Centre for rural reimagining

Whenever I describe my somewhat ambitious vision for The Rural Project, it is either met with confusion on why offices in the countryside are that extraordinary, or their imagination is captured by the content and conversation the spaces start around reimagining rural life. 

In design and architecture firms there tends to be a commercial arm and a ‘R&D lab’ where the juicy design challenges happen. That is what I want to mimic on The Rural Project: the workspace and events as revenue generating to fund the centre for reimagining. And that does capture my imagination and soul. I see this in other peoples faces, that this is perceiving a widening gap that needs to be filled - connecting up our rural population to conversations happening in the metropolis. 

It is always fun to see what comes back and I wish I had been documenting more of these conversations over the past few years, as rich as they are with the characters and ideas I have encountered. Yesterday at an International Women’s Day lunch, I met two women who offered this use and need for the project. 

A woman’s husband had written a play “St Just” about the town in Cornwall where a few young white men fail to grasp life as society essentially turns its back on them, or worse does not even notice them. The play never got shown as to prove the point of the play further, the metropolitan elite didn’t get it or perhaps, like it. It shone a light on their own ignorance and unwilling to change a system that benefited them so well. 

Another geographer had written a PhD on changing our ‘worlds’. Following the approach the economists and academics had to rolling out neoliberal ideology through second hand xxx , they swept through schools and universities forming the views of the young, in media forming the views of the masses and eventually to policy. She looks at how this formed a new world, and thus - and something I have been thinking of a lot - how could we reimagine the one we are in. What is the new ideology we need? The green economy is not stacking up, and as the neoliberal comes crashing down around us in glory, we have no other at the table. She is working across disciplines to bring minds together to start this off. Despite being an ecologist, she actually wants this to be an arts-led initiative for they can illustrate the models and design the outcomes of these sessions.

“Ideology: a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” 

I digress - the exciting point being this workshop needs to be held in spaces that are reimagining how we function and live in community. And in community, not in red brick university towers. 

We can also cover the co-working in tree houses (another friends dream), parties and bat mitzvahs, and build our vast greenhouses for food growing, which similarly are too about reimagining how we could use space and work. 

A View from the Hill

Old and new friends are featured in this gorgeous love letter to my home, Somerset. Henry Temperley, who co-directed the film, writes,

“It wasn’t until the edit that connections between these lives began to emerge. All of the people we met along the way shared a quiet, creative spirit of individuality and had worked hard to find a life that fulfilled them, often foregoing the trappings of modern society and the status quo. It seemed these deeply thoughtful people had gravitated towards Somerset or stayed there as it’s a place that not only allows but celebrates this individuality.”

For more see http://www.siblingandrival.com/

Over the past year documentary and fashion photographer Matilda Temperley has been exploring the county with her camera.

A short film featuring people who live and work on the Somerset levels. From the highwire walkers to the anarchist and non fossil fuel communities via cider makers and migrant workers.

As well as capturing Somerset’s wonderful distinctiveness, the project has also documented some of the issues facing rural communities.

It includes portraits of the industries synonymous with the area such as elverers, peat-diggers, cheddar cheese makers, cider farmers and withy growers. It also reflects a rapidly changing landscape. Somerset’s alternative communities and its unmissable annual celebrations feature too. Matilda says –

“Looking a little harder at my surroundings has been an incredible adventure. It is more diverse and interesting than I ever imagined, and I have only scratched the surface,”

Matilda Temperley: A View from the Hill is open at Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury 22 December 2018 – 1 June 2019.

Admission as part of entry. #srlmmatildatemperley

Matilda’s accompanying photo book, ‘Somerset: A View From The Hill’, will be out shortly and available from her website.


The Future of Work 

Progressive halls are filled with talks on this, global corporations publish reports, thought leaders publish blogs (and yes, turning the mirror to me!) One of the motivations for starting The Rural Project was recognising the way we work was changing. Where we work, what we work on, how we work, and who we work with, if anyone at all. 

With the possibility of flexibility, of home working, project and contract work and working remotely, opens up an invitation to reconsider where you live, how you live and who you live with. With this, rural life, closer to the woods, to the seas, to the mountains, to other cultures and countries, is all available.   As long as there is a good internet connection! 

