New Common Land Project Outline

This is an outline of a project that has been slowly crystalising for a number of years.  The ideas have developed through numerous conversations and a number of people are now interested in being involved in its development and investing some money in land purchase through the project.  This is an attempt to effectively outline the project.  We are ready to start approaching people and organisations inviting support and engagement and would be happy for any ideas or advice about the project, the way its presented, and ways to take it forward…

New Common Land Initative (working title - ideas for project name appreciated)

The project aims develop agroecological land based livelihoods by providing access to land and skill sharing.

The project seeks to explore novel collaborative approaches to try to overcome common barriers to developing land based productive livelihoods.

Lack of skills

Lack of time

Lack of resources

Land price

Establishing and maintaining a land based livelihood independently is extremely demanding of both time and attention.  Gaining an understanding of the land and the local market while honing the skills necessary to develop a livelihood leaves little time for other activities.  Being able to reside on the land is highly advantageous as it provides constant direct access to the land.  No time and money spent traveling, and the ability to easily keep an eye on things.  Unfortunately land with accommodation is expensive.

Having a mortgage to pay while developing a new livelihood is not an ideal situation to be in.  Especially when the home and livelihood are interdependent.  Agricultural land can be purchased and residential planning permission sought, often successfully, but the time, money and skills necessary to achieve permission are significant and take attentions away from developing land based production.

Acquiring Land

Purchasing agricultural land without residential permission greatly reduces the cost of the land.  By focusing on crops that do not require constant attention, like orchards or field crops, project participants can stay on the land in temporary accommodation as seasonal workers at key times of the year.

Land could also be leased with terms suitable to allow project development.  Agricultural land rental is surprisingly cheap - less than £100/acre/year

Sympathetic land owners may sell or lease land at advantageous rates,

Building a commons

The project aims to build a commons around developing agroecological land based livelihoods.  Methods of land acquisition, land management and livelihood development will be explored through collaborative processes.  This knowledge will be freely shared to foster both continued development of the project and the ability of others to become involved in similar activities.

The project will also have assets of land, tools and produce that will be held in common and managed through collaborative processes.

The project will be open for people to become involved with governance, administration or land work.

Future developments

The project could expand, purchasing further land and developing production so that attention at different sites is required at different times of year.  Workers accommodation could be moved from site to site as appropriate.

Planning permission for more permanent facilities could be sought, and possibly more easily justified, to allow activities on a site to be developed more intensively.

Individuals may choose to develop their livelihoods within the project or use the skills and contacts gained to develop an independent livelihood.


The project will be financed through open contributions.  The exact mechanisms for this needs developing and will be somewhat dependent on the corporate form of the project (also in need of development).  Ideally people can put money in and take it out as necessary.

Some kind of timed withdrawal, either repayment at fixed time, as loanstock, or a certain amount of notice, would alternative funding to be secured or land to be sold to meet requirement of investors.

Possible models - cooperative issuing loanstock, community share offer, crowd funding

Example possible new commoners

Andrea -

Lives and works in the city and has a well paid job but always wanted to live in the country closer to nature.  She grows some salad in the window of her flat.  She is saving money so that she can escape the rat race.  She uses the project as somewhere she feels happy to invest her savings - she knows what the money is being used for and is happy to be supporting the project.  She takes time off work so she can get involved with work on the land and meet like minded people.  She values the social interaction and feels great when she takes home produce from the land.  She is actively involved with the project governance, attending meetings when she can and participating in decision making.

Tony -

Tony has retired from a job-for-life in the accounts department of the district council.  He is concerned about environmental issues.  He is active in the local Transition Town network.  He thinks it would be better if there were lots more small, local food producers.  He supports the project by helping with the accounts and even though he isn’t as strong as he was when he was younger he still likes to spend an afternoon doing some work on the land from time-to-time.  He has invested some of his savings in the project/ He attends meetings and is involved in decision making.

Philip -

Philip has not been able to get a job since he left school three years ago.  He likes the countryside and cooking and he regularly goes out collecting wild food.  He was very interested to read about the project in the local paper and went to the land for an open day.  He stayed on the land for a few weeks during the winter and learnt how to prune the apple and pear trees in the orchard.  He has been to a few of the projects governance meetings.

Karen -

Karen has done an apprenticeship in organic vegetable production but has been unable to find the money to set up as a grower.  She joined the project and is very happy that she has so much support - she does not have to worry about selling the stuff she grows or how she is going to find the money to buy seeds in the spring.  She does not like meetings but is involved in the governance through talking to other people in the project and letting them know what she thinks about what she considers are important issues.

Sophie -

Sophie is a busy working mother.  She does not have much time to get involved with the project but puts money in to pay for expenses and receives a share of the produce that the project grows.  She likes to visit the land with her children sometimes when she can grab a spare day so that they can see and be a bit involved in the production of their food.  She does not have much time to be involved in the governance of the project but does read the project email list and comment if she thinks something is important.  She is set to receive some money from a dead relatives estate and is considering investing some of it in the project.

