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Visions of Alternative Futures: Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland

Jessica Kleczka

Jessica is a climate justice activist and social scientist based in the UK working in climate change policy. With a background in psychology and environmental science, her previous research has focused on climate communication and values-based approaches to societal change. She is an advocate for intersectionality and mental health awareness, and works as a researcher to help the UK shift away from fossil fuels. In her free time, she is a pianist and educator, using social media to make environmental issues more accessible.

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Visions of Alternative Futures: Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland

“Visions of Alternative Futures” is a series featuring intentional communities I visited for my research on values-based approaches to transformative change. This is an experimental study working with principles of decolonial research, as well as more conventional methods such as questionnaires and interviews. Ultimately, I am hoping to learn more about which psychological values are relevant to transformational change, and how we can use those insights to promote social justice and more ambitious environmental policy. I am spending some time in each community, immersing myself in their everyday life and letting my research be guided by participants. It was of particular importance to me not to engage in researcher-centric, extractive methods but to give back to the communities so that they can also benefit from my project. These articles are part of this endeavour and serve to amplify the wonderful work the communities are doing.

 

Nestled between the windswept cliffs of Moray in the northeast of Scotland lies a truly magical place, demonstrating our intimate connection with the natural world. Findhorn is a spiritual community, ecovillage and learning centre which has inspired thousands of people since its beginnings almost sixty years ago.

 

Findhorn Ecovillage in The Park. Image Source: Findhorn Foundation

 

Philosophy

The Findhorn Foundation is an international centre of co-creating a thriving and loving world, led by nature as an equal partner which is seen as having its own intelligence. Findhorn sees itself as a living experiment, building and demonstrating what can be possible by working together as an intentional community. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the community welcomed thousands of visitors every year from all over the world. The Foundation is a registered NGO associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, holder of UN Habitat Best Practice designation and co-founder of the Global Ecovillage Network.

 

“As a conscious community, we strive to demonstrate a practical spirituality in harmony with nature, and play our part to positively transform humanity and the earth.” – Findhorn Foundation

 

A community garden which is shared between five households. They are self-sufficient in the summer and plan to build another greenhouse to grow enough vegetables for the winter, too.

 

 

The purpose of the community is to be a place of inspiration and transformation, and it is characterised by a positive vision for humanity and the Earth. Findhorn is committed to practical spirituality and “true ecology” – caring for each other and the planet.  Through day-to-day activities, it seeks to raise awareness both individually and collectively, with the aim of living in peace and with gratitude and respect for the natural world.

 

“We seek to create and hold spaces that are caring for the soul – places of beauty where we learn and practice the healing power of love. We seek to be visionary, vital, vibrant and viable on this Earth.” – Findhorn Foundation

 

Findhorn’s herb garden at the heart of the Eco-village.

 

 

Findhorn has three guiding principles, which have been incorporated in the community’s Common Ground statement and leads the way people live and work: inner listening, work is love in action, and co-creation with the intelligence of Nature. Findhorn places a lot of value in diversity, and people are encouraged to follow these principles in their own individual ways. Members of the community are free to practice spirituality in whatever way they want to, as long as it does not harm others, which includes the living environment.

 

A beautiful flower garden near the centre of the village.

 

History

Findhorn’s founders, Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean, arrived in the Findhorn Caravan Park in 1962, trying to feed a family of six on unemployment benefits. Peter decided to grow vegetables, which proved a struggle on the sandy and dry land. One day, Dorothy had a spiritual experience in which the land spoke to her, instilling knowledge of how to tend to it effectively. With no prior knowledge of gardening they started planting seeds, following the instructions of Dorothy’s visions. Over the months and years, they transformed the sand dune ecosystem into a productive and nourishing garden with an abundance of plant species (most famously their 40-pound cabbages), which fed the entire family, and later community.

 

 

The Original Caravan, which has remained in the same place since 1962.

 

 

Over the years, more and more people were drawn to this magical place and the community grew steadily. In 1973, the Findhorn Foundation was formed as an Educational Charity and started drawing in more and more people. The Ecovillage project started in the late 1980s, with the aim of being ecologically, economically, culturally and spiritually sustainable. Today there are 90 ecological buildings, three wind generators and a biological sewage treatment plant, The Living Machine. On my visit I was amazed by the diversity of homes – as they were built throughout the decades, one can see how sustainable development standards have changed over the years, and some of the older dwellings are being refurbished to reflect this. The community is currently working on a carbon reduction project and aims to be net zero well before 2050.

 

 

Findhorn today

It is hard to tell where Findhorn starts and where it ends – when asking how many people are members of the community, estimates ranged from fifty up to 500 people. The reason for this is that Findhorn does not have any defined borders – while “The Park” forms the core of the eco-village, there is also the wider Findhorn community and Findhorn village, which has existed since at least 1661. Some community members also live in some of the surrounding villages, such as Forres.

 

 

An eco-home in “Bag End”, built from recycled whisky barrels.

 

 

Houses in Findhorn must be built to high sustainability standards. Many are being fitted with a green roof and solar panels.

