Wednesday, 28 October 2009


House buying, 2009 vs 1973

I'm staying with my parents. We're talking about house buying. They've offered us all some money towards getting on the housing ladder when we're ready. I asked if a yurt counts. They say it doesn't.


Long and animated conversations ensue, and a bit of random hunting for yurts and mad people across the fields of Suffolk with my middle aged, posh-and-loud voiced mother...

So. Housing.

My Dad earnt £2.5k a year when he bought his first house in 1973. He was supporting himself, my mother and my eldest sister, then a babe in arms. He was 26 years old.

He bought a 4 bed house in Stoke Newington for £11k. He inherited £4k from family for the down payment and got and a £7k mortgage from Islington council.

Wind forward 36 years. It's 2009. I'm that man's daughter. When I was 26 I was earning £28k a year in a comparable job, so let's use £28k.

To stick to his proportions,

I'd be buying a 4 bed house in Walthamstow (a comparable area to Stokey of the 1970s) for £125k.

I'd have a family contribution of £40,000, and a mortgage of £84k.

O, and I'd be supporting a husband and a baby on that.

So I looked at 4 bed properties in Walthamstow and the cheapest I could find was £250k, exactly double what my Dad would have paid proportional to income. My parents' kind offer of support for bricks and mortar is generous, but it is nowhere near £40k.

So. Why.

Why are the houseprices I face pretty much double those my Dad faced?

Level 1: increased demand without an equal increase in supply = increased price.

Level 2: the increased demand is not really about population increase. In 1973 there were 56m people here, today there are 60m.

Level 3: So what is leading to the increase in demand? Around the kitchen table we've identified four drivers:

One: Increased availability of credit has made a larger proportion of the population able to buy houses. That has increased competition.

Two: Women work too now. That's raised household income. People are willing and able to pay more for what they want in competitive circumstance.

Three: Some people earn A Lot of money. And some get high bonuses. And they buy property and let it out as a good way to turn money into more money.

Four: Smaller household sizes. People are marrying later, divorcing more, and living longer. So the same number of people need more dwellings than ever before.

Ok, Judgement Time.

One. (easier credit). Fine. Apart from it's maybe contributed to the financial crises which would have bought the whole system to its knees were it not for trillion dollar bailouts that are coming from..???? Public services for one, says my sister who's a government economist.

Two. (women work too). Problem, says my ma. Families need time. Relationships need time. Bodies need time. People need time. Communities need time. Cooking needs time. Friendships are really important all through life and they need time. She doesn't mind whether it's men or women putting in the time, she says, but if everyone's energy is going mostly into work, then lots of important things get fucked up.

Three. (some people earn lots). My Dad says that 1% of people earn over £55k a year. He got that off a radio programme where MPs were moaning that at £57k they didn't earn enough, and an economist said, you're in the top 1% of earners, stop complaining. (sorry for the tipsy sources: if this were a book I'd sharpen them up :). Problem, say I. I'm concerned about the ongoing growth of economic inequality within the UK and around the world, and the impact it has on everyone's life. I put it down, largely, to the plc model of company ownership and finance, whereby companies effective suck money from the many and deposit it with the few by maximising profits (created by the work of the many employees and the money of the many customers), and distributing them among the few shareholders and the few top bonus-receiving employees.

It's like holding a salt cellar upside-down over a table and pouring the salt down so there's a big peak in the middle and an ever widening periphery. Except this dynamic works in the opposite direction, so resources are hoovered from the many, the periphery, and piled up in the central cores. I think that's problematic. I think it's better to balance the interests of employees, customers and original financers (shareholders). So it's the people towards the tops of those peaks of salt that are earning high incomes and buying property and contributing to the fact that if I buy a house I have to effectively pay twice what my Dad did back then.

Four.  (more people living alone). My mum's given me one minute to write this because dinner is ready.
That is SHIT because it's LONELY and SAD. Especially when you're old, but even when you're not, living alone is just SAD. Ok there are other issues but food is ready so I'm done.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Future of Farming

This BBC documentary is on youtube in 5 parts.

It's really interesting. It explores how our ways of farming aren't resilient to a carbon / oil constrained future. Basically concludes that lots of small scale permaculture is the answer, and eating less carbs and more nuts.

Oh My Green Soapbox

My old housemate Lucy's ace show is on for the last time, 5-7 November.

"... a comically wayward attempt at environmental activism... genuis" Time Out

Monday, 12 October 2009

Monday, 5 October 2009

C4 Landshare website

Landshare - dating website for veg growers + land owners

Care Farming

I've lost a couple of friends to suicide and I see the drivers as 80% external, ie, they were in shitty situations in very unhealthy contexts, in one case medicated up to the eyeballs and if you or I were in either of their situations, I bet we'd do the same.

I'm not interested in cute neat shiney blended communities where the most privileged and progressive urban working elite sit happily under apple trees with their apple macs typing innovatively away or having creative meetings on skype. Ok, I am interested in that, but not that alone. I'm interested also in the very old, the very young, people with other kinds of work, and the vulnerable. I'm interested in integrated communities.

