Home sweet Home

Back to the start

Lets talk about home.  In my last post I mentioned briefly that my absence largely on the blog was due to a few, well, technical issues shall we say.

The truth feels more like we are fighting for our way of life…

In 2017 we bought a piece of land, 6.5 acres, we were kindly loaned the money…

First of all we lived in a tent onsite, then in my tiny workshop.  Slowly, slowly we built an off grid home using largely recycled and reclaimed materials, many of which would have gone to landfill, all bought in by hand down a long track, one piece at a time.  Affordable housing at its finest – it cost us £5,000, far less than than your average cost of housing in Cornwall. 

Risky business

The truth is we took a risk.  I am not a natural risk taker if I am honest… I am much more comfortable with safety and security.  At the time it seemed like the only way we could build a home.  Not everyone will agree with our decision. And I cannot argue with that. I wouldn’t.  It isn’t a good idea and it isn’t for the faint of heart (ie people like me).  We are not perfect, we simply do the best we can as fallible human beings with all our flaws.  Much like anyone else.

I naively thought that as we are situated next to a village in not a particularly rural area (ie we are about 5 minutes from the A38 and there are 5 industrial estates within a 10 mile radius) that when we did apply – planning wouldn’t be so hard to get, especially living the way we do. 

How wrong was I? 

Well it turns out quite wrong.

Surely one brownie point for trying to live a small sustainable life.   It was, I later found out, at that time incredibly difficult to get planning permission for an off grid home unless you had a lot of bucks to chuck at it. Off grid counted for naught. I understand the argument “everyone would want to do it…” but I don’t agree – I think there are many people looking for an alternative lifestyle… but I also think there are many people who love their creature comforts and this way of living would fill them with horror!

We forgo many luxuries that others might take for granted (I am not complaining at all – I wouldn’t change it). All our electricity is powered by solar if we can’t power it we don’t use it.  We don’t have an indoor loo.  There is no heat in winter unless we make a fire. Our water is all rainwater harvested and filtered through a reed bed.  Our home is essentially one room measuring 5×8 metres built on pad stones.  No concrete. All made by hand.  It is basic and it still it feels more luxurious than many of the places I have rented for extortionate prices over the years (oh the tales I could tell!)

I have filled our home with makers handmade pieces – a labour of love really. 

All the things…

Full disclosure we have three other timber buildings onsite too, two small workshops/sheds and a very small cabin all the same – all small, raised off the ground, no concrete, turf roofs. 

The jewellery I make here is part of the story of the woodland, everything is as ethical as possible.  My workshop is off grid. Materials being recycled.  I try to live an ethical lifestyle. In truth though if we do not get planning permission I am not even allowed to work here, which to me seems so strange.

To force the issue

We are now at the final last stand.  A looming enforcement and a hearing to try and fight it.  It is possible that we will have to demolish our home. We built it by hand and may have to remove it the same way.  One piece at a time.

One last bright light we are following is the introduction of One Planet Development Policy in Cornwall, which is established in Wales.  It isn’t fully embraced here yet, it is the best we have.

Currently the policy monitors every aspect of your life from the food you buy to the travel you do in your car.  It is very, very strict.  I am in the midst of writing 47 pages of what will probably be at least a 60 page document. (Yep that is single spaced).  

A key feature is having land based businesses, argue as I might that my work could be considered a narrative of the land  – it doesn’t count. 

My question I guess is what is wrong with taking care of the woodland, not for profit (for a change), with me working in my workshop, living low impact and sustainably? (We are far, far below the average UK  household in terms of our ecological footprint and have been for at least eight years.)

It feels like such a mind bending process to find ways to profit from the land.  I don’t want to feel like I am plundering it.  Small sustainable businesses are best.  

Kindness though

Below is an excerpt from a letter I received from a writer who came here in 2019.  Her kind words and support really did bowl me over.

“Businesses such as this are an asset to the locality and are a highly commendable model for others.

Every effort should be made to encourage them as they are a viable part of the ‘net-zero aim’.

For planning authorities to be seen to show true commitment to environmental standards, support of ventures like this is vital.

Please can I urge you to support this Cornish asset, rather than to be instrumental in its destruction?”

This whole thing

This whole process has done more than make me think about the topsy turvy we humans try to do things.  It has made me question my very place in the world.  My ideas.  My work.  Myself.  I am on shaky ground.  Should I have kept the job in the bank (even though I can’t count)? I am nearly forty two and could be homeless –  Am I doing life all wrong? 

Whatever happens I know we are incredibly lucky to have the land.  To be custodians of it at least for now.  Regardless of the outcome we will continue to plant the forest garden, to plant trees to take care of what we have, to try and live lightly on the planet. And amongst it all we have some wonderful words of support from people.

If you would like to write a letter of support before the 1st of December. (which would be very gratefully received from near and far) please send them to elbyjewellery@gmail.com 

Several people have asked what to write – it doesn’t have to be long or formal but just to say you support what we are trying to do and how we live. There is a small excerpt from a letter in the blog above for an example (and thank you if you do choose to write something) 🙂

Also your thoughts both positive and negative – I am happy to hear so do comment and I will listen with an open mind!


