Welcome to Findhorn, a seemingly unremarkable little town in the highlands of Scotland. But slightly north of the main town lies the Findhorn ecovillage, which (like Glastonbury’s Festival and Roswell’s ‘incident’) has surely become more famous than the original namesake. To save the bother of a very long drive, New Escapologist caught up with long term Findhorn resident, Dave Till. While you’re stuck in that horrible office all day, Dave is looking after Findhorn’s publicity campaign and writing and performing poetry. Take that, society.
New Escapologist: What do you think is the main thing to bring people to Findhorn and other egovillage-type (sic) settlements? Do you think it is because of a positive quality unique to them or because of a negative quality possessed by regular city life?
Dave Till: Egovillage? I love that idea! Perhaps that should be the next project – forget co-operation and go for the purity of a self-centred approach. Anyway to answer your actual question I think people come to ecovillages because of positive qualities held by them and also to escape negative experiences in the city. i.e. a bit of both.
NE: When an individual becomes a resident of Findhorn, how do they contribute to the community? Does one take out a mortgage or pay a rent or do things work more like a commune where everyone works on community to make their contribution?
DT: Some people have mortgages (though God knows they don’t get them based on the low income up here), some people pay rent, some people get their accommodation as part of their work. Things are very varied now – much more like a real village. In the early days, everybody came and was resident and got their board and lodgings in exchange for work. There was much more of a communal feel then I think. However most people who work here also contribute to community rotas like washing up and cleaning the guest accommodation. Even the managers of the Foundation. For those people who live here but don’t work for the Findhorn Foundation there is the community association – the NFA (New Findhorn Association) – by which they can plug into the community in a more formal way.
NE: What do you think the general naive perception of Findhorn might be? Do people tend to find the notion romantic/appealing or is there a fear of otherness or eccentricity to contend with?
DT: People who hug trees, talk to flowers and have resident Nature Spirits. Some people find that notion romantic but I find it rather twee and annoying – like being stuck inside a permanent re-run of Finian’s Rainbow with only Tommy Steele for company. However life here is thankfully not like that. There is certainly a fear of otherness and eccentricity found in the region and the community has trouble in being taken seriously by the neighbours. But again things change. The community has been here almost 45 years and no matter how wacky you are, familiarity creeps in. Our local (Moray) Council has invested money and time in the UN-sponsored Ecovillage training so we get more and more acceptable as time goes on. The local SNP MP pops in every now and then too. Someone recently tested out our carbon footprint and found it to be the smallest in the whole of the UK (though God knows how they work that out) so that gives us a fashionable claim to eco-worthiness. Also the community is an NGO (non-governmental organization) with the UN and has been for a while, so we do have international recognition too.
NE: Tell us about the whiskey barrel homes [pictured left]. They strike me as excellent innovations!
DT: Yes – houses of spirit. An enterprising American , Roger Doudna, long-term resident here, went to the local distillery and found out they were selling off the huge oak vats that they use to store the whisky. He was zany enough to see their potential as the building blocks for circular homes so now one corner of the community is made up of these special dwellings and very nice they are too. All the walls are curved so there is no way you can buy your fitted units from IKEA.
NE: Findhorn ‘products’ such as your books and onsite courses are very interesting but there is something I’ve always wondered about them: are they a necessary evil in order to generate revenue or is this sort of activism genuinely pleasurable and a part of your credo?
DT: Personally I manage to do without the books completely without any reduction in my quality of life. After a hard day of community toil I seldom sit down with one of Eileen Caddy’s books, I’m much more likely to read the Film and Music section of the Guardian. The courses generate the largest source of revenue for the place and they do seem vital and an essential introduction to community life – especially Experience Week but it has been a while since I’ve done one. However they pay my wages so I’m not knocking them.
NE: I’m very interested at the moment by the concept of ‘voluntary similcity’ (sic). Would you describe life at Findhorn as voluntary simplicity?
DT: I love these typos. A similcity sounds like an online community or something. Life at Findhorn is seldom simple. It is complicated and challenging as a village emerges from a more basic community. The ethos is simple I guess but the challenges are varied. We all live in challenging times and Findhorn is no exception.
NE: What can New Escapologist readers do to embrace the Findhorn spirit without leaving the city?
DT: Buggered if I know. Get up here you lazy bunch of stay-at-homes. You can even fly to Inverness though of course we don’t encourage it because of the carbon issue. It’s funny that these days, no-one here likes to be seen either at the airport or at the local Tesco but of course both are frequented. I use a false beard.
NE: What do you think the modern western lifestyle lacks most?
DT: A viable alternative to both capitalism and communism. A non-religious set of spiritual practices. New community models. An escape from both advertising and spam.
NE: Got room for another gentle anarchist out there?
DT: We are not very anarchic but gentle people do pretty well. Out there?? It’s not somewhere in space – we’re not far from the A9, close to Baxters Soups – civilisation is nearby!!