So I find the growth of Care Farms interesting (although they're not very integrated).

"What is Care Farming?
    • Combining care of the land with care of people, in a setting where they feel safe, respected and engaged in meaningful activity.
  • Using commercial farms, woodlands and market gardens as a base for promoting mental and physical health through normal farming activity.
  • A partnership between farmers, participants and health & social care agencies, that develops people's potential rather than focusing on their limitations.

Who benefits?
  • Participants: They often experience improvements to their physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.
  • Farmers: A high value is placed on their knowledge and skills. They gain great satisfaction from helping people improve their lives through farming.
  • Rural communities and economies: Care helps rural communities become more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable."

Looks like there's quite a lot going on. Vauxhall City Farm and Spitalfields City Farm both have a care farm element going on there.

There's a bunch of research about its impact available here.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Research: The Work Front

People who live blended lifestyles in rural areas either need to be their own bosses, or to have very flexible bosses, or to work nearby.

My employer is very flexible. What does the rest of the picture look like?

1. Between 1997 and 2001, the proportion of people teleworking rose by over 65%, to 2.2 million people. (Matheson, J. and Summerfield, C. (Eds). Social Trends No 31. ONS 2001, p82-83)

2. That kind of freedom is still a privilege rather than the norm, and tends to be enjoyed by graduate and professional knowledge workers. In the US, where teleworkers’ mean income is 66% higher than the national average, 12.5% of the workforce telework. 40% say they would like to but don’t think that their employers would allow it.

(Bennian, Y. and Dwelly, T. (2003) Time to Go Home London: The Work Foundation)

3. Researchers have identified five types of mobile workers, including Yo-yos who occasionally work away from a fixed work location; Pendulums who work alternately at two locations – say, the rural home and the urban office; and Nomads who work at changing locations.

(Lilischkis, S. (2003) ‘More Yo-yos, Pendulums and Nomads: Trends of mobile and multi-location work in the information society’, in Socio-Economic Trends Assessment for the Digital Revolution, p7.)

4. "Organisational cultures are shifting. The bureaucratic, hierarchical structures of old, in which management would impose control over not only what workers do but how, when and where, are beginning to dissolve. Networked organisational structures are growing up in their place, with increasingly flexible relationships between employers and employees hinged by mutual trust. One product of this shift is that more employees are exercising greater autonomy over where they work – and in many cases it is broadband that enables them to seize this freedom."  John Craig and I in Beyond Digital Divides, Demos and the Countryside Agency, 2004.

5. "Employees want more human organisations with greater autonomy and flexibility… In short, they want organisations to ‘disorganise.’" - Miller, P. and Skidmore, P. (2004) Disorganisation: Why future organisations must ‘loosen up.’  London: Demos

6. Since it's launch in 2005, The Hub - a shared office space for come-and-go workers and organisations - has been a phenomenal success, and there are now 18 around the world - just four years since the first one opened.

I reckon there are a lot of jobs where you need to go to the office for group meetings, and that that needs to happen no more than once or maybe twice a week. That's been the case in all the work I've ever done, apart from site specific work like waitressing and babysitting when I was younger. 

In between the office contact, for two or three way communication, skype, the phone, and other kinds of electronic comms work just fine.

This works where there's trust and commitment going two ways.

Call me an extremist, but I'd say, if there's not trust and commitment, why bother?

Lots of managers think their employees have to be in the office all the time so that they can be controlled. And I think, if you have to control people to get work out of them, that's shit. If the work doesn't come voluntarily, there's something fundamentally wrong. The situation is saying something to you.

Like, if you're a plastic cup factory, and your office staff have to work in the office otherwise they'd be at home just pretending to work, that says, the staff don't love the organisation and what it is here in the world to do.

And I think, if an organisation's staff don't love the organisation and what it is here in the world to do, then maybe the organisation doesn't have a right to exist.

Maybe if everybody working in organisations doing and producing things that they didn't love just stopped, you'd only be left with the organisations doing things that were really worth doing.

I've observed a 'fewer, better' principle at play in my life. Gradually, I start wanting fewer, better clothes; fewer, better friends. Maybe the world needs fewer, better organisations.

I know in the interim there'd be a hell of a lot of chaos

but there's a fair amount of chaos around right now

maybe it's time to start

ok, fewer sounds like The Day of the Multinationals but you know what I mean. If no-one loves plastic cup companies, let them die. We'll figure out something better.

Here's what they do in India instead of plastic cups.

When they're done they throw them on the ground and they smash and gradually get stomped back into the earth and it's the same earth that new cups are made from so it's like life, zero waste, works just fine.

The Research: People Like Me

Ok here's my first stab.

