collaborative working as well as improve the sustainable land management of the site. In this way the design process itself is hoped to be a way of establishing a sustainable community land project.

Personal reflections

  • Personally I am passionate about local, small-scale growing and education and this is a great opportunity for me to be involved in a land-based community education initiative.
  • Apart from the potential benefits of earth care, people care and fair shares of a community land-based project, this seemed to work with the spirit of of the place as the field is situated within an intentional community, and it is owned by Hoathly Hill Trust, a charity facilitating and supporting community, environmental educational initiatives. In addition, the history of the field contained the impulse for community food-growing and within the present community, this impulse was also there.
  • There have been negative social dynamics around the previous tenancy of the field and Hoathly Hill Trust. These continue to surface strongly in the development of this project so much so that before the steering group even met there were difficult social dynamics. Despite the difficulties, I intend to hold the vision for such a project for this coming year and work collaboratively on a community design process to see what will develop. The next step is to review the design process and project development in terms of the relationship with Hoathly Hill Community and the steering group members.
  • It seemed that the local area also has fertile soil for community food-growing projects with two biodynamic community farms, a permaculture project, a once thriving Transition Forest Row, and not a world away Brighton Permaculture Trust! These projects have been an inspiration to me.
  • I and other interested community members were hesitant about taking on a fifteen acre field, not having worked with land of that size before, and with other commitments on our time, therefore working as a group and connecting with local people with expertise and experience seemed to be a good solution to our boundaries.
  • I am willing to offer my experience in community projects, permaculture and teaching and see this as a learning process.
  • Particularly encouraging have been the ‘elders’ who have offered their experience and not prescribed actions, have encouraged us to start a new initiative by recognising that a way of working with the land is needed.