As part of our recent ICSA conference activities, a day was devoted to a tour of Findhorn’s sister communities in the area which have been inspired by the Findhorn Foundation Community, while developing in their own unique way. Adriana Bijman joined the tour and shares her experience of the day.
The first place we visit in the morning is the premises of Transition Town Communal Gardens in Forres. Carin Schwarz, initiative taker of the volunteer-led group of the Forres branch of the ever growing Transition Town movement, on the model of Totness in England, leads us around the allotment gardens and buildings. The horticultural gardens are created on two acres of land on ‘common good land’, which are by law meant for community use. There is a rental contract with the council until 2041. The group started with four people and had, and still has, many hurdles to overcome before they got where they are now. 70 members, a colourful round garden full of organic ‘home-grown’ vegetables and fruit-baring bushes in the allotments. Next to this there are worm boxes, a compost area, and big wooden ‘plot-boxes’ at knee height. People help each other with the work on the allotments and a there is a strong sense of community here. Most of the vegetables are for the community’s own use. During teatime in the wooden building Carin tells us about the other projects Transition Town has been involved in and its committment towards creating a sustainable low-carbon lifestyle.
The second community we visit is Newbold House. It is a beautifully maintained Victorian mansion amongst peaceful woodland near Cluny Hill. It boasts an impressive walled garden – still with one of its original glasshouses. And it is here that the current focalisers, Deborah and Christopher, tell us the story of Newbold’s past, its structural changes, of its small community in the 33 years since it became independent of the Findhorn Foundation. The current community is dedicated to offering Newbold as ‘The Home of Natural Wellbeing,’ its 10 members living and working closely together. “Deciding everything together can be very intense!” Christopher explains. He has lived at Newbold for six years, during which time he has held a variety of different roles. Most members stay for between two to three years.
Christopher shows us around Newbold’s seven acres of land, including neighbouring woodland and a walled garden full of vegetable plots and 92 fruit trees. The romantic building itself has atmospheric, comfortable spaces, staircases in dark wood, many of the original Victorian features such as stained glass and ceiling reliefs and a kitchen, which draws you in with the smell of freshly baked bread. Outside there is a large yurt, an ivy-covered shed and some caravans for the volunteers. In the dining room with its wood burning stove, we enjoy a lunch including vegetables fresh from the garden. Then we have tea and coffee in the Victorian conservatory amongst the scent of flowers and shrubs. After that it’s on to the next community.
We drive into the hilly countryside and visit Marcassie Farm. Sven and Betsy moved to Scotland from Norway in 1991 and after being inspired by the Findhorn Foundation Community, purchased their now organically certified 23 acre small holding in 1997. They have Gotland sheep, laying hens and grow vegetables, grain crops and fruit, mainly for their own use. Since the start they have been working on the extensive renovation of the derelict buildings, which they took over with the farm. Sven being a skillful wood-artist, their main income is from their wood business, NorBuild, which offers specialist joinery. The fire damaged farmhouse is now fully restored and the farm steading houses the joinery shop. Wooden cabins provide guest accommodation and a wood chip fired district heating system uses the wastewood from the timber shop to heat the buildings.
Some local community people offer their services from their workshops here: conservationist Dan Puplett, as well as basket making Naturally Useful. In 2011 Marcassie and its (at the time) resident intentional community of 12 adults, two teenagers and two younger children, was host to the first Scottish annual 200-strong ‘Art of Mentoring’ gathering. Many of the artful projects on site are ‘works in progress’ and the community side of things has been a gradually unfolding exploration in self-discovery and how things work, and don’t work, in groups. The journey continues, with currently seven long term and three short term residents living on site, at the moment on a simple tenancy basis, with no formal community structures or obligations.
The last community we visit today is the Woodhead Community. Almost all community members come out to welcome us and together give us a tour, telling us about the past and present of their small community. Janet and Hugh met in the Foundation’s satellite community on the island of Erraid and bought a house at Woodhead when they moved to the Findhorn area. Later another couple Stephen and Carola bought the house opposite, and their children played together. An island in the midst of the Kinloss agricultural area, they started to garden together.
From the start of the community in 1994, the houses have been shared with other long and short-term community members, who have rented rooms or self contained units. More recently they have also invited woofers to experience community life in exchange for help in the garden. At present the community comprises nine adult members and two young children. They have a communal kitchen, where they eat five times a week together, and there is a rota for cooking and cleaning. All shopping is done together and everyone pays the same monthly amount to the communal pot. Monday mornings is spent together for community business and to socialise.