02 May Findhorn Ecovillage Visit and Call for Directors
Findhorn Ecovillage Experience Week: Inspirational!
The last few months work has continued apace for the project. One of the stand out moments was Enriched Earth Ecovillage taking part in an Ecovillage Experience week at Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland during first week in April. The week was truly inspirational and what this pioneering project has achieved over the last 56 years is remarkable.
Findhorn stands as a primary case-study for Enriched Earth. We were impressed with so much from this community. Aside from the headline fact that they bring in £2,500,000 per year in annual revenue (which is an important statistic for us in seeking investor confidence). We were mostly inspired by how authentic this community is and the incredibly positive impact they have had not just globally as founders of the ‘Global Ecovillage Network’ and their inspirational International outreach work but also locally.
Aside from the wow factor of also getting to visit and lunch at the local hotel which the Ecovillage bought and which houses over 150 residents, living with the lowest ecological footprint of any community in the UK. Aside from the many social enterprises the Ecovillage runs from the fabulous local Phoenix Shop (which attracts customers from all over the Highlands), to the Trees for Life project (Which recently bought 10,000 acres for restoring native woodland). We were struck by the fact that no less than 50 other Social Enterprises have set up around Findhorn Ecovillage that have been directly inspired by it-from local farm diversification into organic production, to a local solar panel making business and numerous Eco Small-Holdings.
This Community has gone from being feared and shunned in their early days to being celebrated by the entire region as a vital asset. This was further evidenced in the sell-out Highland Dancing Gala evening which they hosted in their hotel ballroom. They tellingly prioritise tickets for the surrounding community (rather than the many guests like us) as it is one of the biggest events of the year for the wider local community. Fantastic! Findhorn is evidently and rightly proud of how they are now regarded and valued by the local community.
The Spirituality of Findhorn is one of the things that makes it famous as well as the pioneering Ecovillage. This was an area that the Enriched Earth visitors were unsure of, as we are focused on being a secular Eco project, which while open to all religions and none, does not have a particular spiritual focus. However witnessing first hand their spiritual ethos in action was something special. We saw genuinely devout Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Humanists, Pagans, Hindus and others of good will all living, working, eating, singing and meditating together in harmony in a way that surely must be a core lesson for the world we live in? Especially coming from Northern Ireland as a place still struggling with religious tolerance, it really was a breath of fresh air! Findhorn shines as a beacon of hope, were all can live in peace, respect and tolerance. In a spirit that seems much closer to the core tenets of all true religion and humanity. The spirit of ‘love in action’ of Findhorn is certainly something Enriched Earth Ecovillage is happy to share in and be inspired by!
Yes, the Findhorn Whiskey Barrel homes are as lovely on the inside and to sleep in 🙂
Enriched Earth AGM
On 4th March we held our AGM in the Europa Hotel, Belfast and the bold decision was made in principle to undertake preparing a Phase 1 Planning Application for the Ecovillage on the Arney site. This would be based on seeking to develop the current infrastructure via converting the barn into an Ecovillage Community Hub (for running courses, themed weddings and cultural events), converting 2-4 old cottages (in various conditions into a cafe/shop and an exemplar low-impact house. Also to develop core aspects of our Social Enterprise e.g. Eco Glamping Pods and the outdoor Eco-Education Trail. Such however will only be progressed when all is prepared and after further local community consultation and with their support.
We also agreed to offer Board membership to a number of our consultants and we are particularly seeking a Financial Director! Anyone wish to help us make the world a better place for all? Let us know and please spread the word!
During February we completed a 5 day consultation period with PwC supported by the Department for Communities. This was a very useful exercise and the main focus was on developing our business plan. One of the key immediately practical things to come out of the consultation was the need to develop our Board of Directors. We have a number of people who have agreed in principle to sit on the Board but we are waiting to see a final shape before formally appointing them. One of their recommendations was to have at least two Councillors sit on the board, which we have requested from FODC.
