Visitors to Hockerton come expecting a tour of our homes, but the first stop – whether the visitors are permaculture pioneers or planning professionals – is our orchard and allotment area.
We are often asked why we haven’t just focused on low energy housing but we were clear from the beginning, 20 years ago, that a sustainable lifestyle has to balance social, environmental and economic factors. This cannot be delivered by architecture alone.
In 1997 the Building Research Establishment published a General Information Report GIR53 which was entitled “Building a Sustainable Future-Homes for an Autonomous Community”. Within this report it was pointed out that at that time the average family produced about 4 tonnes of CO2 through car transport, 4 tonnes of CO2 in heating the family house-yet twice that amount of CO2-8 tonnes was associated with food consumed by such a family each year.
This is because food is often the product of intensive farming which uses fossil fuel based fertilisers and is then transported thousands of miles to our shops where it is stored until it is transported to our homes, usually by car.
So by focussing on heating costs and transport alone without addressing food production we would miss out on impacting half the CO2 emissions we could potentially address.
Hockerton thus incorporated a land management plan in its design, which as well as providing an environment for wildlife to flourish would contain an organic growing area.
Over the years our food production has added to our organic allotment. We now have and orchard with fruit trees, bee hives, chickens and a flock of sheep.
The added bonus of all this is that we are kept in touch with the natural cycles of nature, spend time outside in our green gym and benefit from food produced to high standards and on our own doorstep.
So if you are thinking about your own sustainability projects, don’t forget the opportunities for food production which could outweigh the reductions in CO2 from household energy saving measures that you take.
One of our longest-standing residents reflects on her time at HHP….
This is the 20th year since we joined HHP. We had recently returned from volunteering in Namibia and felt that sustainable development needed to start in the affluent West. We had relocated to Nottingham as I had a medical job there and Simon was looking after our small son Luke and looking for some way of using his engineering skills and doing it sustainably. By chance he came across HHP who were looking for a family to join them and the rest is history!
In those days (1995) I think we were more about sustainable and autonomous housing and climate change was not such an obvious issue but of course that has all changed and Simon now spends a great deal of time thinking about Renewables although our core business of demonstrating and promoting zero energy and sustainable housing continues and has lost none of its relevance today.
We moved into our brand new house in February 1998 after 18 months in a caravan with by then 3 small children. Simon had contributed to the self-build and being on site allowed him to juggle the family and building whilst I went off to a warm comfortable hospital every day! Our neighbours at the time were in a similar position which allowed some complementary childcare and a lot of mutual support!
Over the 20 years the Project has grown in so many ways. We had not realised the amount of interest it would generate with about 30,000 visitors, a significant amount of media interest and a small business that has continued to promote sustainability and provide employment for some of the residents.
Families have come and gone and we are now the last original family. Our children are grown up and Flo who was born when we were in the caravan is doing A levels and considering her future. It is perhaps not surprising that Luke is studying permaculture and small-scale organic horticulture in Leeds and Naomi is down in Falmouth studying Environmental Science. Their childhood in this wonderful site has been spent in the woodland and lake, in a small community of children and adults where they have had the freedom to explore and learn in safety. Parenting them has been easy. It is a pleasure to see other small children growing up and enjoying this space that we have helped to create.
As old families have moved on it is sad to lose that collective memory of the first days and the struggle to get planning permission and the houses built. We will be the last to remember why we did things this way or that and why that particular phrase in the secondary rules was written that way. But new families have brought in fresh energy and ideas and keep the direction of the business gently changing depending on interest, skills and available time.
Simon and I have no plans to leave and this lifestyle and place is perfect for us. The apple trees are in blossom and the new plants in the polytunnel are thriving and ready to go out. As the spring sun floods the conservatory after earlier rain, I am as excited as ever to throw open the doors to the bedrooms and know that the temperature in the house will stay in the low 20s until November.
After 20 years here our lives will change as the children leave and we have a bit more time for ourselves. More time to spend on the land, more time to sort out 20 years of childhood paraphernalia and more time to sit in the kitchen, conservatory, garden or lakeside depending on the weather and the season just enjoying this extraordinary place we helped to create!