However, it is not as simple as this. Moving out of the cities filled with cultural access and stimulus, filled with your community and family, filled with travel and connectivity, filled with increased work opportunity and networks, is not easily found in the woods and fields. Or should I say, not so immediately. There is a different kind of connectivity and community here (and no, I’m not talking mycelium networks yet!)… but at first it can seem isolating, fearful, discombobulating, exposing and lost making. Making more tea at the kitchen table, waiting to collect your kid at the school gates for some social interaction, or waiting for a call from your colleagues to share updates as you stare blankly out the window, or covering a wall with post-it notes going round and round in circles trying to make sense of a problem, wishing you had someone to bounce the ideas off, or simply walk with. 

We may even work less. On contract and then off-periods.; or the 3-4 days a week role (see large and small firms shifting). All this gives us more time to prepare more and spend less on convenient things bought in a hurry between work and home. We can (still a choice) grow our own vegetables, we can repair things, we can research to find cheaper solutions, we can use our time for our needs.

This is what the hub provides, a meeting point and growing space. We are familiar with the alarming status of pubs, farms, churches, post offices, village shops closing down, where traditionally we gathered to warm ourselves with company and good spirit. Today, despite the online networks, it really is hard to get out and knock on doors to meet new people and neighbours. To find friendships and trust, support and access to these networks. The Rural Project is a short cut to finding your workspace, your co-workers, your inspiration — and as always with a good internet connection :) 

Our impact

As an ambitious business, we use the biggest targets of all to guide the work we do over the next two years – the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Where we have the greatest impact and can contribute is towards these three goals:

SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

8.4 Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead

8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value 

8.7 Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms

8.8 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services

SDG 9: Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all 

9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries

9.3 Increase the access of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, in particular in developing countries, to financial services, including affordable credit, and their integration into value chains and markets 

9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities 

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management

11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities 

11.A Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning

We also like the version created by Futerra called The Good Life Goals, translating these into behaviours and how we want to show up in the world: Work with Purpose, Invent Smart Solutions, Meet and Welcome people


Our blood transfusion: The Oxford Real Farming conference

“Coming to this conference is a blood transfusion. People get you, and get it.”

Blessed to be back in the beating heart of the agrarian revolution Oxford Real Farming Conference . This year I felt the call was louder, the solutions scalable and yet the young farmers seemed tired of fighting for their livelihood. So, I’ve signed up to volunteer for Farming Community Network that supports farmers who are often isolated, vulnerable, disconnected whilst facing failure and grief regularly on their doorstep. This organisation has a hotline where we are trained to listen, whilst having some understanding of the work. There are 400 volunteers across the UK , open seven days a week including Christmas Day. They arrange farm visits too should that be needed.

Unlike other ‘professions’ there is little coaching or management for farmers, and as we rely on them for our food, so we must value and celebrate them in our communities.

We are familiar with the horrific suicide rates for farmers across the globe, as the Guardian writes:

An Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995..

And similar figures in US where it is twice as high in farming than the general population. Take time to think about where you buy your food, who is benefitting, whose livelihood are you supporting, that deserves to be valued.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/petronellat/

From the rural to the urban: my hop, skip and jump back to the big smoke

Times have been quiet on the rural project after the summer of tidying up loose ends and honouring a request to lie low. So we did. Despite the loss of our site, we continued to find other partners and other alternatives. And friends, to be honest, I got tired, I was broke and working all hours in a local pub and volunteering as a Board Director. The purpose was gone, the opportunity swept away and the horizon seemed unclear, uninteresting and so I didn’t focus on that, but on the magic of everyday in rural Somerset. Of the network of support, of the ability of fresh air to alter your emotion completely, of the laughter and care of whom became friends and family to me. 

An opportunity landed on my lap, nudged along the way by a dear friend to facilitate and consult on the world’s largest co-living project, The Collective Old Oak in West London. The application was fun, with good questions and the role seemed to befit my skills, other than the location, it was an ideal break from the scene and a good confidence boost. My application success rate was low, so I didn’t hold out until it was rapidly followed up by an interview, and then six days later I’m on a train to London, with a suitcase befuddled, and with the buzzing feeling of being alive that I knew no matter what was in store, this was a good helpful decision. 

