An Idea in the Making

Do you ever look at the world around you and think “Things just aren’t fair. It doesn’t have to be this way. Why are there people homeless while there are empty homes owned by foreign investors? Why are we destroying so much of the natural world – don’t we realise we can’t live without clean air, clean water, animals, good soil.”

I’ve been an idealist all my life and often have thoughts like this. I spent a lot of time protesting, shouting at the news, getting worked up about all that’s wrong in the world. Then I decided I should put my money where my mouth was and actually DO something. As I talked to people about this an idea emerged: why not create a community that demonstrated a different way to live.

Then it grew. Why not do that in one of the most deprived and blighted neighbourhoods? If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere. And anyway, who needs good homes, with low energy costs more?

That’s how the idea for MUEV came about – work with a community to build ecological homes, with land to grow food and run it all on renewable energy. Give people in housing need warm, low rent homes. Work with them to design and even build the homes. Work with them to develop a communal garden – maybe even a community cafe serving home-grown food.

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Lessons in Life

If you decide to see it this way, life can be full of signs, metaphors, omens. Every event or happening can be an opportunities to learn.

Here’s an example. I’ve been learning tai chi for nearly twenty years now. Having moved home two years ago I’ve found a new teacher and been through the process of unlearning everything I was doing to relearn it in a new way.

Now that’s a lesson in itself! But I also discovered something very useful about myself in the process. What I discovered is that I’d been over-reaching. In nearly every move I was either stepping out too far or over-stretching my arms. This left me unstable, off-centre. Now that’s a lesson that’s well worth learning.

It’s a subject that’s very much in my thoughts at the moment in relation to the early scoping of MUEV. How big should we go? How bold is the vision? What range of features and facilities should be included?

Opportunities seem to be appearing daily at the moment. There’s the possibility of a much bigger development of the wider area we were looking at, plus a range of possible social enterprises – a community café, a bakery, cleaning business. But I am wary of over-reaching now.

I recently spent ten days at an eco-village outside the UK. The founders had borrowed heavily to build infrastructure for over 130 homes which were to be sold off one by one as new people wanted to move in. Then the property crash happened and people stopped coming. This has left them with a headache that they are bravely and persistently working through. The vision was grand and ambitious and while the reality is inspiring, it is also something of a warning.

This leaves me pondering how to set a stretching vision, one that pushes the boundaries, while developing bit by bit, one move at a time, each move with a solid base. Of course part of the answer will lie in the process itself – letting this unfold. Community engagement will be core to this. Nothing can or will happen without active local participation. This will shape what happens when and how bold the reality becomes.

As one person at the eco-village reminded me: “Your vision will have to die and be reborn as the vision of the community itself”. Another lesson well learnt.