On people, in no particular order

1.  4 out of 10 UK adults under 35 dream of 'downshifting', according to research from the Prudential 

2.  While 75% of Brits live in urban and suburban areas, 54% say that they would rather live in the countryside or a village, and 72% think that they would be happier anywhere but a city, according to a Gallup survey reported in The Economist

3.  This isn't a new trend: even in 1939, 61% of people wanted to move to rural areas – yet at that time, national migration flows ran the other way  (same Economist article)

4.  So, young wealthy urban folk are on the move. Research has found that urban to rural migration outstrips North to South migration at a rate of 4:1; in one study, 48% of urban to rural migrants were under 40, and in another, 50% were aged 25-44. One study found that 41% of incomers earned over £25k a year, compared with 13% of locals, and 70% of incomers were economically active. 

These figures are all reported in a report I wrote with Demos for the Countryside Agency back in 2004, called Beyond Digital Divides, and come from Mason, John, ‘Is there really a rural economy? Urban concerns crowd in on the countryside’ Financial Times, 18 September, 2004, and Findlay, A and Stockdale, E.(2003) Rural In-Migration: A Catalyst for Economic Regeneration, Draft report.

So are the migrants living the Good Life or shopping at Tescos? What do they want to be doing? Don't know. Do know this, however:

5. In 2006 the BBC reported that allotment waiting lists in Camden were ten years long. ("Forget the flat caps, allotments are becoming fashionable among inner-city eco-warriors.") In 2009 the Telegraph  reported that Camden's waiting lists were now 40 years long, with many other parts of the country at the 10 year point, and a total of 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for allotments. It's the recession + Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall + Jamie Oliver that've done it, writes the journalist.

6. Everyone I speak to seems to share this yearning.

7.  Last friday I went to an Alastair McIntosh talk down in Brighton. (In Soil and Soul , Alastair points out that we partly left the land in the first place because we wanted to, but a lot of the migration was driven by the sword.. Enclosures etc.). 
It was friday evening. Train from London after a long day of work. (Four hour meeting in chairs, bodies slouched, energies kept up with tea and snacks, sunshine outside, walls around us. We should have had that meeting over a veg patch somewhere... But where?)  

The city in my body. I sat. Alastair opened a slide of his home Island of Lewis and the woman behind me had exactly the same reaction as me in exactly the same moment, at the sight of all that wild green expanse; a sharp, instinctive inhalation, followed by a long slow out breath accompanied in my case at least by a relaxing of the body and a little wetting of the eyes.

This yearning is beyond ideas, for me. It is in my fibres, perhaps it is in that woman's fibers too, perhaps it is in all of our fibres.

Everyone I speak to seems to yearn for this kind of thing. It might be because I mainly speak to people who are more or less like me. It's also possible that it's because this is about something fundamental to the human animal.

Call for Research


According to my stat counter, about ten different people visit this blog each day.

I have a question.

You might have leads. 

Do you?

Ok so here are my questions. (they've just multiplied).

1. Who else wants to live the way that I want to live? With part time knowledge work, and gardening, and goats, and a slower pace of life, and rural air and space and breakfasting on the hedgerows? 

Who are they? What do they number? What sorts of people are they?

2. Who is able to live that way?

I've got 50% of the blended lifestyle: a part time interesting job that I can do from anywhere provided I can be in London for meetings about once a week. That gives me the time and flexibility to establish the other 50% of the blended lifestyle.

How normal is that kind of work? How many people can have such freedom and flexibility with their employers?

3. What are the relevant social, economic and environmental trends?

And what are the drivers? And, how might they play out over the next couple of decades?

If you know anything, any stats, or any articles or reports that would be good to read, could you drop a comment or an email??

Not clucky, just nesting

"Are you clucky?" Jo asked me as I peered in terror and fascination at my very new first cousin.

No. Not an ounce of desire yet looking at that tiny, terrifying thing.

Jo is my age.

"So you're nesting."



My mother had children young and told the three of us regularly, from before we were old enough to understand, that we were Not Allowed to marry or procreate before we were 30.

I turned 30 recently and about a week later, my mother told me I was over the hill. "There's a window of opportunity for falling in love and settling down, and frankly, darling, you've past it."


Well, over the hill or not, I seem to be displaying nesting instincts. I have an unprecedented desire to accrue savings. Having lived happily for years in a shared house with three friends, something told me it was no longer right, and I had to go and... make a nest. My small inner voice didn't quite use those words, but that was basically it.

The problem is, there is nowhere I want to nest. No existing types of nest I want to copy.  The way I want to nest doesn't exist yet.

So, awkward bugger that I am, it looks like I have to create it.

The Natural Beekeeping Trust

runs courses

Organic Farm School - short courses from the Soil Association

more here

92% of people think self sufficiency is important now

92% of people in the UK say that self sufficiency and traditional skills like growing your own food, crafting and rearing your own livestock have become more and more important during the financial crisis.

But half of the 1230 people surveyed (by Pollab Limited for the Soil Association) said they have lost the practical skills of their grandparent's generation: 45% admit they have fewer cooking skills, 47% say they are less able to grow their own food, 48% have lost the rural craft skills that make self sufficiency possible and 51% say they would have no idea how to rear animals.

More: Soil Association