Fermanagh-Omagh District Council Meetings
We met with The FODC informally on 14th February and presented to them the vision and values of the project which were warmly received and Director JP Patton took a range of intelligent and insightful questions from Councillors. It was suggested that the next step would be to request a formal letter of support from the Council for the project in principle (obviously such would have no impact on the legal process of a planning application) but it would enable us to proceed with the good will of the council, which is a vital requirement for a project as pioneering as this. In a follow-up after PwC process we also requested if any councillors, on a cross-community basis, would be willing to sit voluntarily on our Board of Directors.
During the next Council meeting on 14th March of the Regeneration and Planning Committee however two councillors said that following our last Community Consultation meeting they had some concerns from local residents raised that they wished to ‘tease out’ and as such it was proposed that the letter of support and any appointments to our board be deferred until such time. We did also have another councillor who advocated strongly for the project and noted how our vision and values are something which they supported 100% and that ‘dove-tailed’ with FODC’s aspirations. We have sought clarification as to exactly what these concerns are over the last few weeks but as yet have not received any information but are following up on it.
It is vital to our aspirations to have clear community involvement, ownership and engagement as much as possible to this project. However we do also recognise that Ecovillages as a pioneering social and environmental project can illicit concerns from local residents and we will seek as far as reasonably possible to address these.
We note that Lammas Ecovillage in Wales which pioneered the One Planet Development initiative of the Welsh Assembly received quite ugly resistance from some local residents and even councillors. They did however overcome the resistance (which unfortunately did involve taking a hostile councillor to court for unfairly and illegally blocking them). Lammas is now however 8 years later very much welcomed by the local community with whom they interact closely and has been praised for their work not just in terms of environmental conservation and sustainable living (which is outstanding from their homes featuring on Grand Designs to turning land grazed to nothing by sheep into a biodiversity hotspot) but also for their work in promoting the Welsh language in the Ecovillage.
Enriched Earth Ecovillage is a timely and noble enterprise but we do only wish to set up in a community that can see the merit of the project and welcomes it. In this respect we seek to be like Cloughjordan Ecovillage in the Republic of Ireland which had as priority an area in need of regeneration and was welcomed to Cloughjordan with open arms and has been a blessing on the village over the last 12 years: from saving local teacher jobs, to attracting significant tourism, investment and employment to the area. Way to go!
We have had a further number of significant private investors pledge their support. Including a generous offer from someone living just across the border of the proposed Arney site of at least £50,000 to go towards building an exemplar low-impact home and small-holding for the Eco Education Area. We have also had another investor from USA pledge support.
We also scored well on our Peace IV application and got some very valuable feedback from our first application for EU funding. However we did not make it to the second stage of this very competitive funding scheme. The process though has been invaluable to Enriched Earth in moving forward, not least through the partnerships we developed. We have also looked at Interreg and other EU and regional funding options and this is ongoing. We also having reached the final stage of a ULTD Grant didn’t get it mainly due to the fact that we could not guarantee to be set up and making a social impact within the year (part of their criteria for that fund) but again, we got very encouraging and useful feedback to take forward and we will apply again when we have a site secured.
Increasing our ever growing private investment capital is a priority but we also have a range of other key funding sources which we will apply for in due time.
QUB Lecture: Transforming Food Systems
We attended this lecture on 14th March by Dr Emile Frison and had the opportunity to speak to him and a number of QUB lecturers and students and those present about Enriched Earth and received a lot of interest and support. We are very keen that ours is to be an Educational Ecovillage and involving Third-Sector Education is a vital aspect of our vision and values. In short the lecture stressed that current farming practice is completely unsustainable and we need solutions soon. He never heard of Ecovillages but was very intrigued with how such fits with the findings of his study in terms of a solutions based model.
We have also been approached with another very interesting potential site for the Ecovillage and will be exploring this further with a meeting in May. Keeping all options open is always good.
The Entrance to the original Findhorn Garden