“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”