The thing about East Whins Cohousing is that, consistent with its emergence from within Findhorn Ecovillage, it has an inspiring story behind it. This inspiring story is a lot more to do with the location of this lovely cohousing community than the fact that it is a developer-led project but more on that later. The 4allsentientbeings article on Findhorn Ecovillage posted in April gave only a scant paragraph on the Findhorn Cohousing adventure. It is time to give East Whins a bit more attention.
In the lands of the Findhorn Ecovillage, East Whins is situated at the northern periphery of human habitation right next to the rolling sand dunes leading to the Moray Firth, the ocean of the North Sea that look over to Scotland’s North Highlands.
Springtime on the Findhorn Peninsula was a great time to experience the abundant gorse in full bloom smelling so intoxicatingly like a tropical paradise: all pineapple and coconut. The area of the dune-lands on the Moray coast is of special significance to Findhorn: they are its stewards.
The story of the East Whins Cohousing Community starts with the arrival of the time when a large parcel of land in Findhorn called the Magic Triangle, was offered to the Findhorn Foundation. It is a story of community vision, dedication and a lot of work over many years by a lot of people.
John Talbot explains what happened in the video on the front page of the website of the development company called Duneland. (1)
When you watch this you will hear the community singing a song expressing their spirit using the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it, just begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
The land was offered to them for £180,000 ($386.6 thousand AUD) but when the Findhorn Foundation didn’t take it up, a group of community members got together to start raising the finance themselves. They had pulled together £65,000 ($138.5 thousand AUD) but time was running out and securing it looked improbable. As another example of Findhorn manifestation and perfect timing, an investor – one who happened to live in the community and who had a good knowledge about the rare nature of the dune systems – turned up willing to contribute the remaining £135,000 ($287.72 thousand AUD). John Talbot said he had always known the land needed to come to Findhorn.
In 2000 Dunelands Ltd. gifted 170 acres (68.8 hectares) of the estate to the Findhorn Dunes Trust, a dedicated charity made up of representatives of Findhorn Village as well as the Findhorn Foundation Community. This was an historic alliance, the first time the village and the Community came together in a joint project. This special area of wild nature is now protected in perpetuity and mutually benefits all parties on the Findhorn peninsula and its many visitors.
Then they needed to do something with the remaining land. They knew there would be some building sometime in the future to pay back the generosity of the people who’d been involved as the shareholders. So they were propelled to do what they did. “Almost all the rest of the land was taken into care of the Findhorn Hinterland Group – Findhorn Foundation and people of the local area – to look after the woodland and the rest of the duneland and the grassland.”
The Findhorn Hinterland community group “was founded in 2006 and draws its membership again from both the village of Findhorn and the Findhorn Foundation Community. It is dedicated to managing the hinterland as a buffer zone between the residential areas on the peninsula and the wilderness reserve. Through sensitive management of the pine wood plantation an increasingly biodiverse woodland is created. Educational programmes with several local schools bring kids to the forest to see, play and work in the big class room where squirrels run and the bird chorus enchants. The land is used for income generation to support the restoration and conservation work with projects that in turn inspire: the woodland produces firewood and some timber for buildings locally, the 4 windmills owned by the Findhorn Wind Park generate 100% of the electricity used by the ecovillage, the Green Burial site that serves the local community as well as friends further afield and the pony field which not only gives a home to lovely ponies that enchant more than just their owners but also produce manure for the local organic gardens and help with land management.” They also took on the management of the maram grassland and the control of the gorse.
Jonathon Caddy, the son of Findhorn’s founders Peter and Eileen Caddy, says
“Duneland’s became a catalyst beyond the land management, beyond this aspect of cooperating with nature.
In the area of cohousing it has managed to ground cohousing within this community – (cohousing had) been talked about for a long time previously.
Affordable housing. We’ve talked about the fact that we need younger people, (and) we need places also for older people in this community. (The community) is not made up just of one age group. We need to have that (age diversity) within the community. We need affordable housing for that to take place, (and) for the viability and the vitality of this place into the future.
So (the development has) helped with that. It has also helped to shape the community, to (prompt) questions about governance. And this has come out of the pressure to have something actually happening on the ground and there’s been vital discussions within the community about that.
(The project) also helped (us) look at and upgrade certain aspects of infrastructure within the community. One thing that’s been really important has been community consultation before we even started on the ground. There were approximately two years listening to the land where we got the stakeholders together involved in community meetings and involved in a lot of discussion before anything happened on the land here.
With the twenty-five houses of East Whins, we have gone up, turning the spiral, as far as housing goes here at the Park. We’ve tried to get some economies of scale and of course we’ve increased the ecological spec there. We’ve also had to come up with some new financial models that are collaborative because there’s no bank finance that has been involved and we’ve also got some shared resources involved in that.
So it’s really exciting to see that happen. We wish (new people) to get involved to share the vision and the dreams and help us to manifest even more in the future.” (2)
Findhorn uses one hundred per cent Green Energy. The New Findhorn Directions company (NFD Limited) was set up to “provide accommodation, infrastructure and other site services in the context of the Park Ecovillage and in partnership with the Findhorn Foundation and community”.
Park Electricity “is the electricity provider to the Park. Like all other Park infrastructure services, the ‘private estate’ status means Scottish Hydro Electric’s responsibility starts and ends at the main entrance. Therefore, NFD own and operate the electrical system in the Park, that delivers electricity to customers and maintains the infrastructure. NFD purchases electricity solely from the Findhorn Wind Park (FWP), which itself owns and generates electricity via the four wind turbines located to the east of the Park.”
