The Seeds of Independence Take Root and Grow

The last two presentations in the series of Foundations of Findhorn history evenings gave us a glimpse into the 90s and 00s, a time of tremendous changes in the Foundation alongside the emergence of the community. I was especially intrigued to hear about this time, as it was in 1995 that I first came to Findhorn and experienced the heart-opening love and magic so embodied here.


Beginnings in the Field of Dreams

The panel of speakers each night painted with their words an unfolding picture of a work of perfection in progress. With their brushstrokes, Judy McAllister and Alex Walker gave form to the sometimes painful restructuring that the Foundation went through in the mid-late 90s.

Global Ecovillage Network

Against a background of excitement inspired by the official launch at Findhorn of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), the opening of the Living Machine, and the purchase of the Field of Dreams and of Dunelands, the issues of how we identified, structured and governed ourselves, as well as how we related to the wider community, was placed in the crucible of transformation. Alex spoke of the tension that existed between those who were saying we needed to be more business-like and those who were saying we needed to go deeper into community. A pathway of both/and was adopted with the result that the community’s voice became stronger and optimistic expectation replaced the Foundation’s wounded self-belief.

eco038As part of this restructuring, the Foundation’s trustees took the decision to divide up New Findhorn Directions (NFD). By the time the 90s came round, NFD had grown into an organisation with seven different trading arms, a situation that eventually became cumbersome and required a new vision. Findhorn Press was the first to go independent, and so began the movement of leaving home. George Goudsmit (for Weatherwise) and Cornelia Featherstone (for the Holistic Health Centre) shared how it felt to have the initiative each of them was involved in be asked to leave the fold of the Foundation. While independence proved in the long run to be the fertiliser that fed the tender young shoots and helped them to realise their potential as strong, thriving plants, it was nonetheless a process that brought sadness at the time.

Ecologia Youth Trust

Liza Hollingshead, partner at one time in the Weatherwise business, eventually answered a call from Russia. Her response to the need of orphaned children she found there was the establishment of the Ecologia Youth Trust, registered in 1995 as a charity promoting and fostering positive and creative change in Russia. A first community, Kitezh, was built in the 90s with a sister community, Orion, following in 2004. Later the Trust expanded its remit to include work with refugees in Thailand, and to supporting a project in Kenya helping women living with HIV and their children, and to supporting a small school in Uganda.


Alan Watson Featherstone (r) planting the millionth tree

Co-creation with nature is one of the pillars upon which the Findhorn Community was built. Commitment to this principle came for Alan Watson Featherstone in the form of dedicating himself to the restoration of the Caledonian forest. As might be expected, manifesting the vision of planting one million trees did not come without difficulty. Through the twists and turns of negotiating with the Forestry Commission to put up deer fencing so the baby trees would have a chance to survive, to becoming a separate organisation in 1993 in order to be able to buy land, to running out of money for a time, to buying the 10,000 acre Dundreggan Estate in 2008, Trees For Life, now with a staff of 13, planted the millionth tree in May of this year.

Community Supported Food Schemes

Within the emerging community, another kind of community was being created. David Hoyle, who came to the Foundation in 1990, knew the power inherent in food to link people together for the benefit of all. Using the example of producing bread for sale in the Phoenix, David spoke of how skills and employment were created, and how a local farmer was persuaded to grow organic grains for what was then the Phoenix Bakery, these grains being ground at a local mill in Golspie – an 800-year-old traditional water mill. Cheese, butter, eggs and soft fruit to be sold in the shop came from another local, organic farm. And Earthshare, launched in 1994 as one of the first Community Supported Agriculture schemes in Europe, was a model for how to make small-scale farming possible. Findhorn was at the top of the food league in Europe all through the 90s and David expressed his conviction that there are more food adventures ahead.

orgfoodMany of the people contributing to the growth that was taking place had felt called to come to Findhorn to participate in community life, but not as part of the Findhorn Foundation. A new way of holding was needed. Dürten Lau, one of the current Listener Conveners for the New Findhorn Association (NFA) described the process that brought the NFA into being.