11 Responses

  1. Clare

    Hey Elby Brown,

    Get some chickens. That’s a land based business. You’ll need a cabin and somewhere for your staff, the egg collectors, to pack the eggs, hang their coats, wash their hands and get a cup of tea.
    Your place would be perfect.
    “There’s no one here but us chickens” and chicken farmers.

    • elbyjewellery

      Haa… we did consider it to be honest. But it seems such a strange way to have to circumvent the system to have to become chicken farmers! – we have to have at least 150 and then the rats oh my … and imagine having to kill them after they stop laying (in our old place – the farmer just used to set them loose and let the foxes deal with them, seems such a shame though!) but yep def on the list!

  2. Avesha

    Hi Elby 🙂 If I come up with any brilliant ideas I will send them along, this is really just to say that I wish more people were brave enough to take the risk like you did. If more of us chose what you did we could actually be making a positive impact on the Earth, you know?
    It’s not surprising the council and planning board are giving you grief, you are challenging their way of thinking and asking them to think outside a box they made for themselves, that doesn’t always go well. But sometimes they surprise us! 🙂
    I hope you are able to find a solution, it would be heartbreaking to have to take down what you have built. Again, if I think of anything brilliant I will pass it on.

    • elbyjewellery

      Thank you Avesha for your comment x Policy IS so slow to catch up with whats going on in the real world. Climate crisis , housing crisis etc. I know there have to be rules and I don’t feel entitled to anything to be honest but I also don’t think we are doing harm either. Anyway your message is welcomed. thank you.

  3. Caroline Stack

    I am incredibly moved and at the same time angered at the situation you are in.
    Would it also be helpful for me to email your local authority planning department?
    To live a sustainable life, giving no harm to anyone, on your own land should be admired and respected. What backward thinking to refuse you this basic right and create homelessness unnecessarily.
    I wish you the very best of luck, please let me know if there is anything else I can do.

    • elbyjewellery

      Thank you Caroline. It is a complex situation for sure, without a traditional land based business (which we are trying to set up too), so funny though as I don’t think we are doing any harm. Yesterday, we had an ecologist here to check that out and she said that the tings we are doing should increase biodiversity so that’s a good thing. We are going to the inspectorate in Bristol next with the appeal. I would welcome any letter of support I could put in the appendix of the One Planet development paperwork I am writing for sure. Most people have used ‘To whom it may concern’. If you so want to write that would be fab. xx

  4. Tom

    What an amazing story, beautifully written and thought provoking. This way of life should be embraced by councils and local people. Working with the land like this and nurturing it is the way forward to solve the housing crisis and protect the environment. Its pioneering but its also very demanding physically and emotionally. Only a handful of people in this country have the resolve, knowledge and resilience to live like this. Its far far easier to live in box land. Cornwall Council why not embrace this wonderful project, use as a template to live sustainably with no harm to the environment only benefit. Its now so important to Learn from these pioneers, they are the teachers for the younger generation about living sustainably, building your own dwelling at minimal cost and zero impact. I fully support your project. Come on Cornwall Council, what you have here is a template that could be rolled out across the country, in rural areas but self builds also work in cities to. It could solve the housing crisis with minimal impact on the environment. Its time to get behind these pioneers in living sustainably.

    • elbyjewellery

      Thank you Tom, that is really kind. It is so nice to get messages like this because sometimes you think ‘well i must be doing it wrong the authorities say so’… so to get messages of support is feels wonderful. I hope you and the family are doing really well too. xx

  5. Andrew skipper

    This is so sad to hear that the powers that be are not looking at your way of life as what it is an ecological success ,its heart wrenching as they will sell agricultural land that they own to build so called “””affordable housing. I really dont want what I say to have a negative vibe toward the planning permission by saying they should look and be in agreement ,maybe they are under the impression you may develop the whole 6.5 acres ,can you sign anything or put this in last minute for them to understand and see your full intentions for future development ,I mean is there anything you could agree and sign that would assure them you would not over develop ,if this is not the issue then how can they have a problem with off grid living considering the current climate , you should keep the small holding option obviously as the option if they fail to listen , having chickens becomes very hard work ,to keep feed that they leave uneaten cleaned up. The chicken route becomes difficult , rats come in the hundreds ,very difficult, pigs .goats ,sheep ,say 2pigs ,2 sheep ,mabe a goat ,that will be a luxury for them with acres to roam , that would be a very last option ,they cannot touch you then store any feed away in galvanized storage boxes , I know you’ve heard it all before but I really hope they do see what is right which would be grant the application . just horrible for you and your own land hey , if they could somehow focus on people who ain’t got the greed to build a small village on their land ,I mean really look and sign together something that prevents over developing for each application then things would be far from long drawn out battles and planners would have control so not to be over development of countryside.,If you have connections and shit loads of cash it seems you get planning ,maybe im wrong there but it appears this way to myself ,I’m trully hoping you get what you should do ,The Seal Of Approval ,yours sincerely, Amdew Skipper ,

  6. Georgina Grayling

    It is evident in the jewellery that Laura makes that the woodland informs and inspires her work.
    This is a tale of two people owning a small slice of land on which they leave no mark of harm. In fact, they nurture the land and in return gain nourishment.
    To live in direct connection to nature is an essential to all life on earth.

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