what the Living Project stands for
The Living Project is about ripening. Not only do people ripen when they enter the late phase of their working lives, so does a place. As a key part of the project, we expect to restore a disused location or piece of land to working order, to integrate a live/work complex within it and to make the whole place productive and beneficial to a neighbourhood over time. A place to which life returns – people relate to the process of re-invigoration, become involved, and continue to return to as supporters and friends.
In early retirement we will be time-rich and equipped, as a group, with a remarkable range of skills and expertise acquired through our working lives, ready to volunteer our services to and share with the wider community a well-managed environment, open spaces and the multi-purpose rooms and workshops we create.
Upkeep of the natural environment through revitalisation, planting and thoughtful re-design suited to food production, outdoor exercise and seasonal activities such as the fruit harvest will involve us in a long life of ‘keeping doing’ as elders like to say – not treating our surroundings as clipped grounds around a rest home but actively engaging in growing and cropping around a working hub.
Depending on the size of site we will foster local small business ventures for a market garden incorporating, as we presently envisage, a delivery box-scheme, chickens, herb drying sheds, with – indoors – a preserves and bottling kitchen and baking oven/s. (We are open to viable suggestions). We would thus support a new small business or businesses to set up without having to purchase a site of their own. Focused on the creation of social capital (creating a good neighbourhood provision and lasting sense of community) rather than on high interest returns, we see sharing the site with a workforce of younger people as being of ongoing mutual benefit.
Why are we talking of active engagement when we could be retiring? We believe that by establishing a jointly owned and/or leased resource to be accessed by an even wider group, we forge a model for elderly living both collective and connected. It re-joins people to the pastoral and parish environment, puts them in touch with local life and community: in return they act as patrons or sponsors, mentors and advocates for these concerns, local enterprises and schools. For example, at the retirement estate of Hartrigg Oaks, near York, the adjoining secondary school has been able to draw on a fund of expertise in employment and education, including practice in interviews and foreign languages, provided by the elders who also flock to support the school in its extra curricular events.
Instead of forming a gated community we will open pathways into ours, including literally paths and covered ways where one can take regular exercise (known in France as parcours sportif) walking or jogging, absorb Vitamin D and generally enhance well-being through physical, sensory and mental stimulation. Having a hand in and keeping a foot in the natural world helps counteract the isolation and loss of sense of purpose faced by those who in old age become stranded by ill-health or lack of mobility and company. This is constitutional, not institutional, therapy that reduces the burden on local health services.
On the idea of Openness and relating to things: to guard against losing one’s connection to the world outside the window our windows and gates will open on to views of a fertile patch of land, a busy yard and the sight and sound of people with plenty to keep them occupied. Occupation is a central notion: on the next page is the Keeping Doing list of possibilities already under consideration, and we invite readers to reflect on what could be added to the mix, suited to a shared and flexible working environment. The Living Project is open to new contributors’ suggestions and practical solutions as to how this may be achieved and sustained. It is a forum that stays permeable and open-sided in order to attract participants over the course of time and to give the project an ongoing life of its own.
To date we have considered four sites with neglected buildings and derelict land (and one with nothing but planning permission and woods). In any of these, on one scale or another, the Living Project could have made its home – subject to planning and cost – and started on the long process of ripening and returning its holdings to useful.
We have not compiled a business plan since as-yet undetermined physical factors: a site’s potential and constraints: necessarily govern our approach. To refine our plan we would consult with neighbours, schools, local authorities and arts, health and wellbeing projects as to the fittest purpose(s) both land and buildings can be put to for the next quarter of a century – beginning in our lifetime.