Mark -

Mark has been an itinerant farm worker for a number of years.  He traveled up and down the country doing seasonal farm work - hop twiddling, apple picking and pruning, daffodil picking.  He often worked for low wages and was not sure when he would get work or for how long it would last.  He was happy to find the project and get involved.  He is glad that he has a say in the running of the project and that he is able to use his farming skills.



Hi @Darren!

Maybe posting a map with your options and where you would see people and organizations coming from would help. Especially for those wanting to help spread this and those potentially interested… is it UK only?

It sounds great by the way and the fact that it’s in the making but has a committed team is quite inviting :slight_smile:


I guess I didn’t post location because its not at all clear yet.

I expect it would be UK only - although could possibly operate in other areas.  Given the location and networks of those involved so far it looks like something is likely in Southern UK - stretching right across from the North East of Kent to the South West of Wales.

It will probably work much better with multiple sites.  In some ways it would be good if theses were close(ish) together so that people/equipment can more easily be transferred although distance has the advantage of opening up the project to different areas/networks.

I’m involved in other projects around mobile infrastructure/workshops/fablabs with a focus on supporting agroecological projects.  I see there being a fair amount of cross-over between these projects.

(both these projects are at a stage of development beyond which these links suggest - effective documentation is often an isssue)

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I should also say that there is a forestry/woodwork side to this project which isnt particularly clear form the description above.

Do you have experience with LIDAR in that context?

I admit that I don’t. But I would think a LIDAR module would be very useful for learning things because you can do SO MUCH data acquisition in a short amount of time. And especially in slow systems (forestry) that could be very beneficial to nail down a hypothesis or two. Also it would be a very good co-owned piece of kit, perhaps in conjunction with a senior operator who can open other communities to some form of collab after a 2-day course and assessment…

Other point: I always thought it would be cool to have more gardening time-lapse photography (perhaps + meteorological data + soil) data. Visualization of data processes are very often underestimated - and I think gardening is a good example as any. Here’s another completely off topic that illustrates this well I think. Most people have a pretty different narrative on this one (WW2).

Hadn’t come across LIDAR thanks for pointing it out.  Something to consider down the line…

The web connection here is being slow -I’ll check the video later.

But I’d agree visual is good.  some recent examples that I found great…

London housing (genius) -

Soil life/health -

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Forgot to link the primer

here it is:

Also I have a friend who runs a tiny mobile wood mill in northern Germany + has edgy family that also builds windows close to Harz mountains at small scale. He’s far too shy to come here - but if there is something he can help with I can put in touch. He has has a pretty strong sci background and knows a thing or two about PV as well. Very strong connections into the geo(thermal) research through family as well. And lastly he is pretty busy but isolated and needs to get under people more. If there is something he gets hooked on you’d have a good helper. I’ll try to pitch this to him when the time is right and see what happens. He won’t move until spoken to directly though (I’m pretty sure).

re London: genius indeed! Idea, form, delivery - noice.

Sounds pretty interesting

I would probably best qualify as a lurker (and perhaps connector) in my situation. @Caroline_Paulick-Thiel may be able to give some advice as I recently saw she was involved with Prinzessinengärten - they laudably* got an English language video as well. I browsed through the tool section of farmhacks - that’ll be keeping people busy for some long winter nights!

1.5 ideas I can throw at this though:

DIY sensor-heater elements. If you put enough carbon black into a plastic resin it’ll eventually become somewhat electrically conductive. If you made this material into a ring, or “C”, or small rod that could be dropped into a flower pot, you could use Joule heating to manage the temperature of a seedling for seasonal extension. Of course I am by no means sure it is smart to use expensive (probably early morning PV) electricity for that - but on the other hand you would hopefully be very precise - so you wouldn’t need a whole lot if the seedling is well insulated and not yet in the ground.

Even if that turns out be impractical you could still use this as a temperature sensor. The resistivity of the plastic-carbon mixture will vary by a few percent if the temperature changes - and if designed correctly (I could probably help a little with that) significantly around freezing. If you’re overall resistance is in the right ball-park this is not very hard to pick up. Of course as the polymer degrades over the decades this value would drift over time as well. But I’d think that if you check them once every other year or so and take notes - it would probably work okay for a long time.

There is one more bug/feature which is that the sensor material mixture will also take up and give off moisture (for epoxy 1-3% by weight). That also affects conductivity. Now you can of course drop in a second moisture insensitive temperature sensor and work out the moisture level by the difference between the two. One could make the second sensor very similar to the first, but have a relatively thick non-conductive layer around it (if you can’t work in a reliable moisture barrier). This would not really make it insensitive - but it would make it slower to react. Thus you would base your reading on the lag between the two, and should be able to manage an approximately constant level. And of course you could use a regular pt100, or type K, or some such to give you the missing variable as well.

Lastly, it should be possible to make arrangements to monitor soil conductivity if you add two more leads to this. Although I would think you should consider a induction based system for your fields (does not seem to be on the tools list yet).