 

Two of the most fascinating places are the Quiet Garden and Nature Sanctuary, reflecting one of Findhorns principles of inner listening. Members of the community practice consciously tapping into the interconnectedness of all life, in order to reduce feelings of separation and move away from individualism. The second principle, “work is love in action”, is evident in the bountiful gardens in The Park and surrounding area. I spent one morning volunteering in the Original Garden and our day started by standing in a circle, closing our eyes and “tuning in” with the earth, our intentions and letting go of any expectations we may hold in order to be guided by nature. Every day is seen as a new opportunity for spiritual growth and discovery, and acting from a place of love and mindfulness will lead to “the right resources, people and realisations”.

 

 

The Nature Sanctuary which is used for meditation, rituals and retreats.

 

 

The Quiet Garden, where residents and visitors can enjoy a peaceful moment.

 

 

Working on the land is also tightly connected to the principle of co-creating with nature. When working in the Original Garden, I was instructed to listen to what my gut feeling told me, as we are all in a constant state of communication with nature. Even a menial task such as weeding becomes a conscious process, with volunteers instructed to pay attention to which plants want to come out, and which ones are asking for more space. Behind the garden lies a patch of wild woodland which is dedicated to nature spirits – humans are instructed not to enter it and honour their space in return for use of the land. One of the local food growing projects, Findhorn Bay Care Farm, offers personalised projects for people with learning disabilities, autism and Aspergers. Using arts and crafts activities, the farm provides healthy daily structures to help build confidence and develop social and practical skills.

 

 

Gate to the original garden, where the community was born.

 

 

One of the many permaculture plots in Findhorn.

 

 

Findhorn’s Universal Hall has hosted countless concerts, events such as the International Forum of Sustainability and conferences with world-renowned figures of the environmental movement, including Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, Christiana Figueres, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Trees for Life founder Alan Watson Featherstone. Moray Art Centre, situated in The Park, offers regular courses such as Abstract Intuitive Painting and Printmaking. Cluny Hill, a former Victorian hotel five miles from The Park, houses staff and welcomes visitors in workshops and events. A spiritual retreat house on the nearby island of Iona and satellite community on the neighbouring Isle of Erraid are also part of the Foundation.

 

There are lots of fascinating eco-projects to be discovered in the community, from car-sharing initiatives to save emissions, to hot boxes which turn food scraps into valuable compost – which is then again used to grow food and minimise council food waste collections. An old pine plantation at the edge of the village reminds of past unsustainable practices of previous landowners. The community takes out a few trees here and there, using them for firewood, and replaces them with more diverse native species, slowly regenerating local ecosystems.

 

 

One of the many ecoprojects which recycles food waste and turns it into fertiliser.

 

One of the projects I’ve found most interesting is Findhorn’s social investment co-operative Ekopia, which acts similarly to a bank and even has its own currency to promote money being re-spent in the community, supporting the local economy. Returns are comparable to those of other ethical banks and used to fund community projects, including affordable housing, Findhorn wind park and the community café in which I enjoyed many delicious meals made from local ingredients.

 

 

View of Findhorn wind park from the sand dunes.

 

 

The Living Machine is an innovative installation which treats 300 households’ sewage. Approximately a dozen containers filter water using bacteria, which are fed with oxygen to optimise the filtering process. All containers are fitted with floating islands, which feed off the nutrients in the water. Leftover sludge is sucked back into previous containers to be re-treated and the finished product acts as fertiliser for plants – in theory, even vegetables could be grown from it without any health concerns. I was amazed at the lack of unpleasant smells and the aesthetic value of the facility. A community member told me that it’s even cheaper than our mainstream sewage plants – but councils have yet to utilise this innovative system. I found it mind-boggling that instead of something that is easy on the senses and planet, we get perpetually overwhelmed industries which dump large quantities of untreated sewage in our rivers and seas.

 

 

The Living Machine, which treats the wastewater of 300 households.

 

Findhorn is a truly extraordinary place. Many imagine intentional communities are being quite isolated, but Findhorn proves that the opposite is true. It is a global centre of sustainability and innovation, and in pre-pandemic times residents enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. I enjoyed many walks down to the beach, swimming in the clear water and marvelling at the unique sand dune ecosystems. I feel inspired to return to Findhorn in the future and spend more learning about co-creation and nature connectedness. In the meantime, another community is waiting for me in Wales…

 

 

A playground in the village.

 

 

After the Covid-19 pandemic, Findhorn will resume its experience weeks in which volunteers can get to know the community by helping in the many gardens, kitchens or homecare. It is a week characterised by joy and playful discovery, helping people gain more awareness of what it means to live in a spiritual community. Findhorn also offers a diverse array of Special Interest Experience weeks, with a focus on LGBT+, music, foreign languages, youth, family or wilderness.

 

For those who do not live in the community but are involved in projects or want to be a supporter, the New Findhorn Association offers several membership tiers and holds monthly Community meetings.

 

My next article will feature Brithdir Mawr, a permaculture community in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for annoucements and photos from the communities.

 

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