Court Farm Collective and other alternative ways of living – A reflective essay

I studied an extra module at Brighton University whilst studying my Masters in Crafts course. The module was called ‘participatory media for social change’ so I decided to focus on alternative ways of living. I had to make a pilot project for the module which would be facilitating others to bring together information and memories around a topic which could encourage social change. I was living in a housing co-operative at the time called Court Farm. This project led me to look at other ways of living.

Introduction

I moved into Court Farm House in February 2017 after being told by a close friend FadeFX who lived in her truck at the farm that there was a room coming up in the house. I had already lived in a housing co-operative before in Southampton and it was something I liked as it suits my democratic outlook on life. I was voted in by the current housemates and so I left my cosey home in Lewes to start a new chapter in Brighton.

gazFigure 1: sunset at court farm by gaz

After spending some quality time with the house mates I began to see what a beautiful and amazing project had been evolving at the farm. I could see that the Court Farm Collective had been set up by some very committed and hardworking people who shared a common value of wanting to co-exist together in a space with a variety of ages and families and continue to be able to live in vehicles, grow their own food and run community events to open the space and invite the pubic in to show how they live and give a good name to the traveling community.

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Figure 2: reggae rice and peas event at court farm

I wanted to take this extra module as I am very passionate about taking action to create a more connected community. This shows in projects I have been involved with such as the community indoor skatepark ‘The Skatehouse’, I get great enjoyment out of seeing things run successfully and all ages coming together to have fun and engage in positive activities. I run art workshops primarily with young people which I believe creates a good environment in any environment, I was fortunate enough to have a art studio in The Skatehouse so I could keep materials to run creative drop in sessions. Since moving to Court Farm I had seen that previous house mates had ran creative workshops so I was keen to be able to do this myself and I have materials to be able to do this, I was just waiting for a good opportunity.

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Figure 3: skatehouse mosaic crest

When I saw that the project was to do a participatory media project for social change I knew this would encourage and inspire me to do something quite special. Moving in to Court Farm was perfect timing as I could see that this project would be well suited to document and research how The Court Farm Collective was established and the ethos behind it.

I believe this project is worth documenting and it is important to show alternative ways of living for anyone wanting to explore this way of life. For me it has been a very personal a transformational journey of meeting some amazing people and understanding what is a home and what it means to me. I feel community living is healthy and a positive way to live, to be more connected with each other and have a variety of ages around is a endless source of knowledge. I think mainstream society has drifted far away from what is more natural to us as humans, I don’t believe we are supposed to be living in isolation or small families. Commenting on my own mental health since I have moved to the farm has improved greatly and this due to the support network here and having a space which I can grow in creatively and be accepted and encouraged.

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Figure 4: compost loo in garden

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Images above: Hanging out in the garden in the nets/tree house. Having a  communal fire was common.

My role in this project has been to facilitate a reunion event where past house mates and original members who set up the co-op were able to come back the farm and have a documented discussion around how it was set up and some of the experiences had here. I have also been doing one to one questionnaires with people who live here and having in depth conversations about there time here as well as exchanging photographs. My contribution will be to create something from the information I am receiving from people as well as reminding people that what they have been a part of up at the farm is actually very special and something to be proud of.

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Images above: A variety of images  I took from my time at court farm.

The farm is coming to an end this year, although it has meant to be coming to an end for the past 5-6 years  but the eviction keeps getting extended. The man who owns the farm has been granted planning permission to redevelop and build property. The site has not yet been sold so there is still a small part of me that thinks that our eviction could possibly be extended past July 14th 2017 but I am not relying on that. This project has created a very positive atmosphere in the farm and rekindled people appreciation and love for the place, I believe that is the power of reminiscing and sharing memories and stories together.

for sale

Figure 5: for sale sign at court farm

I have been collaborating with one of my house mates Lilly Harding she is due to enroll on the BA craft and 3d design course and she has many skills particularly in film. Me and Lilly bonded very quickly in the house as we both moved in around the same time, she is very down to earth and has time an motivation for creative projects. She was keen to get involved and help out with this project with her skills. We are making an ongoing film about Court Farm using whatever footage and photography we receive from participants.

 Court Farm Reunion

After having numerous discussion with house mate and longest standing member Loui Atton we decided what would be the best thing to do is to invite the old house mates over for the day so the current house mates can learn and understand more about the co-operative and how it came about. I had met a lady called Polly Eason who was one of the original members of setting up the collective we had a very quick connection one evening at the farm and I knew I could relate to Polly with similar views about society and sharing a left wing, empathetic, human opinion about life. Polly has been a great contributor to this project by putting me in contact with other house mates and helping to organise this reunion event by inviting people who I had not yet met.

Saturday 25th May was a good day for the  event.