Findhorn Bay Community Association

First came the Findhorn Bay Community Association, organised in 1994 by a group including Roger Doudna, Fabien Barouch, Eva Ward, Judith Berry, Mo Willett, Jeremy Slocombe and Jocelyn Dawes. However, the time wasn’t yet right, as this first attempt didn’t take off. Four years later at a conference on community, energy was injected into the desire for a community association, and in 1999, a group of 12 people including Robert Gilman, Richard Coates, Eva and Fabien worked for three months to create a constitution and set up elections. The first Listener Conveners – Hannah Albrecht and Fabien Barouch – along with 12 councillors were elected in March 1999. In the years to come, the NFA gradually took on responsibility for running the General Office, the Boutique and the Youth Project; for producing the Rainbow Bridge, our community newsletter; and for many other facilities/services available to guests, co-workers and/or community members. Today the NFA has a membership of approximately 400 individuals and more than 30 businesses, and continues to evolve in its relationship with the Foundation.

YEP2011-3The manifestation of the Foundation’s long-held vision of becoming a University of Light was also one of those seeds that began to take root in the 90s. Not without controversy, however. An American academic, Andrew Arthur, put forward an ambitious proposal which, despite management’s opposition, was given the green light by the trustees. Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the Findhorn Foundation College was finally established. Growing in strength and purpose since then, last year the College became one of 480 colleges and universities in the UK accredited by the British Accreditation Council for Further and Higher Education as a short course provider.

A Planetary Village

With the purchase of the caravan park in the 80s, the movement towards becoming a planetary village began to gain momentum. Holding the vision of having their own building company, the Foundation set up a building school in the 90s. Mark Jones came up in 1990 to train people in green building and in becoming trainers themselves. Shortly thereafter he left, but the building school carried on. The Building Department that was formed eventually disbanded, and Mark returned in 1999 to join with several other builders in forming Build One, a company based on cooperative principles. Over the course of eight years, this group built 20 houses on the Field of Dreams.


The Park circa mid-80s

Picking up from there, Christopher Raymont highlighted just how important the acquisition of Dunelands was for the Foundation and community. At one time behind a locked gate, the land that was bought gave three distinct areas: wide open duneland to the sea that would be kept for public use; woodland, known today as the Hinterland, that serves as a buffer zone for Pineridge; and the Magic Triangle which links The Park and Cullerne together. It is on part of this Magic Triangle that the new housing development East Whins, further extending our planetary village, is being built.

Mark and Christopher both paid homage to John Talbott, director of the Ecovillage Project for over 20 years, for the role he played in helping to bring the ecovillage into being. In a document from 1983 titled Nature as Sanctuary, John wrote these words:

Much of what this centre accomplished in the early years of its existence, the experience and learnings, was on a level of a new consciousness and awareness of life. We now seek to apply this awareness more fully to the physical level of how we live; to express the essence of what the Findhorn Community is through architecture, landscape and integrated ecosystems – that harmonise the needs of people with the needs of the natural systems in which we live.

Of the four parts of sustainability, the economic aspect is, in Alex Walker’s words, often considered the ugly sister. Alex explained that Findhorn’s positive answer to this is our own Ekopia, a microfinance bank which has been involved with several of the projects mentioned above as well as the wind turbines, NFD’s eco-chalets, and Station House. Ekopia became part of the community-led regeneration movement, started in the mid-90s, through being a founding member of Development Trust Scotland, which today has nearly 200 members, many of whom are involved in renewable energy projects.

Association with the United Nations

Part of Findhorn’s bigger picture was an enduring aspiration of collaboration with the United Nations. Upon arriving here in 1992, May East took on the responsibility of building the bridges that would allow this to happen. Through promoting the UN agendas, creating programmes to address the international conventions, and participating in a series of buildingsland029official collaborations with the World Organisation,in 1997 the Findhorn Foundation was accepted for formal association with the United Nations, through the Department of Public information as a recognised Non-Governmental Organisation.

In time UNITAR, which had been created within the UN to help local authorities implement the UN agendas, came knocking on May’s door. Remembering Peter Caddy’s advice of, first say yes and then sort out how, May said yes to the Foundation becoming a training arm of UNITAR. This training arm, known as CIFAL Findhorn, last year became CIFAL Scotland and opened an office in Edinburgh. Closer to where government decisions are being made, the Foundation now has the possibility of furthering our reach.

Much appreciation was given to long-term Findhorn resident Liza Hollingshead, who planned these informative and interesting history evenings, held during our 50th birthday year. Hosting with warmth and humour most of them, Liza was not able to be with us for the last one. Mari Hollander held the evening in her place, letting us in on her part-time hobby of tracking the archives. Thank you both for a glimpse into our collective past.

Sandra Mitchell

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