Why Foldehampton? Susan’s story

“The personal is political,” wrote Carol Hanisch back in 1970. Well, Foldehampton’s story is certainly both..  This post is about the personal:  why we, or actually, why I, Susan, want to spend the rest of my life creating and living and working in Foldehampton.

It all began with a personal epiphany.

James and I were standing on a hillside outside Barcelona, having spent several days at the Green FabLab at Valldaura, walking around the 320 acres of wooded hillsides and valleys, spinning fantasies about what we could do there. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the place, and living in that atmosphere of practical idealism – reading the permaculture books stacked on the shelves, hearing the ambitious plans for developing the place as an education centre and example of best practice in sustainability, pitching in to clear the struggling food forest of the weeds that were swamping it – all  reconnected me with enthusiasms that had inspired me earlier in my life.

I have always loved animals, and as a child, I had wanted to be a zookeeper.  However, my academic strengths were not in the sciences, and I let that path slip aside.   I was lucky to be in my late teens and early twenties when the world was in the throes of change. In America, the Peace Corps, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and VietNam war protests were beginning to make an impact. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had brought the conflict between industrial and agricultural chemicals and the natural world to everyone’s attention, igniting the environmental movement, and the Whole Earth Catalogue and The Mother Earth News began publishing. Despite living nowhere near the countryside, I devoured every issue I could get my hands on, along with Rodale’s Organic Gardening. I felt inspired and full of enthusiasm, but had no idea how to become a part of it.

So, my academic achievements and unconsidered social and financial ambitions led me down a fairly typical path of office work, marriage, and children, setting those idealistic hopes and dreams aside to be quite forgotten for all-too-many decades. When in the 1990’s, health issues led me to a career change, I chose psychotherapy, another long-term interest, but again one that involved sitting in a room, listening, thinking and talking, rather than actively connecting with the natural world. In September 2013, on that hillside outside Barcelona, it all came flooding back. At the age of 64, after careers in commercial property and psychotherapy, I finally knew what I really wanted to do with my life.  The exhilaration of being in that lovely place, and the effort and satisfaction of clearing the food forest, filled me with the whole-hearted excitement of making things better, physically engaged with the natural world.

It would be some months before the inspiration, hope, and energy that exploded on that day took the form of Foldehampton village, but that is how it all began.  And best of all, by the same good fortune that drew us together, James had his own epiphany at the same time.

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Why “Foldehampton”? What’s in a Name

Why Foldehampton?

There are two parts to this question and to its answer.  The first is about why we want to create Foldehampton in the first place, and that’s another post–well two or three, actually.  This post is about how Foldehampton got its name.

We began developing ideas for the village well before we  knew where it would be.  Many communities give themselves inspiring but rather hippie or religious-sounding names like “Earth Song” or “Ploughshares”, but we wanted something more down-to-earth, something that felt like it really belongs here, without any ideological agenda.

We’d have loved to take the name from the land itself–a local reference to a hill or stream or ancient site, but without knowing where it would be, that was impossible.

Nonetheless, we wanted a name that felt like it was rooted in the local place and culture, so we looked through Old English translation dictionaries for words that would convey some of the ideas relevant to the Village–everything from the promise of abundance, to hope, earth, bounty, community, and many more.  Most were too difficult to pronounce. or sounded awkward and contrived, or just too Welsh for Hampshire!

Then, one sunny morning, James and I were having a discussion about how we want to buried.  (You start to think about these sorts of things as time advances.)   James wants a tree planted over him, preferably one from which his descendants can eat the fruit.  Sadly, health and safety regulations probably forbid such an arrangement.  He mentioned the alternative of the natural burial site at the Sustainability Centre in the South Downs National Park, but acknowledged that we don’t really have a sense of connection with that place, nor will our families.  I felt an immediate and powerful visceral response.  “No,” I said, “I want to be buried in home ground.”

Home Ground–that was it.  It conveyed the essence of what we want the Village to be, for all of us who choose to live there.  Home Ground:  Home that we cherish and look after, home that provides us with shelter and  connections with family and friends; and ground that supports and sustains us and in which we’re rooted.

Back to our Old English translation dictionary:

Folde:  earth, ground, soil, terra firma, land, country, region, world

Ham:  village, hamlet, manor, estate, home, dwelling, house, region, country

Ton:  enclosure, garden, field, yard, farm, manor, homestead, dwelling, house, mansion, group of houses, village, town

And so Foldehampton was named.  I especially like the “Folde” bit.  It makes me think of a sheepfold, with its sense of shelter and protection.   We’re also pleased to discover that there is no other place in the UK with that name: just our Foldehampton, Village for the Future.