In order for me to prepare for this event I needed to figure out how best to take information from people and what I wanted to know. I decided that my interest lies in the Court Farm Collective era as it had been proposed that I could dig further in to the past of the house itself and the land it sits on but for me that would be a huge project which also defers me from making the point of court farm encouraging social change, I see only the collective research as relevant to my interests in alternative community living.

I created questionnaires and consent forms to be able to have on the reunion day. Myself and Lilly also wanted to document the day by taking photographs and some filming. I made some plans in my sketch book of ways to encourage conversation and setting up various activities. Some of my activities did not get realised as it was time consuming just filling in questionnaires with people and getting photographs so for example I liked the idea of having a creative area where the young people could draw pictures of Court Farm but this did not happen. I am however very satrsifed with how the day went regardless that not all activities were achieved, I think when working with a big group of people there has to be some flexibility and understanding that things change and I need to adapt my plans around other people to get the most out of the day.

The day was a success and it was a real eye opener for me to hear some of the stories and earlier days of the collective. Lilly recorded a conversation which I facilitated in the lounge by bringing everyone together to have an open chat about the farm and how it got started. I have the footage of this but have not yet edited it, myself and Lilly intend on using the footage as part of our video which we are working on in our own time this summer. I was able to have many one to one conversations with people whilst filling in the questionnaires and also get some photographs.

Somewhere between 30 and 40 people came along to this day and we made food for everyone and everyone really enjoyed the social of it.

This event encourage me to hold lead a conversation with a large group of people which has increased my skill in doing this. I suffer from social anxiety sometimes and often before I do public events I can find myself sweating and worrying about how it will go and become self conscious however I still push myself to do these things as I think it helps my self esteem afterwards and each time becomes a bit easier.

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Figure 6: convo in lounge at reunion

I feel my expectations of the event were quite high in what I wanted to achieve and I did not get as many photos from people I would have liked. I have to realise I am only one person and to be able to gather information from people on mass is actually quite challenging so next time I will be more realistic with myself in what I will be physically able to manage.

Other alternative living

This project has led me on a journey of exploration and investigation into various alternative living situations.

squat

Figure 7: circus street graffiti

After being told about the Circus Street in Brighton that had been taken over by students, homeless people and anti pspo group to shine light on the housing crisis which is current. There were plans to use the space as community centre and also solve some issues of homelessness in Brighton. I visited this space and was greeted by a man called Deano he was an interesting character and had a lot of knowledge to share, however he was bouncing from topic to topic which made it difficult to fully understand what he was trying to say. I could see that there were some attempts at organising regular events in the space and there was a main room, kitchen area and numerous rooms which some people were sleeping in. For me this really braught it home that there are big empty spaces not being used and could be. I would consider being involved in a squat but I can also see that this is not an easy existence either and to be constantly staffing your own house or always having thoughts that you could be evicted I think I would find fairly stressful. These people were removed from the building and Deano was removed from the roof of the building in protest.

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Figure 8: deano room

I visited a place called Oak Meadows which is a piece of land in Cornwall set up by a small family. Nick and Nina were members of Court Farm in the earlier days and they both moved out to Oak Meadows to be with Ninas sister and children. They live in converted trucks and have made places where they can grow there own food and keep the chickens. Nina has a glass studio on site where she makes stain glass windows and teaches. It is a beautiful place and I stayed the night in the shed which has been turned into a bedroom. It was very calm and tranquil here and I saw that I would like to live like this myself one day, by being more connected with the earth and self-sustainability.

veg patch

Figure 9: oak meadows veg patch

We had a call to the door over a month back now and it was a group of people called The Rainbow Gathering. I was informed that there would be an organised gathering soon and if I knew anyone who would be interested in coming along. Some days passed and they returned to the house where my house mate Gavin Sexton answered and he was interested in what they had to say. Myself and Gavin decided we would go and see what this Rainbow was all about. On my first visit I was invited to have dinner, before dinner you sing and hold hands in a circle around the sacred fire. Your raise your hands high and chant then your lower yourself to the ground and kiss the earth. At first I found this a little uncomfortable but after a few times it became a very uplifting and natural experience. After a couple of visits I was told about someone digging for clay at the Devils Dyke Spring which is where they collect there fresh water from. A couple of guys presented this clay to me and I had already for some time been thinking about connecting with clay again and understanding its properties and values so this was great timing.

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Figure 10: cleaning natural clay at rainbow

When you talk around the fire at Rainbow Gatherings there is an etiquette which is followed there are some rules which are there to keep the Rainbow spirit alive. The Rainbow has been a movement since the 1970’s and have a shared ideology on how mainstream society is failing, other values they share are love, peace, non-violence, environmentalism, non-consumerism and non-commercialism, volunteerism, respect for others, consensus process, and multicultural diversity.

