On Wednesday evening I attended the AGM of the Ecological Land Co-op at Freightliners City Farm in London. I was standing for election to the board after being invited to apply by Shaun Chamberlin of Dark Optimism, who is retiring from the board to focus on writing a book.
This is why I love the Ecological Land Co-op
There are two kinds of land in the UK, as far as planners are concerned. First, there’s development land – you’re allowed to build on it, but it costs a fortune, and is often snapped up by supermarkets or developers. Anyway, it’s out of the price range of anyone attempting to live in a low-impact way and to make their living, or at least part of their living, from the land. Second, there’s open countryside, where unless you’re a farmer wanting to construct enormous battery sheds or a giant steel and concrete barn, you can’t build anything at all. If you’re looking to build a small, off-grid home from local, natural materials, so that you can live on your smallholding – forget it.
Recently however, there have been a couple of interesting developments. In Pembrokeshire, the Lammas group bought a farm in the open countryside, split it into 9 smallholdings and applied for permission to build homes on them, as long as residents adhered to strict sustainability guidelines outlined in their management plan. Those guidelines included building materials, energy generation, tree-planting and crucially, using the land to provide a livelihood. This was not going to be attractive to commuters or second-homers – only to low-impact smallholders. They applied under Wales’s One-Planet Development policy, and lo and behold, they were successful. This was a precedent for the UK.
Since then, the Ecological Land Co-op has done the same thing in England – they’ve created a settlement of three smallholdings in Devon, with plans for a further 20 settlements elsewhere in England.
When we used to run straw-bale building courses at Redfield Community, people were often amazed by how quick and easy it was, and declared their intention to buy a few acres and build their own home. We had to inform them that they would probably need to do it abroad unless they had a few million pounds handy. What the ELC is doing is: allowing access to the land to people who want to revitalise the countryside; helping to preserve and revive rural skills; protecting nature; and providing a way out of either poverty or the corporate rat race.
This is what happened on Wednesday evening
Around 30 members, including 3 potential directors and one smallholder from the settlement in Devon, sat in a circle at the city farm. We were attended by several cats and a chorus of goat noises from the shed next door. Various items were voted upon, there was a slide-show of developments on the smallholdings and there were financial projections for the coming years.
The two other people standing for the board were a) Alex, one of the founders of the ELC, who possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things co-operative, and b) Holger, who has been helping with their finances for the last year or so. Both said their piece, and really, were obvious shoo-ins. I focused on my awe of their achievements and their aims, and my intention to try to introduce them to lots of people who would rather invest with them than with multinational banks. They liked it and I was voted in.
We concluded the meeting, tidied up and retired to the Duchess of Kent. Disclosure: I stole the rest of the chocolate cake at the end of the meeting, and am eating it now as I write. Sorry.
This is what I’m going to do
I’m going to use Lowimpact.org to bring the ELC to the attention of as wide an audience as possible. If you’re reading this, that means you.
And this is what you can do
Come on folks – do you have money in a savings account? Here’s your opportunity to get it out of the corporate system and into a co-operative system. Wouldn’t you prefer that your money helped to distribute land more equally and farm it sustainably, rather than generate bonuses for bankers?
We’re not asking you to part with your money – just to park it somewhere else. Plus the projected return is 3% – more than a bank savings account. Of course this isn’t guaranteed, but it’s almost definitely more secure than keeping your money in the banking sector. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of banking crises – do you?
Here’s where to go to invest. I invested £2000 earlier this week, and it took 5 minutes.
There’s lots of information on there, including a business plan and guide for investors. Read it all carefully before investing. But please invest.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Shaun Chamberlin (@DarkOptimism) June 19th, 2015
Thanks Dave – actually I’m editing a book (see today’s blog post) rather than writing one, but yes, that’ll definitely keep me busy for a while.
Out of interest, how much investment do you estimate that the co-op will need to keep you in chocolate cake? ?
On a more serious note, having been on the board of the co-op for several years (until stepping down on Wednesday), I can’t speak highly enough of the team there. Outstandingly talented, committed people who have sacrificed a lot for the success of the co-op, in order to make small-scale ecological projects possible in our current political/economic context. I recently wrote a piece about the story so far, for STIR magazine:
2Dave Darby June 19th, 2015
Yes, I thought ‘my God, if we want a sustainable, just world, people like this should be in positions of power, rather than the acquisitive, ego-driven people who actually are’. But I suppose if we have a system that rewards acquisitive, ego-driven behaviour (and we do), then that’s exactly the kind of people who are going to rise to the top.
Actually, I tried not to steal the cake, but Oli made me do it.
3Cate Chapman June 21st, 2015
Sooooo happy to be working with you Dave! ? Welcome to the ELC team! x