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Interesting Places in the UK who are doing something similar

We have been looking at places that are doing all or part of what Foldehampton is intending to do.  Later on we’ll publish a text list, but in the meantime, here’s a Google map.

Google Maps were giving me grief: it displayed the places for me, but not for anyone else.  Sigh.  Luckily, it has now been fixed by the very kind Tanya Park of 5CreativeAngels.

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How Big Is Foldehampton?

This is a question we are often asked, and until Foldehampton actually exists, we won’t know the answer.  But I thought it was worth jotting down some back-of-envelope calculations, to see how much land we may be looking for, and what we might use that land for.

First, I looked at the land area, number of dwellings and populations of a number of Hampshire villages (Longparish, Owselbury, Serenbe, Sparsholt, Twyford, Kings Somborne, Swanmore, Colden Common, Waltham Chase, Alresford, Bishops Waltham).  The sharp-eyed will have noticed one village that isn’t in Hampshire: Serenbe is an already-existing “New” village near Atlanta, Georgia, that has a number of similarities to what we’re trying to achieve.

From my analysis of these villages I am suggesting that Foldehampton might have 500 people living in 200 dwellings, that occupy some 50 acres of land.  That’s an average of just under 2.5 people per dwelling, and an average of 3.5 dwellings per acre.

So our total land use would look something like this:

Land Use Acres
Housing 50
Community Buildings 1
Retail and Commercial 1
Horticulture 20
Permanent Pasture 150
Forest Gardens 50
Native Broadleaf 30
Commercial Conifer 50
Total 352

I realise that these figures beg a lot of questions, but they are questions that I am not sure that I can answer yet.  I’ll have more idea after we’ve talked to our planning consultant, and after we’ve completed our research trip.

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Cumbria Here We Come

We are about to set off on a 10-day trip, to see what other people are doing.  In case you’re interested, here’s where we are going.

Ford Hall Farm

Near Market Drayton in Shropshire, Ford Hall Farm was one of the first organic farms in the UK: it has been organic for 65 years.  It is also a community-owned farm — when the landowner tried to kick them off the land, they set up a huge project to raise the money to buy the land.

Although Ford Hall doesn’t talk much about permaculture, Arthur Hollins was probably “doing permaculture” before the term was invented.  We’re especially impressed by their “foggage farming” (leaving the animals on pasture all year round).

There’s a really interesting account of Ford Hall Farm on Rebecca Hosking’s BBC documentary, A Farm for the Future.

Incredible Edibles and Incredible Farm


Next we’re off to Todmorden to look at a community project to grow good local food.  To quote from their website,

We are passionate people working together for a world where all share responsibility for the future wellbeing of our planet and ourselves.
We aim to provide access to good local food for all, through:
• working together
• learning – from field to classroom to kitchen
• supporting local business
Membership: If you eat you’re in.

Lancaster Co-Housing Project

It will be getting late on Sunday afternoon when we get to the Lancaster Co-Housing Project at Forgebank, so there’s every possibility that we may not actually get to meet anyone!  But it’s a brilliant project: a group of friends have got together and built 40+ houses to Passiv Haus standard, at a price that is comparable to standard houses in the area.

They also benefit from having a lot communally-held resources, but they have individual homes.  There’s an excellent short video about the Lancaster Co-Housing Project, here.

The Witherslack Community

The people of Witherslack, in Cumbria, have taken over the Witherslack village shop, to stop it closing.  They had to fight for funding, and made use of a Community Land Trust.

They seem to have quite a lot of “vertical integration” going on in a small village, involving some self-build eco homes, the village pub (The Derby Arms), the local school (Oversands School, previously Withersands Hall School), and, of course, the Village Shop.

The more I read about Witherslack, the more impressed I get with what they have done, and the more confused I get about how they have done it (and we really want to understand that!)  So we are looking forward to talking to some of the movers and shakers in Witherslack.  The summary (from the Community Land Trust website) says:

Witherslack CLT operates in the Parish of Witherslack, Meathop and Ulpha, consisting of about 350 households in the southern end of the Lake District National Park. It is has developed and now manages two three-bed self-build homes.  It also bought the freehold of the village pub, which it holds in perpetuity. The pub also houses the community shop.

