At Monkton Wyld Court I walked straight into a relaxed and friendly environment that made me feel immediately at home. If I reflect on why I felt like this, I would highlight two characteristics of the place: Humility and Structure. Low impact living developments usually spring up out of a reaction to mainstream society; its excesses and blinkered ‘carry on as normal approach’ to the big challenges facing humanity. But rather than being perceived as a beacon of hope and inspiration to the rest of society, often they can be perceived as being so far removed from anything normal and mainstream that people don’t feel all together comfortable engaging with them.
I know for myself I have felt uncomfortable on more than one occasion simply by being in the presence of people who are vocally and overtly vegetarian or vegan, or spiritual, more connected to the elements, less dependent on fossil fuels, more engaged in activism, more prepared for peak oil…. I still eat meat, although less than I used to, I am open to ideas on spirituality but have not found any philosophy or practice that calls me to put my stake in the ground. I like to have a pint of ale after work, I drive a car and a digger (it has been my livelihood), I have marched on the streets but I have never been arrested… but I still want to fight for change and I want to explore what this means for me personally. We are, all of us, plugged in to the incumbent unsustainable system to some degree and I believe we are all on a journey of change. Some are already engaged heavily and are truly awake to the anthropogenic crisis the Earth is in. Some are in denial and some are doing all they can do alongside life’s many other challenges (We can’t all live in off grid intentional communities!). I guess what I am talking about is shame and the resulting state of conflict that it can create. To evoke this feeling is of course unintentional and the vast numbers of people involved in exploring alternative ways of living are more interested in inspiring change and leading by example than alienating people. But there is a balance that needs to be sought if a low impact community wants to go beyond being an isolated intentional community and really inspire the world. At Monkton Wyld, they have created a beautiful balance of Sustainable, low impact living with a warm hearted humble welcome to people of all walks of life. This outreach comes in a variety of forms: Bed and breakfast, hostel, campsite, WWOOFing, local lunches, forest school summer camps, family weeks, practical educational courses, the Land Magazine’s headquarters, they have a licensed bar in the form of an intimate garden shed with pub benches for an authentic ale house experience:
Above all, the people are gentle, caring, hospitable, and interested in you! You can learn new practical skills, work on the land or in the house and kitchen, relax in the beautiful gardens and meadows, or simply use it as a base for a holiday in the area!
The community at Monkton offers a diversity of ways for people to come and experience the place. Many of those ways that I have just mentioned also offer financial return which adds stability to the community. Each community member is tasked with a specific responsibility: Kitchen, Office, House Keeping, Land, Maintenance, Garden, Agricultural and Volunteers. There is very little switching between roles and as aresult each of these areas is run well by people who are familiar with them. When volunteers come to work in the Kitchen, or the garden, the tasks are clearly explained and demonstrated leaving no doubt as to what needs to be done and why. This is all done in a gentle, patient and informative way and for me as a volunteer; this level of organised working creates a good environment for learning, connecting, getting things done and getting things done right!
Monkton Wyld is a wonderfully interconnected community. It consists of many elements each of which serve a multitude of functions. The Victorian Gothic house houses the guests and offers financial capital as well as social and cultural capital. The walled garden supplies fresh organic fruit and veg for the kitchen as well as an opportunity for visitors to learn about growing. Waste food from the kitchen is composted and given back to the garden or to the chickens and the pigs. The chickens provide eggs and an occasional meat supply. 2 elegant compost toilets harvest human deposits from all residents and visiters which are then allowed to decompose through a hot composting process leaving harmless nutrient rich material which feeds back into the fruit trees and onto the land to improve soil quality. One of these toilets won, (trousers down 😉 ), an award for the best looking compost toilet in the country! Honestly, you felt like royalty doing your business in this!
Water is pumped from a well which supplies the whole house and all the other structures on the site. Flushed toilets then feed the water into a reed bed system which treats the water as well as creating a thriving habitat for insects and plants. A large portion of the 11 acres of land is leased to tenant organic dairy farmers, Jill and Simon who work entirely without machines. They provide Milk and Cheese to the community (partly, or wholly as rent I am told) by farming three Jersey cows. Just look at the difference between these two fields: One shows a field of cows I passed somewhere between Salisbury and Dorchester, the second shows a field of cows at Monkton Wyld.
Jill and Simon provide opportunities for WWOOFers to learn skills such as Scything, milking, and cheese making in the on site dairy. They edit and write for the Land Magazine: http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/ as well as being well respected advocates of Low impact living initiatives and land access rights. They offer WWOOFers and visitors the chance to experience farming the way it used to be before the era of fossil fuels and agricultural gigantism put traditional small scale dairy farming largly out of business.
We now live in an age where a single dairy farmer can use a machine to milk hundreds of cows without so much as a ‘hello how are you today?’ At Monkton I get the sense that there is a more intimate relationship with the land because it is worked by humans, not machines! Even when heavy jobs like ploughing and harrowing need to be done…never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can make a difference!
Each individual resident in this community contributes a unique depth of knowledge and experience to the stability and development of life at Monkton. They work hard and well with each other, the volunteers, the land and the wider society to create an apparently very harmonious low impact community. I was struck by this elegantly interconnected system because I have always felt that interconnection is a principal indicator of something being sustainable. In the natural world we see systems and cycles. Reciprocity and connectectedness provide ecosystems with strength and stability. When we mimic these structures we are in effect harmonising with our natural environment. From a sustainability perspective, what is attractive about this structure is what is reciprocated. Benefits are reciprocated. There is always a beneficiary when we connect elements, resulting in mutual support and the concept of waste diminishing.
I began to draw a causal/functional loop diagram to illustrate the complexity of this elegantly interconnected system. Here is my attempt, but alas I had to give up because the pages weren’t big enough and the connections were too many:
I connected with many good people at Monkton and made some good friends. I had my first taste of scything and loved it. I milked a cow for the first time, I learnt to make jam and won a pub quiz (which I have never done before!)
I would like to say a big thank you to Lucre Camiletti for providing me with most of the pictures I have used for this blog post. She is a very talented photographer and I highly recommend you to check out more of her pictures at this site: https://500px.com/lucrecamiletti Here are a couple I really like:
Thank you Monkton Wyld!