I shared round the fire one evening my intention to clean the clay up and hold a clay sculpture workshop with everyone then leading on to making a kiln out of recycled newspaper which is something I had recently learned on my MA Craft course, taught by Patrick. This news of a clay workshop was very well received and encouraged. This project led me to engage with the Rainbow Community more so and have a purpose which connected me to it. It took weeks of work and preparation for this to be a success but I was able to do everything I had intended to.

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Figure 11:clay creations at rainbow

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Figure 12:kiln building at rainbow

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Figure 13firing the kiln at rainbow

Visiting Rainbow and seeing this way of living and meeting people who go from one gathering to the next made me see this nomadic lifestyle truly. This has made me feel more relaxed about life and knowing that you do not need to much money to get by in life and actually time, love and compassion can carry you a long way. I have had nomadic experience in my life but these people are full time drifters and I am glad that they exist to show other ways of living.

All these point I feel have been worth mentioning as it shows how this extra module has expanded into something much more for me and I continue to research for my own benefit and passion to learn more about the home and what a home means to people and how we can live more in tune with our true nature as humans.

The outcome of Court Farm Collective Reunion event

The outcome of this reunion event was the information gathered from the questionnaires and some photographs. I have plans to make a pamphlet or manifesto of sorts with the information I am gathering. This can be used to inspire other groups of people to start up housing co-operatives and could also act as a guide to how to go about it. It will show the vibrant and unique story of The Court Farm Collective and have a personal feeling to it by acknowledging the stories and photographs of some of the people who have been involved with the farm.

I have been experimenting with some photo collages to be able to exhibit them in the house this summer and this is still ongoing as it was taken some time to be able to gather what I need from people as well as compiling it all in my free time.

Myself and Lilly are still working on a film which could show some footage from a film made previously by Paul light called ‘Our Lives’ this was made in 2008 as a film workshop ran by Paul. Paul worked with the children of Court Farm and encouraged them to make a film on their lives. Myself and Lilly would like to do something similar and update it to current times and house mates. We have been trying to capture quite allot at the farm so we have a pool of footage we can choose from the put into a film.

Court Farm final fundraiser

Another event which I have been involved with organising was a recent fundraiser day we held at the farm on the 20th May 2017. As a house we had an array of entertainment in the form of dj’s and live bands playing on a stage in the living room, we had a sound system in the woods where we have a fire pit. We made money by providing a bbq and a bar we made a profit which is going to be sent out to a young girl called Leoni who lives in the Congo and the co-op has sponsored her for the last 8 years by sending out sums of raised money per year to help her get her education and any other needs that she has. I contributed towards the event with my creativity and motivation to clear the house and have an exhibition of some of the house mates art work in the hall way. I also held a mosaic workshop in the garden where I mosaiced and old table top I found. Between 200-300 people came through the door for this event and it was a beautiful day which ran smoothly till the end.

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Figure 14: me and lilly doing mosaic at event

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Figure 15:court fam mosaic

This extra module has encouraged me to use skills in interviewing, investigating and researching which are all things I have been keen to develop.

By following my court farm research it has expanded to other places to which I had not expected to happen and I am very happy that it has. I have been networking and making contacts in other alternative ways of living and I am becoming more aware and knowledgeable on the traveling community and the beauty of living in communities.

I have been involved with a number of community projects but not in the way that I am with Court Farm. This is my home and having the opportunity to reflect on this space and its meanings has been good for me and allowed me to connect deeply with people around me which in return has made me feel more connected to my life and feeling grounded and supported.

This project has generated new ideas and influenced me to travel to other places and experience different ways of living.

 

Conclusion

Court Farm house has been given its notice to leave for July 14th we have all been working towards moving out and dreaming about what comes next. I would love to see court farm evolve into a new chapter however that may look.

On reflection I think I had higher expectations of peoples enthusiasm to give me the information I need however I have had to take action and approach people to have more one to one style interviews. I think this was unrealistic due to the digital skill involved in obtaining photographs. I would not do anything differently as this has been slow process to get information as well as developing bonds with people on the farm and these things do take time. I would like to have been more organised with my digital files and sketch book work by straight away making any updates and also keeping a diary just for this project would have been helpful.

This project will be continuing on until the film has been made and also I have gathered all the photographs and interviews with current house mates. . I also understand that this is a project which has no end yet seeing as Court Farm still exists so more memories and information are  being created as time goes on.

I think this has the potential to inspire people into looking at co-operative living which will encourage social change. If people can see that these kinds of ways of living are possible, affordable and enjoyable then more co-ops will start up which can help solve our housing crisis and also restore some connections within the community which is being lost through isolated living.

 

 

 

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