Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Transition Media interview - Damien Clements

This time we have an in-depth interview with Damien Clements, talking about the Cambridge Living Future Community project.

First, would you say a bit about yourself?
I live in Cambridge with Angie and two kids Jamie (6) and Alice (3), we both work at The Therapy Room, a complementary health clinic we formed in 2007, specialising in 'treating people, not problems'. I am passionate about observing the connection of all things, and this led me towards the complexity of helping people to help themselves with regards to their health as a Functional medicine practitioner. It also drives me to continue my observation of how the health of one is inextricably linked to health of all. This is what first led me to permaculture as a series of tools to recognise these connections, and a design system to work with these connections, rather than pulling in opposing directions, by focusing just on people, or just the earth, or just fair share. Each are important in each situation, but the correct blend will give the best yield and sustain and even regenerate for the future.

I was finding that great results were being achieved with my clients who followed a diet that was right for them, improved their hydration, circulation (exercise), digestion, and whatever specific protocol we used. However, their direct family, their work situation, the local or global pollution, their internal programming, amongst many other factors were often limits to achieving long-term health improvements. These are influenced by their community local and global, and the decisions that are made influence us all. When I first thought about and really observed this, and begun to really take notice of the inequity, lack of sustainability, blindness of our corporate way of living, I felt quite powerless as one person to make any difference. CLFC is an attempt for me to connect with others and together make a positive difference for this and future generations, independent of whether we stop the worst of climate change.

From this start point and my need to find somewhere to live for the whole family, I began imagining what a place to live that balances all the principles of care of earth, people and fair share would look like. Living with low impact was important; self-responsibility was important; producing food, energy, making use of 'waste', connecting and sharing with people and the earth; soil, fellow species, flora was important, and passing on what we have learned to the wider community and the next generation.

There is a limit to what any individual can achieve alone but as a community of linked minds and spirits I believe much can be achieved and learnt from each other. It is made easy to be self reliant and isolated from other if you have enough money, and I am aware that it is easier to be this way for me, whilst fossil fuel energy is relatively cheap, and there is food on the supermarket shelves, but I have a yearning for connection with others and this is when I feel most alive.

And please describe the Cambridge Living Future Community in basic terms?
An alternative model for creating a new community that acknowledges humans as an intrinsic part of nature, with needs that can be balanced fairly between each other and the earth which provide those needs. The aim is to provide a fair yield for all, whilst regenerating or sustaining the earth. The first premise is that there is a need for truly affordable homes (especially in and around Cambridge), and so the question that CLFC are looking to answer is how to provide these homes whilst staying true to the principles of Earth care, people care and fair share, in the context of a failing economic and political system, climate change, peak oil, peak soil, peak water, loneliness, depression etc. The basis of CLFC is in self-responsibility, community collaboration, sharing, in order to provide a connected community who work together to provide for their basic needs - shelter, food, energy, water, waste, emotional connection whilst also providing support for each person to pursue their own passions and be the best they can be. I feel I could define CLFC in many ways and we have provided some differing descriptions on our website and within our CLFC vision document.

What other similar projects are there to CLFC, that we could use for comparison?
Transition Homes Totnes, Bridport co-housing CLT, LILAC Leeds. K1 here in Cambridge.

Is there a deliberate effort to live on an 'edge', for a benefit according to permaculture theory?
Yes,  this is where I live, and whilst it would be easy and cheap to go to Portugal and be self-sufficient, I want to be part of the community here, close to my family, and provide an example of creating an eco-village in the community in which I already live. A location on the edge of Cambridge city offers a larger population in which to propagate the idea of providing more homes as per this concept, but also the space to provide a more self sufficient way of life, that is difficult within a city. Urban edge eco-villages can be an effective alternative way of providing homes, provided by the community for the community.

Straw bale building, I think there may be some myths and misconceptions about that. What are the true pros and cons?
I am not an expert in straw bale building, but there are now many case studies of straw bale building, and Bath University have just completed a long-term study providing a great case for its use. They are fully fire-resistant, they don’t allow rats to get in and are soundproof. (Editor’s note: see also )

"Wine Country Estate - SMS Straw Bale" by Rrechtschaffen at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

What is the timeline that this project is following?
Our timeline is dependent on many things - obtaining the right site, obtaining funding and investment, obtaining planning permission. We are moving as quickly as we can, as the biggest challenge is maintaining cohesion between everyone involved - core group, wider group, partners. People working together is the key to its success.

Suppose someone wanted to get involved, either as a resident, or an investor. What could they expect in return for their money?
For residents - A place to live, work and play within a community who share common values, with time to pursue personal and group passions as basic needs (majority) will be provided by for by the whole community. If anyone connects with our vision but is not rigid in their expectations then it is for them. Investors may be residents or if not they may be interested in being involved in a community project that offers an opportunity to invest financially (and/or with their skills) in the values they share and receive a fair return on their investment.

Do you imagine most of the residents will commute to work in the city, and how might they do that?
We plan to provide opportunities for many to follow their passions within the eco-village community, and we will also provide work and workshop space to allow for flexible working. We also plan to site nearby to bus stops, cycle routes, and have a car-share plan to allow for commuting.

Do all residents of the village need to study permaculture - what compulsory study and work would there be, in order to participate, if any?
No, but courses will be run as soon as land is found in permaculture, and everyone will be encouraged to come along. When the village is established everyone will commit some time to providing help to the community dependent on their abilities - food production, maintenance, building, child care, accounts, IT etc.

What is the best thing that someone can do, if they want to get a better sense of what the community will be like?
Come to the next meeting on March 10th, and join the online groups. If anyone has a “showstopper” issue that they feel prevents them from living in this community, we’d like to know about it so that we’re aware. As I said earlier, we want to observe first, this is the first permaculture principle. We’ll survey the options according to the community needs, look for natural systems that can work for us, and then attempt to get a yield but also close the cycle so that there is little waste.

How could the CLFC help influence life in the city, so that people other than residents are able to learn from the project?
By providing a venue for training and a case study in regenerative and sustainable living. A model to replicate and improve upon that could be implemented by other members of the wider community in the provision of new places to live, work and play.

An artist's impression of a similar planned development in Bridport, Dorset

Is the Community Land Trust anything to do with the Ecological Land Co-operative?
Not as far as I know. The ELC has more emphasis on agriculture - as part of the terms of the terms of lease deals there has to be a minimum yield from the land. The emphasis here is on community, you don’t need to be a smallholder. We do want to grow food, but it will be along community supported agriculture lines. The CLT have been around for a while in America and India and there are some great projects there. The model is about affordability and shared equity, instead of being linked to market value. There is also One Planet in Wales, which also has requirements for reporting back about the eco-footprint of the site.

Thanks Damien, for talking to Transition Cambridge Media!

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