Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

The Hollies – the Early Years – planning for an eco-village (2001)

**The Hollies Sustainable Village** (this article was published in Building for a Future Magazine in 2001. It gives what is hopefully a useful insight into the work and thinking that goes into the earlier stages of an ecovillage development. *To update, the appeal was refused, and then 16 months later (if you’re in a hurry, don’t do an ecovillage project!) planning was approved for a first phase of the development, 4 houses and a Study Centre. It set a precedent as the first application in Ireland approved planning on grounds of its sustainability. For more recent developments, visit [The Hollies’ website](”The Hollies”)*

Every time I hear a politician talking about ‘rural regeneration’ I wonder what they mean. Usually it boils down to more farm subsidies, tourism or forestry. It is my passionate belief that land needs people and people need land. A society which excludes people from land is an unhealthy society, and people who have no contact with the land and its cycles are more likely to be unhealthy. Current policies result in larger and larger farms, less and less rural employment, and a countryside pickled in aspic or cowering beneath the onslaught of intensive farming. There has to be another way, and it is this way that we are exploring with The Hollies Sustainable Village.

Our vision for The Hollies is of a village of 16 energy efficient houses built of mostly local and natural materials, laid out in clusters. Sewage will be treated using reed beds and most of the energy will be from renewable sources. There will be a Study Centre, offering accommodation and a venue for courses and training opportunities in a wide range of green living skills, natural building, green business development and much more. There will be a Visitors’ Centre, combining a café and a retail outlet for the wide range of things grown or produced at The Hollies. This will be surrounded by demonstration gardens and aquaculture ponds. The remaining land will be developed as a combination of agroforestry, coppice woodlands, forest gardens and intensive vegetable gardens. One of the main aims is to create as many livelihoods as possible, through good design. Among the potential businesses for an eco-village such as The Hollies are a green building company, a community supported agriculture scheme, an organic brewery, a publishing company, a tree nursery, and many many more (we did a list once, and it was a very long list…). We want to be able to demonstrate how a farm which conventionally can barely support one family can support 16 in great abundance.

That’s the vision. Many people have visions similar to this. But how do you turn it into a reality? In this article I will set out the various steps we have taken towards achieving this, as well as any lessons we may have learnt along the way that might be helpful to others trying to do the same thing.

Laying the Foundations (January 1997 – November 1998)

From the outset we spent a lot of time looking at the different eco-village projects that had gone before us, ones that had worked and ones that hadn’t, trying to draw out the lessons that would lessen the chances of our project being unsuccessful. There were four main things that emerged from this. The first was the importance of being professional and business-like. Any project like this is a business. We had to learn many skills in the areas of business planning, spreadsheets and marketing, as well as the practicalities of running a company. We set up a limited company, Baile Dúlra Teoranta (meaning ‘the place of nature’ in Irish), in 1997, the first such project to be granted charitable status in Ireland. Baile Dúlra was set up with its stated objective being;

“to create and manage a model ecological village (“eco-village