Goodbye to WWOOF and to Redfield Community: the dawn of a new era for Lowimpact.org

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Posted Jul 1 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
wwoofredfield

Today we part company with both WWOOF and Redfield Community. Here’s a bit of history, including why we’re splitting, plus an advert for both WWOOF and Redfield.

WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ and has linked up volunteers with organic farms and smallholdings since 1971. Here’s more of an introduction. And Redfield Community is an intentional community – a registered housing co-op based in a Victorian mansion with 18 acres in Buckinghamshire.

Lowimpact has run the WWOOF organisation for the UK since 2007. WWOOF UK didn’t want to become an employer, and was looking for another organisation to run their office. We won the contract, and have handled their day-to-day operation from our office ever since. I think we’ve done a good job – WWOOF membership has soared, leaving them in a very strong position now that they set out on their own.

Lowimpact was born as LILI at Redfield Community in 2001, and our office was based there. I say was, because staff started to disperse several years ago, and now everyone is working remotely apart from two staff working on the WWOOF contract. Now those two have moved to an office in Buckingham, meaning that we don’t have a physical presence at Redfield Community any more.

So why the split? It started on Jan 1 this year, when changes in EU law meant that WWOOF could split its UK and overseas operations when it came to VAT – and that meant that they could de-register for VAT in the UK, because they fell below the VAT threshold for their UK operations alone. Lowimpact was still VAT-registered however, so we would have to charge VAT that they would no longer be able to claim back – resulting in a loss of around £16k per year. That wasn’t viable, obviously, so they had to start the move, reluctantly, towards taking it all in-house. Ironically, the loss of income from the WWOOF contract means that Lowimpact also fell below the threshold, and we’re no longer registered for VAT!

new wwoof office

Some of the WWOOF team at the new office in Buckingham.

Now here’s the advert. WWOOF and Redfield (or more accurately, the range of communities like Redfield) provide probably the best escape route from the ugly, ridiculous, consumerist, corporate world that I know of. You can start to WWOOF for the occasional weekend, build up contacts, and actually travel the world (WWOOF is an international organisation) moving from WWOOF host to WWOOF host. You’ll be helping the hosts with work they need doing, in exchange for food and accommodation. You’ll also meet lots of fantastic people (hosts, other WWOOFers and various other friends, family members and visitors), and you’ll undboubtedly make lots of contacts and have lots of ideas that could provide a new source of employment, income, accommodation and/or social life, well away from the rat race – and let’s face it, who wants to win the rat race, when it means that you’d still be a rat? Small, organic farmers remove weeds manually instead of just spraying pesticides, and spread organic matter and plant green manures rather than just adding chemical fertilisers. This needs more labour than non-organic farming, which puts them at a great disadvantage. WWOOF restores the balance by providing willing workers.

Redfield became a fully-mutual housing co-op in 1978, and has housed around 15 adults and about 8-9 kids ever since. Membership means taking it in turns to cook evening meals, reaching decisions by consensus, and being part-owner of, and better still, getting to live in a huge mansion with an 18-acre garden. The original owners will be spinning in their graves – I’m happy to say. You don’t have to pay anything to join, and you don’t take anything away when you leave. But here’s possibly the most important part – the original members included in the founding documents an ‘asset-lock’, which means that if ever the property is sold (bought for 70k in 1978, worth around 5 million now), the money would have to be used to start a new community or would be given to another co-operative enterprise. Bless them, the founders made sure that no-one can ever profit from the sale of Redfield.

redfield woods

A walk through the woods at Redfield.

So now Lowimpact.org is a 21st century organisation – i.e. without an office. Our remaining five people all work remotely – that is, from home, in Carmarthenshire, Stroud, Aylesbury, Nottinghamshire and London. We have regular Skype meetings (although Skype belongs to Microsoft, so we must sort out an open source alternative soon), and we all do our own thing.

Here’s my prediction: in ten years time, Lowimpact and WWOOF will both be extremely well-known, strong and effective international organisations and important parts of a movement that I can already see starting to gain momentum. There are millions of great, small, local initiatives springing up all over the world, the Green Party has just quadrupled its share of the vote in this country, and we have celebrities (or at least one, I’m sure you can think of) calling for a complete overthrow of the corporate system. These things just weren’t happening, even ten years ago (I’m sure it must have been something to do with LILI and WWOOF coming together). OK, so the corporate beast is still getting stronger, and global ecology is still degrading rapidly, so no cause for complacency. But I can see an alternative world starting to poke its head through, and I’m sure it’s not going to go away.

We’re going to continue to do everything we can to support WWOOF, Redfield and the communes movement, and I would say ‘good luck’, but I don’t think they’ll need it. WWOOF is run so well now that if they just keep doing what they’re already doing, the future looks very bright. I’ll blog again soon about Redfield and their ‘Living in Communities’ weekends, that provide a fascinating introduction to living in an intentional community.