Runnymede EcoVillage outside London

“We are not supposed to encourage people to go there.” The young security person told me when I asked for directions to the Runnymede EcoVillage. This made me feel like I was going to the right place.

It was well after dark that we were ultimately escorted by our host to the EcoVillage. Parts of it were immediately familiar. Like a cross between Occupy and the Rainbow Gathering, this DIY group of campers was roughing it in the brisk autumn night.

Blazing fire in large stove (version 2.0)  in common dome at Runnymede

The camp had been there for almost 4 months, and it had been evicted twice already, but none of the participants had any concerns about evictions. “They cant put a fence around it, the public lands are too large here, they are unwilling to come into the encampment and take our stuff out, so the evictions are nearly meaningless, we just return here after being thrown out and everything is the same.” said James who met several of the Runnymede EcoVillagers are a local Occupy encampment. And while Runnymede is not an Occupy camp per se, it can be added to the tremendous list of occupy influenced projects

Strawbale and other Runnymede structures

There are a couple dozen people at the camp, with many tents, teepees, yurts, domes and even a strawbale building on the site. Runnymede is different from a typical Occupy encampment, in that it is clear that these people are here to stay. The strawbale construction is quite large, the public dome has an impressive stove in it, which is apparently version 2.0, with the plans to tear this stove down and build a new one. Good sized solar panels charge batteries which are scattered around the camp mostly for light.

“What is an ‘intentional community’?” One of my hosts asks when I start talking about Twin Oaks. And when I describe the idea that the people in the community select each other someone quips “Then we are an unintentional community.” I did not bring up the question of how they throw people out how are bad fits for the camp. I imagine that the work is so hard to survive, departing is often part of residents thinking “how cold will it get?”, “will there be any food?”, “will they come and evict us again?”

But none of these discouraging questions seems to be on the mind of our hosts, who are friendly, talkative and generous. Eddy is making a break pudding for everyone for the evening. James is working on repairing version 2.0 of the mud oven, because they are not quite ready to build version 3.0. Vincent is working on the collective plumbing, having brought water from a natural spring. And while there is plenty of chatting, there is also lots of industrious behavior.

Fire bucket with holes in the bottom and tea kettle inside

i loved this device which i had not seen before.  It is a bucket, with holes int he bottom for air, you put the fire materials in the bucket.  Then you spin the bucket over your head to get the fire going.

Dumpster diving provides much of the free food that the EcoVillage consumes. And most of the participants are involved with it somehow. A loose consensus is the decision making model, mostly the old anarchist credo that those doing the work make the decisions.

Part of the dumpster provided dinner

Lisa shows up with her two kids. They have a tent in the village, but live in a boat nearby. By not being registered to vote, they avoid the Council Tax. The kids love the woods and run around while Lisa talks about the economic situation which has both her and her partner out of work for a while now. They come to the EcoVillage often, they are part of the social life and the informal meal plan.

Eddy has a compelling recruiting style. “Will you help me build that?” Eddy asks Diana who is traveling with me. She wants to build the teepee green house they have been discussing. “Sure.” Diana agrees, who could turn down an offer to help with such a project. And as Eddy talks about the myriad other projects at the EcoVillage, it is clear many have been asked to volunteer and a fair few have decided they had energy to give.

The lovely and talented Diana, who accompanied me and will help Eddy grow food

Runnymede is quite near where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.  The contract which King John was forced to sign, giving rights to individuals some of which are greater than the kings whim.  The Runnymede folks are influenced by the Diggers movement of 1649, where another collection of embolded squatters took back unused land and started to grow food and DIY culture on it.

There is a skill share weekend workshop coming up. If you are in the greater London area you should think about going and supporting this worthy project. But dont ask the security people how to get there. They are not supposed to tell you