“NFD, having consulted its customers, has instructed FWP (our electric supplier) to allow for a 1% increase in the cost of purchasing electricity (at the annual October contract review period), to maximise our alternative ‘green’ energy supply. This means that when the wind isn’t blowing, the electricity FWP buys in from the national grid (to maintain supply) is sourced from other green energy providers.” (3)
“NFD runs two of its businesses for profit, the Findhorn Bay Holiday Park, and Park Fuels a gas and oil division which was set up to create bulk buying opportunities of LPG and heating oil for the Park.
NFD manages the Foundation’s commercial interests. It holds and operates the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park (FBCP) Site Licence. The FBCP is commonly known as ‘The Park’ campus. It also holds, on behalf of the Foundation, shares in community organisations such as Phoenix Community Stores, Findhorn Wind Park and the Dunelands development. NFD also contributes to the development of the eco-village, e.g. building holiday chalets and supplying electricity from four wind turbines. A percentage of the cash profits from these businesses goes to the Findhorn Foundation to support its charitable work. (4)
To find out how they biologically, sustainably and ecologically manage their waste water systems through Biomatrix and The Living Machine visit their website. (5)
So East Whins arrived. The first housing development on the Magic Triangle: twenty-five homes in a developer-led co-housing cluster.
Dunelands engaged John Gilbert architects whose Concept and design brochure outlines their approach to the development as including
- conservation of biodiversity • sensitive siting • passive solar design • ecological and healthy materials • low energy use • low carbon emissions • planting and growing
- communal heating and hot water provision • a shared laundry building • garden and play spaces • communal bike and bin stores • shared work spaces and storage • a common room for elderly residents
- design vernacular (the local architectural language) • the character of the social spaces • a rural scale • enclosed spaces • a village green character • modest house sizes • landscape setting • materials and construction process • restricted vehicle access with parking away from houses
- compact two-bedroom houses • family three-bedroom houses • accessible two-bedroom ground floor flats • compact two-bedroom upper floor flats • workspaces (6)
As the Park plan map clearly shows, the Duneland developments in the ‘Magic Triangle’, as it’s called, have helped connect the areas of the ecovillage known as Pineridge and the Field of Dreams with the food growing area, Cullerne Gardens, and the local natural environment.
Inspired by other co-housing examples within the community such as Station House in Findhorn village and the Centinis in the Park, Dunelands wanted to take their approach to communal living a step further. One of the unique features are the communal spaces developed to serve the East Whins community, and to also offer space for them to share with the wider community. These spaces include a kitchen, eating/lounging area, bike shed, workshop and laundry.
With East Whins the fact that is was ‘developer-led’ has ramifications for community building and for the self-selection of the inhabitants of the community. Those who are the recipients of this housing were not known at the time the project was being designed. The community also missed out of the all-important Guest Room and as mentioned previously, the acoustics between upper and lower levels are bad.
Registered charity The Park Ecovillage Trust (PET) held a vision for affordable and accessible housing for all. They created the Park Housing Co-Operative to allow community fundraising, which manifested two units as shared ownership and two rentals designated as community care flats providing a new role for PET as landlords. … Particularly inspiring is the amount of support and effort that has been put into this project by the entire community.
West Whins, not built yet, has chance every chance of incorporating affordable housing into its design. As Jonathon Caddy said. “We need affordable housing … for the viability and the vitality of this place into the future.”
So Findhorn has a wide variety of housing models and building styles and they serve to teach and inspire.
Findhorn continues to raise the bar – or as they would say – “turn the spiral” and always in the zone of seeking to innovate and “follow in its tradition of pioneering inspired ecological buildings.”
Findhorn continues to play a very important role in grounding the vision of ecological, sustainable, human existence. It educates and opens and heals and helps humans to recuperate and to grow. It is a place where the nurturing the human spirit is linked to the acknowledging and connecting with nature spirits. They encourage right action. The effect is to spur us on to unleash our imaginations, to get air under our wings and to seek and learn to fly to ever-greater heights.
It is large, complex, courageous and multi-directional, multi-faceted community. It is very inspiring and brings thousands of people there to be learn, to grow and to be renewed. Realistically you would need to live there for years before you would come to fully understand this wonderful place.
Findhorn is also a magnet for some of the most inspirational people from all over the world who visit, share, inspire and no doubt are inspired themselves and renewed there.
Joanna Macy is one.
In the context of the multiple crises we face today and the overwhelm that often accompanies that awareness, Joanna Macy, is an iconic figure, deeply connected to Findhorn, who shares a message of great value to us all.
The Shambala Warrior Prophecy is astoundingly central to this reality that grips our time. (7) This is a prophecy that has come from the twelfth century and it is for anyone who has ever been afraid by what they see unfolding before our very eyes and felt powerless to prevent disaster. This is an essential tonic for the Shambala Warrior within us all. It is beautiful medicine of nine and a half minutes to make you feel better and be able to fully function again. Watch and enjoy!
(1) (2) http://www.duneland.co.uk/
(3) (4) http://www.newfindhorndirections.co.uk/
Many thanks to Graham Meltzer. Graham kindly edited this article correcting certain specific details. His contribution helped achieve an overall picture which I trust communicates the values underpinning developments in Findhorn and especially with respect to East Whins Cohousing.