Layapoint Permaculture

Layapoint Permaculture is in Ulpha, Cumbria, and Witherslack is part of a community called Witherslack, Meathorpe and Ulpha.  It took me quite a while to realise that there is more than one Ulpha!

Laya Point Permaculture is dedicated to learning, playing and experimenting with sustainability both in the home and in community and business enterprises.

Nicole Hermes and Tom Dennison are the first genuine “permies” that we are meeting on our trip, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they are doing, and hearing about their training.  What they are doing looks exciting (and their website is really beautiful!)

The Screes Inn, Nether Wasdale


There’s nothing “permie”, or co-operative about the Screes Inn … it’s just our Cumbria base for three nights (we got a good deal on GroupOn!)  And our time aways isn’t all visiting farms and CLTs and co-housing … it’s time to start my walking rehabilitation after my feet problems and surgery!

Fab Lab Cockermouth

A community workshop and Fab Lab will be at the heart of Foldehampton … apart from anything else, it’s where we will be cutting the panels to build our Wikihouse buildings.

It’s always good to see what other Fab Labs are doing, so we will be visiting Cumbria’s Fab Lab in Cockermouth to see what we can learn from them.

Old Hall Forest Garden, Cockermouth

It’s only an acre site, and fairly young.  As far as we can tell, it’s the long thin triangle of woodland just south of the school, that you can see on this map.  Apart from that, we don’t know much at present, but probably will after we’ve visited Danaway.  We found it when researching Forest Gardens and Dr Naomi van der Velden (of whom more later).  They have a map of Cumbria Forest Gardens.

Danaway

One of the local people involved in Old Hall Forest Garden, and in the Riversmeet Community Project in Cockermouth, is Richard Cross, who runs Danaway, “A Northern Permaculture Homestead”, just south of Cockermouth.  Richard ticks so many of the boxes for criteria for people we would like to meet and talk to, that I can hardly wait to get to Eaglesfield!

Dr Naomi van der Velden, University of Cumbria

Dr van der Velden is an expert on forestry, permaculture, and, especially, on Forest  Gardens.  We are hoping to visit her as we leave Cumbria, but the meeting isn’t confirmed yet.  Watch this space.

Lakeland Permaculture

Another as-yet-unconfirmed visit, Lakeland Permaculture also teach permaculture courses, in Lakeland.  We are looking forward to hearing what they do (if we can confirm the meeting!)

Offshoots Permaculture, Burnley

The Offshoots project is, I think, extremely exciting.  Another community-based project, using permaculture principles to teach and encourage local people to grow their own food.  I find this video inspiring:

Earth Heart Housing Co-operative

Earth Heart sound like a really interesting project.  But I can’t find any website of their own.  They have self-built their houses, so Self-Build Central has an article about them.  They are an intentional community, so Diggers and Dreamers also have an article about them.  They design their landscape using permaculture principles, so the Permaculture Association has written them up, and they are a co-housing co-operative, so the UK CoHousing network has an article, too!

I am really hoping that we can meet them, and hear what they have to say about themselves!!!

Haye Farm

And the last place we have to visit on this trip is Haye Farm, in Worcestershire.

A traditional family farm, Haye Farm is now highly diversified:

Located in the tranquil rolling Worcestershire countryside Haye Farm with its grade II listed farmhouse feels a million miles away from the bustle of everyday life. A place to unwind and escape the modern hectic lifestyle. The farm remains a traditional working family farm; its diversified activities have been key to its survival. Two fishing pools and a caravan site have been operated for over twenty years; to compliment this a barn has been converted to provide holiday accommodation.

… and they use permaculture principles on their farm, where they raise Dexter cattle (Susan’s dream!) and Wiltshire Horn Sheep.  We believe that a high-level of diversification will be key to Foldehampton’s economic success, so we’re keen to see what they are doing at Hay Farm.

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Confor Woodland Show

We‘re off to visit the ConFor Woodland Show at Longleat tomorrow, to see what we can learn about woods and forestry.  We are keen to see a variety of woodland at Foldehampton, and next week we’re setting off on a 10-day trip around the UK, looking at Permaculture sites, co-operative housing, and agro-forestry.  All will be reported here.

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Foldehampton: A Diary

Welcome to our Foldehampton diary.  This blog will contain some genuine “bloggy” stuff … news item about progress, etc.

And it will also be a temporary repository for ideas that we wish to flesh out, but haven’t got around to yet (like why the village is called Foldehampton, and why you can’t find it on Google Maps — yet!)

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