At Ashburnham Place we are developing two sites – one in our four acre Walled Garden and another in a slightly wilder area of woodland and field; this area is called Friar’s Field. The long-term purpose of both is to provide experience and training that helps others on their journey toward gentler, more sustainable and connected ways of living.
These two sites each have a different focus, the Walled Garden is kitchen garden and intended as a living example of re-thinking how we farm, compost, grow in our gardens, back yards or even balconies. Friars field is working more with permaculture principles and experimenting with sustainable building methods. They both serve slightly different functions, but with much mutual learning including developing and sharing seed libraries, nature’s medicine cabinet, composting, foraging etc.
The Walled Garden has been in development for around six years and is given over to no-till growing of fruit and vegetables; it is also the home of the Employability Project which hosts local long-term unemployed as they take part in the process of growing, nurturing and harvesting. We are developing several micro-garden plots; modelling what can be grown on a ‘back-yard’ plot with household compost. We see this as being increasingly helpful for UK communities as the fragility and unsustainability of our food supply chains becomes apparent.
This all happens in the context of an onsite residential community who are on a journey back to the land, understanding our connectedness and place. Our intention is that the residential community are increasingly involved in the kitchen garden growing process as well as learning some basic animal husbandry with lambs and chickens. This ‘whole ‘community’ engagement is an important part of this project; helping the land and sustainability to get under all our skin and fingernails.
The aim for the site at the bottom of Friar’s Field is for it to become a place modelling and providing training for sustainable/permaculture living along the lines of Mount of Oaks in Portugal (mountofoaks.org) and Lammas in Wales (www.beingsomewhere.net). While this will take many years, we see the ‘village’ one day including composting toilets, solar energy systems, diverse orchards, growing food (coming out of the industrial seed systems and developing an indigenous system along permaculture lines) foraging, wild medicine cabinet and wild woodland garden. This has been a passion for a couple of our team for some time and now seems a time for them and us to step into seeing what could be possible. Currently we are ‘experimenting’ by attempting to build a straw-bale and lime roundhouse and a composting toilet.
As we emerge from lockdown our hope is that we are able to open these two sites to host small groups of individuals for training in a range of activities. We would be able to host skills specific and focused training over four or five days such as: ‘How to build a Straw Bale House – from conception, planning, build and finish’, ‘How to build a Composting Toilet and Shower’, ‘Growing a Wild Orchard’, ‘How to eat When the Supermarkets close’, ‘How to Bake when Greggs is Shut’, ‘Enneagram – Growing Communal and Personal Resilience’, ‘Foundations for Farming – sustainable farming’. The aim of all trainings would be to develop resilience for communities and individuals in the light of the significant shift we will all experience in coming years and the inability of our current systems to adapt to these shifts.
The training will be accessible for UK communities, but also to provide training for some of our young international volunteers from countries such as Brazil and India.
Ashburnham Place is a former stately home set in 220 acres of East Sussex countryside. Sixty years ago it was placed into a charitable trust and since then has been home to a residential Christian community. Today that community seeks to work out their faith through hospitality, stewarding the land and exploring creative ways to be a gift to wider society.