Tinker's Bubble: low-impact living

| 30th January 2009
In 1993 a group of 10 friends, including former Ecologist editor Simon Fairlie, shared a vision of a place where people could live and work in harmony with the land. What resulted became Tinker’s Bubble
Each resident helps to cultivate their home: coppicing the woodland, picking apples, or selling surplus organic vegetables at a nearby farmer’s market, as the seasons dictate.

Tinker’s Bubble is proof that sustainable low-impact living is not a pipe dream but already a reality.

The site’s name is not simply a romantic evocation of this world away from the urban grind but depicts the bubbling spring at its centre, where in times past travellers would break their journey.

These bygone visitors would appreciate the commitment to sustainable living that lies at the heart of the modern Tinker’s Bubble. The use of fossil fuels is avoided on site and what little energy is required is instead generated via a few solar panels and a small windmill. Only horse miles are incurred in providing fuel for heat and cooking, as residents source the timber from their own sustainably managed woodland, where no tree is felled unless there is a clearly defined purpose for it, be it commercial or domestic.

The 40-acre site now combines meadows, orchards, gardens and woodland, providing as far as is possible a truly local and organic diet for its community. Each resident helps to cultivate their home: coppicing the woodland, picking apples, or selling surplus organic vegetables at a nearby farmer’s market, as the seasons dictate. This hard-won self-sufficiency keeps living costs in the community very low and residents need only work outside of the idyll for a day or two per week, supplying the local area with a range of gardening and handyman skills alongside produce, sawn timber and Windsor chairs.

A fundamental ingredient for the success of this sustainable community is the emphasis on social cohesion, encouraged by the combination of communal and private spaces. The impressive roundhouse (built from timber grown, hewn and milled on site) houses the communal kitchen and sitting areas, while individual residents have the satisfaction of living in dwellings lovingly hand-built from biodegradable or recycled material.
This tranquil lifestyle has not, however, been easily won, especially when modern life encroaches. Throughout its history, the Trust has had to fight the planning system for the privilege of living symbiotically with its environment. Fourteen years on, despite these challenges, this innovative community has demonstrated that an environmentally sensitive initiative can support its inhabitants and that, given time, the local community will come to understand and appreciate it. It is a testament to Tinker’s Bubble that former residents have gone on to establish other low-impact initiatives, at Fivepenny Farm and the Trading Post.

In a final fitting tribute to the site they inhabit, the residents’ houses are built to biodegrade naturally once they’re no longer inhabited, ensuring that this collective truly does tread lightly on the earth.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist January 2009

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