Soillse Shines the Light on Eco-housing

“Fun!” In a word that sums up living at Soillse, according to five-year-old Isabella. And best of all, she says excitedly, is the time she shares with the chickens visiting from a neighbour’s garden.

There are also ducks in a pond out back, while deer roam nearby, although a recent fence discourages them from feasting in the organic vegetable gardens.

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Early days as Soillse takes shape as a multi-generational co-housing development

Soillse, which means ‘light’ or ‘ray of light’ in Gaelic, is the name of a new multi-generational co-housing development that is home to a small intentional community within the wider Findhorn community.

Thirteen souls, ranging from a year-old babe to an elder in his 70s, live in the six-dwelling cluster and cherish a vision of ‘actively practising and sharing the art of living in a sustainable way.’

For Isabella’s parents Iain Davidson and Bettina Jespersen their double-storey home is a dream come true, although they admit it was slower manifesting than originally anticipated, and only happened after a protracted process of stakeholder meetings and a minefield of agreements and permissions.

“I love the house,” Iain insists. “It is the closest to a perfect home that I have lived in.” His wife Bettina shares that delight and says: “What we’ve done is amazing, especially on top of all the personal challenges that have included the deaths of two parents and a grandparent.”

First impressions are of wonderfully bright and airy spaces and commanding views over the adjoining woods, farm fields, Findhorn Ecovillage and waters of Findhorn Bay. Mercifully, air traffic from neighbouring Kinloss Barracks is rarely intrusive these days, although the proximity to a Ministry of Defence facility necessitated some expensive blast-proofing on one side of the development.

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Bettina and Iain Davidson with five-year-old Isabella

“Wow, I could live here,” a BBC Scotland journalist announced enthusiastically on entering the home of young mum and artist Lisa Shaw and her husband Galen Fulford, echoing the sentiments of most first-time visitors.

“One of the best things about living at Soillse is that we are all good friends,” Lisa says. “We have a lot of fun together, often sharing dinners and having singing or poetry nights.”

Part of the vision is to embrace living in harmony with the land and creating a beautiful environment together through ecological passive solar design and permaculture gardening. They’re also committed to carbon neutrality and using renewable energy and ecologically sustainable building materials, composting toilets and rainwater harvesting.

“Our project is educational in the broadest sense of the word, inspiring both individuals and the larger community, local and worldwide.”

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Three generations with young Jasper enjoying the support of parents Lisa Shaw and Galen Fulford and grandparents Michael and Gail Shaw

“I feel really good about the fact that we don’t use fossil fuels in our home,” Lisa adds. “Knowing that our heat, electricity and hot water comes from renewable sources is fantastic. I find the house to be always warm and light and I wake up in the mornings so grateful and delighted to be living in such a beautiful house. I also love working in the garden and eating food we have grown ourselves in our polytunnel.”

Her dad Michael Shaw recalls: “Pioneering a small co-housing community within the broader Findhorn community was both a satisfying and challenging learning experience. From the beginning the future members of Soillse were involved in the whole process from buying the land to creating the design and choosing the architect, negotiating access roads, permitting, financing, constructing and finally occupying the homes. We invested a great amount of time over the seven or eight years it took to complete these phases of the project.

“We wanted one architect, one essential design and one construction contract that would result in an economy of cost savings, and we handled most of the facilitation ourselves. We were our own developer and as such dealt with the Moray Council, Ministry of Defence, the Park Planning Group, the negotiation of the construction contract and the collective financing.”

Individual members were tasked with handling legal issues, accounts, project management and the supervision of construction, landscaping, securing another interest-free loan from Energy Savings Trust and following the correct path dictated by local bylaws.

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Soillse means 'light' in Gaelic and interior spaces are bright, airy and spacious

All joke that there were plenty of opportunities to practise what Findhorn Foundation co-founder Peter Caddy referred to as the three Ps – patience, persistence and perseverance.

“We were working towards carbon neutral homes that used no fossil fuels in their operation and we achieved this goal. We also realised that many groups run out of money and sacrifice green features, so we took a loan to put in the green infrastructure. This included a biomass boiler that uses wood pellets, a common laundry and the purchase of our own transformer to connect to the windmills.

“In the end we have homes that we enjoy, neighbours who are friends we love, our family conveniently next door, land we own in common and now we are working on creating other aspects of community together.

“We have just erected a yurt we can use as a common space, we have a greenhouse well planted and are planting extensive outside gardens.”

He echoes the sentiments of the others when he says: “Soillse has been a lot of work, but it has paid off.”

Geoff Dalglish

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