In a nutshell
In 1998 a group of us jointly purchased an old hospital site and converted it into 22 homes of differing shapes and sizes to suit our family needs.
We call ourselves The Community Project Ltd and we live on the edge of the small village of Laughton in East Sussex.
The 23 acres of land and a small number of other buildings on the site provide communal facilities. We have office spaces, guest rooms and events spaces, which are all available to the public.
We do not live “communally”. Instead, our lifestyle resembles the “co-housing” model. This isn’t so well known in the UK as other countries, but we aim to change that.
Our individual homes are private, yet we jointly manage the land, rental spaces and shared utilities such as our bio mass heating system. We are lucky to have natural spring water, great neighbours, lots of land for all our families and animals, and a beautifully peaceful setting.
There is no one specific ideology that defines us, but we have outlined some of our shared goals in more detail below.
We share resources where feasible and aim for our land and facilities to be as sustainable as possible.
We want to live next door to people we know, like and trust. We aim to positively support each other in various ways.
Regardless of liking our neighbours, or agreeing with them, we aim to treat everyone here with respect at all times.
Often, close friendships develop, both amongst the adults and the children.
There are no specific philosophies or lifestyles that we adhere to, and residents bring a multitude of cultural experiences for us all to share.
GEN is a growing network of regenerative communities and initiatives that bridge cultures, countries, and continents.
GEN exists to build bridges between policy-makers, governments, NGOs, academics, entrepreneurs, activists, community networks and ecologically-minded individuals across the globe in order to develop strategies for a global transition to resilient communities and cultures.
In summary, we are joined by a broad sense or a spirit of community.
The land is shared communally and consists mainly of open meadow land, with some clumps of trees, and a strip of woodland along one border. There are gardens immediately around the houses, and two ponds.
The large pink building, Shawfield, is our community space and provides considerable facilities, including a hall, a large kitchen, a games room, a music room, a dining area, meeting rooms, bathrooms, guest rooms and an office complex.
We have a workshop and tool pool and we have other smaller out buildings for art, woodwork and more.
Laughton Lodge is on the edge of the small village of Laughton, which has around 600 inhabitants, a church, a primary school, a pub and a thriving village shop.
Ringmer, a larger village, with a secondary school is just three miles away, and Lewes and Uckfield are both six miles away. Our nearest useful train stations are Lewes and Uckfield.
The coastal city of Brighton and town of Eastbourne are both about 15 miles away.
How it works
The Community Project is a company limited by guarantee and owns the freehold of all the buildings and land on site.
Members purchase individual properties from the company by leasehold.
All leaseholders are directors of the company.
We were always keen to ensure that the project was watertight from a legal point of view, and so the main structure has been set up with legal documents (memorandum and articles and leases).
These would ultimately provide recourse to the law if members did not meet their obligations. We believe clarity in this area is crucial.
All major decisions regarding the community are made by members at main group meetings.
Wherever possible, decisions are made by consensus although there is a fallback voting procedure.
Main group meetings can be attended by all residents, by those waiting to move in and others by invitation.
The day to day workings of the project are managed by sub-groups covering a range of areas such as finance, facilities, land use and maintenance. Sub-groups also prepare information for discussion at main group meetings.
The life of the community
Once a week we have a pot-luck supper in Shawfield, our community building.
Once a month we have a work or “busy” day, where we tackle tasks on the land or in the communal buildings.
Birthdays and seasonal events provide plenty of opportunities for parties.
We encourage members to belong to one or more groups, which carry budgets, although large spends need to be ratified by the main group.
In a more formal manner, we meet once a month for a “main meeting.”
The agenda is circulated in advance, there are minutes taken and the meeting is chaired by rotation. This is where major decisions are taken about any aspect of our communal life and policy issues are aired and discussed.
Occasionally we take an afternoon to look at broader philosophical and social aspects of the community with a forum.
None of these organised community activities are compulsory. Individuals choose how much they wish to or are able to take part in any of these events.
Let’s remember the small people
The children are often seen playing in larger and smaller groups, travelling around the site on their bikes or scooters. They are in and out of each other’s houses constantly.
They have formed their own informal way of operating and it’s noticeable that the older children look after the younger ones.
We have a child protection policy to make sure our children are safe but remind visitors that their children are their responsibility at all times while visiting Laughton Lodge.
The children have the opportunity to express their views at their own monthly Children’s meetings and we encourage them to contribute to main group meetings and work days.
It’s not all roses…
It would be too easy to come and visit our beautiful site and be carried away by the romance of it all.
Sometimes communal living can be hard work, sometimes neighbours fall out, sometimes we get a bit too muddy.
If you want your experience here to help you grow as a person, you’ll need a different kind of commitment to normal living.
It’s not easy, for example, for a group of 30+ adults to make decisions together. Meetings can be lengthy as many people want their say and it can be difficult to resolve opposing views. Everyone, at one time or another has to let go of dearly held opinions, for the sake of finding consensus with the group.
Inevitably members need to give up certain individual freedoms.
For example, with no private land, people need to negotiate or take on a stewarding role before undertaking anything major in the garden. Compromise and negotiation are the name of the game, but people don’t say “no” to good ideas for the sake of it either.
With many long term residents still smiling, it’s clear we feel that the benefits we derive from the community far outweigh any individual sacrifices.
We are not all similar types of people. Some are naturally more sociable than others.
Some have strongly-held, very individualistic ideas.
Some love meetings, others loathe them!
Some adore the chaos created by children, others find it trying.
But the community way of life seems to suit us all in different ways — maybe it will suit you too?