Some thoughts after a first visit.
What can “normal” people living in a semi-d in Skerries learn from an ecovillage? We spent a weekend in Cloughjordan recently to see.
Here are my very personal thoughts, based on spending a weekend near the ecovillage, two guided walks on Saturday and Sunday plus a bit of online research. For the full history, more facts and how the ecovillage presents itself, please go to thevillage.ie!
1. It takes time. Don’t give up, and something worthwhile will grow. Even if there are hiccups.
The Ecovillage company was founded in 1999 (in the Central Hotel, Dublin, by the way). Cloughjordan (Co. Tipperary, population then: approx. 500) was identified as a feasible location. The first houses were built in 2009. Recession struck. There were meant to be 130 homes… there was a waiting list… 50 were built. But they seem to thrive!
Even though there are many little (and some bigger) things that are not the way they were meant to be (no meeting house / community building as yet, the sewerage isn’t as eco as it should be, not enough people to do all the things they had set out to do…), the ecovillage is making a serious contribution to more sustainable living in Ireland, through trying things out in real life (I intend to write about this in more detail in future).
2. Open yourself again and again to the general public. Sustainability must become the norm for society at large.
There is little point in just having a self-sufficient community that does not share its learning with wider society.
Cloughjordan Ecovillage is part of Cloughjordan. If you didn’t know better, it would seem just like another couple of roads in the town, with houses that look a bit different (and no walls between them). It’s hard to tell who in that small town (approx. 800 inhabitants now) is an ecovillager, and who isn’t. People participate in some aspects, learn from others, opt out of what does not suit. There is plenty of bidirectional learning between the ecovillage proper, the local authorities, local people etc. etc.
3. Having a clear, shared vision is central to not giving up and to ensuring that your project will go in the right direction overall .
Decisionmaking by consensus will be difficult, but is worth it.
Decisions in the ecovillage are made by consensus. At the same time within the agreed framework, there is as high a level of autonomy for individual people / groups / projects as possible.
The website says:
Instead of simply voting for an item, and having the majority of the group getting their way, the group is committed to finding solutions that everyone can live with.This ensures that everyone’s opinions, ideas and reservations are taken into account. But consensus is more than just a compromise. It is a process that can result in surprising and creative solutions – often better than the original suggestions.
4. Trees, be they fruit and nut trees or other trees, make such a super difference to the landscapes.
Linear orchards, edible landscapes, neighbourwoods! And: Planting trees needs expertise.
Walking around the “neighbourwood” of hundreds of trees feels magical. There are alder, ash, oak, sweet chestnut, birch, and beech as well as other trees, based on consultations with an archaeologist to ensure the right species for the site were selected. There is an apple tree walk with nearly 600 trees, built up over years with help from Seedsavers in Co. Clare. Biodiversity is central to the planting plans. Though as you stroll around the woods and orchards (all free to the public to access, there are even long-distance walking routes that cross the area of the ecovillage), you forget about this and just get lost in the beauty…
5. Growing your own food, and / or local food is a central plank of sustainable futures.
Organic, of course.
Actually, Skerries’ own Charlie Heasman, himself heavily involved in Skerries Allotments and Sustainable Skerries, wrote about this recently! See his post on the Sustainable Skerries website.
In Cloughjordan Ecovillage, there are plenty of allotments for those who have the time and desire (skills can be learned!), and polytunnels as well. Courses are run now and again (check out cultivate.ie for their 2020 permaculture 10-day course, which I personally am seriously considering), and then there’s the above-mentioned YouTube channel, RED Gardens!
Community-supported agriculture in Cloughjordan takes the form of a community farm that employs 2 full-timers plus 8 international volunteers. It is there for those who don’t grow (all) food themselves. Everyone who wants to be part of the scheme pays a monthly fee and then helps themselves to what they need in the Community Farm building on harvest days (twice a week).
6. Energy is central, too.
Excellent BER Ratings! District heating, where possible. Solar (photo-voltaic) where possible. And of course low energy consumption.
Knowledge can be gained and shared!
All houses in the ecovillage have an energy rating BER B1 or better, even though most were built before that rating had been finalised. Actually, we were told that the BER definitions were arrived at with input from the ecovillage!
There is a district heating system, fired by woodchips which are waste from a nearby factory which makes wooden fences. All the heating and warm water is supplied by this system.
Would that be something for Skerries? Could neighbours get together to set up a district heating system? This is not as mad as it might seem at first sight, there are places (I’ve heard of an example in Canada) where this has been done for existing buildings! But there are probably a lot of other things we’d be able to do first.
Making knowledge, experience, thought processes accessible for all.
Cloughjordan ecovillagers share their experiences freely.
Weekly guided walks, starting every Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. from the bookshop on the main street.
Go see for yourself:
From the ecovillage website:
Organise a Group Visit
Ecovillage IntroductionThe Cloughjordan Ecovillage: Visit Us
An active learning experience, opening with with a presentation on the Ecovillage, followed by a guided tour in small groups and a facilitated discussion. Ideal for Schools and Colleges or Professional and Community Groups. Duration: 3 – 4 hours
Meetings, weekend seminars, week-long seminars are also on offer. (See cultivate.ie for some examples.)
Sharing insights through a YouTube channel is what Bruce, a globally local gardener does (See RED Garden Design for his data-driven gardening advice.)
And then there could be information on blogs and podcasts and and and… Check out thevillage.ie for more!
8. Just do it!
Find people who are of the same mind (an intentional community, a social group is always at the heart of such endeavours).
I’ve only been on one short visit, so these insights are not based on a deep engagement with, or knowledge of, the ecovillage – yet I’m sure that they will be useful for us here in Skerries. Personally, I recently joined Sustainable Skerries – if you’d like to learn more about our work, subscribe to our newsletter by sending an email to SustainableSkerriesNewsletter@gmail.com !
Let me leave you with a few pictures I took during our visit.
Click / tap on any of them to open them large.