It has been met with guilt, abandoning the cause I was rallying to support fair rural development and promote the brilliance of a more rural existence. My advisors smiled (sometimes condescending but they are forgiven!) that the rural project idea will always be there, it does not require a depletion of your capabilities and other dreams for it to flourish, indeed as I have written before, this is a project that must be supported by wellness, by abundance and by harmony. This new tract, and it is temporary, is to immerse myself in a very commercial example of community building, one driven by a property developer and management company looking to transform how we live in cities. They are seeking heart and soul, that I can bring, and what they bring is the acumen and property knowledge that will only support my future plans. 

And, who am I to suggest that my skills, knowledge and years of experience that when sought, are not to be given? Finally, a fun, fearless property developers is recognising their responsibility to community and what it gives us humans, our bond, our belonging, our care. As facts and figures pour out about metropolitan loneliness being fatal and the rejuvenating outcome of intergenerational living (we have 700 18-70yr olds in our building), this is an innovative, exciting and new wave of living as opposed to working as co-working movement provided. This is more holistic, and perhaps, more important. 

So watch this space. I am still involved in rural regeneration and hope to see some of you at the jubilant Oxford Real Farming Conference. If not, come and see me at Old Oak in Willesden Junction. 

For now, over n’out. 

And when the stream that overflows has passed,
A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;
Images and precious thought that shall not be
And cannot be destroyed.
— from the Excursion by William Wordsworth
Langford Court Farmhouse, my old home.

Langford Court Farmhouse, my old home.

If there wasn't a setback, it would make for a dull story

Dear friends and supporters of The Rural Project, 

I have been quiet for a couple of weeks after our plans for The Rural Project in North Somerset fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. Now that the dust has settled, The Rural Project will continue on in spirit with a search for new premises and partnership whilst I put on hold my immersion in the project and resource myself better.   

Thank you those who have already shown such continued belief in the project, it really helps keep the momentum and acknowledges the need for it. As an example, Stir to Action have run a feature on the project in this month's issue, ‘Cities as Counter Power’ which you can purchase here https://www.stirtoaction.com/issues/issue-18

The website will continue to be updated with news, ponders, and events. If you have any suggestions for sites, partnerships, events, or even a coffee, please do get in touch. 

In gratitude


Founder, The Rural Project 

And our first site is... North Somerset

There has been silence from the blog over the past couple of months as negotiations, fears of possibilities and disappointments meant I was quiet about shouting, standing on roof tops, bouncing on our trampoline at the potential of grounding the 'idea' here in North Somerset. An invitation was offered from a nearby landowner under the most extraordinary of circumstances that I will share down the line. 

So here we are. There is a site. It has three buildings, and acres of land. It is nestled between large villages in North Somerset, a woodyard and carbon zero solar company, twenty minutes by car south west of Bristol, accessible by two train stations, a direct bus and a cycle route. It is accessible - and that was our wish. Being the current home for a disability charity, it truly is accessible on site too.

We are navigating complex events, relationship and trust building, sharing our purpose and vision. It is literally groundbreaking and I cannot wait to open the doors to you. This year we will be focusing on the buildings to refurbish and activate them to be alive, super comfortable and befitting the space. Meanwhile the land will be prepared for next years herb farm, allotment and land-based work. 

Groups from the local area are stepping forward, particularly mens and boys leadership work, which is bang on the message of development we wish to enable. We will be hosting and running a start-up social enterprise incubation programme with six businesses on a six-monthly rotation who are from the 'hood, working with the local school and GP Practice with their chronic health patients. Our original intention for a healing and active enterprise space are coming to fruition. 

Robert Montgomery: Light poems

Robert Montgomery: Light poems

CANCELLED: EVENT: Land for land workers 23rd January 2017

Dear guests,

I'm afraid we are going to have to cancel our event on the 23rd January as it seems this is not a need for our community at the moment. We only want to offer excellent, relevant events and it wouldn't be very useful this time round.

We will be in touch with another theme and date soon. With this series, we want to tap into your needs and provide scale and network to help alleviate or solve common issues. If you have an idea, please do get in touch with us. 

With very best wishes, and hope 2017 is working out well for you so far!

Petronella, Steph, Jamie and Nessie.