The second idea is really not very concrete yet. Basically it addresses that nomadic part of the approach. At one point I got a little tired of moving and having to look for a niche in one overrun place after another. That led me to explore container (long distance shipping possibility) approach to this. The following is a real old concept and probably only good to illustrate some core ideas:

You basically make the load bearing structure out of ISO TEU containers and dangle the insulation from them. Usually you should be able to get a decent R-value based on the surface to (container) volume that you’d be able to stuff back into the containers. I think I had PUR sheets and glass or PC in mind back then. The temperature in most of the volume would still be pretty variable - similar to a green house. The only volume that would be kept at optimum comfort temperature (in this example) is the little part wedged between the containers on the second level, basically the living room. Moisture and temperature management and wind loads would surely need some serious thought - though I see no absolute show-stoppers. Of course you could go pretty cheap on materials in the beginning and ramp up later.

In your applications I’d be thinking it may make sense to keep one container on a location permanently and “activate” a location by hauling a second temporary one with the more mobile kit to it. If you stack that on top you already have a very sturdy load bearing structure you could anchor a very light and well insulated living structure  onto. And of course a ground level workshop (including hoist/pulley system), and perhaps a tunnel system.

I made a sketch here. If it is unclear I can explain the main components.

Sensors and shipping container

The sensor idea is nice.

Shipping containers could be a possibility, once place I stay a guy is building a home from shipping containers.  He has one container he is fitting out as a kitchen/lounge and plans to get another and pace it on top as his bedroom.  He’s a builder and is doing all the work himself.  I told him I don’t think he is putting in enough insulation, although he was saying he can add more outside.   He worries about condensation.

I’m interested in something constructed largely from timber and more friendly to DIY moving that ISO containers - although possibly they may prove to be the most sensible solution in the end.


Great to read about your initiative and intentions, Darren.

I sympathize and share many of these goals, working currently in the Northeast US with the idea of testing models and methods that could apply widely - and including the possibility of an interoperable network for members / contributors to interface globally for travel, trade, media, development etc.

Lots of thorny questions in the details of ownership, stakeholding, governance, access etc…but I do believe this is something that can and will be solved in a way that opens doors for many people to find their way into significantly upgraded livelihood (and landscapes). I think it’ll involve co-development of interpersonal process and social “technology” as much or more so than any new magic blockchain methodology :slight_smile:

Could be best to look at launching from within a specific region and building a ‘critical mass’ of infrastructure and engagement, viable prototypes, visibility, etc.

Some additional points of reference that jump to mind: (US) ireland by @Jaycousins pursuing related aims.

And a potential naming inspiration I can offer: “Landweaving Society” which I’ve partially adopted from work of in this direction.

Keep on cultivating the vision! I’ll try to keep tabs here and chime in

Thanks for the links

I knew about the Permaculture UK Land project and have kept tabs on Greenhorns related stuff for a while now (also met Severine when she was over for the first UK Farmhack recently)

Other links are interesting thanks.  If I’m not mistaken we had connected through COTW, nice to see you here.

Late reply - and yes to COTW link!

Notification for this comment go spam-canned…but anyhow yes glad you have made a link to Farmhack and work of Greenhorns - I didn’t realize they’d bridged to UK recently. I went to school with Severine and we both got our start in ‘alt’ ag activism on a fun guerrilla campus farm project a number of years ago that has since flourished into a major feature of the school community and curriculum.

Indeed, COTW links are still prominent in several of my endeavors today - a fertile seed bed that has indirectly influenced a lot of good work since, even if the grander guiding vision behind it hasn’t (yet) come to fruition. I feel like we’re continuing to work out the details of how something like that could really play out in a wide scale and emergent-but-coherent fashion.

New models for land (and other fundamental shared wealth) stewardship seems a big part of the challenge / opportunity. Onward!

That’s really interesting

Question. What would you need to make the next step, for the smallest and easiest value of “next step” that is still meaningful?

Needs for meaningful next step? good question

Not quite sure, but definitely a question worth asking now.   I’ve just put in a grant application which, if won, would fund/focus some development, but I do not feel that it is vital.

I am finding the tension between the desire for the project to emerge/focus through a collaborative process  vs. the perception that supporters/collaborators/funders need something solid to capture their imagination interesting.

I feel its quite a big and ambitious project, in some ways a bit dreamy, and that finding ways to make it more solid/real would be beneficial.

Definitely some connections

Thanks Ben for the intro to this one.

Great that you’re looking into this, let me know when you have some land.

I’ve been pondering the issue of “freedom from the tyranny of rent” for a while now. Presently I’m focussed on building the a tiny pop up eco-house called the hexahome which is based on Vinay’s Hexayurt project. I’ll be living in it with my partner and our baby daughter.

I’ve set up a Hackpad here for those interested to contribute.

We aim to build a nomadic community - a pop up ecovillage/tiny circus of sustainable technology that is invited to travel to city’s, towns, farms and ecovillages bringing knowledge, skills and inspiration to places in dire need of input.

Plan is to promote community to spaces that need an injection of inspiration - there are many ecovillages with just a couple of people, or towns and city’s that are suffering from their youth leaving for the capitals in search of work. We begin with donated space, profit from production and sales of our viable housing alternative and inject the profits into our own land commons. From there we offer space to those committed to expanding the commons - providing security to those who would expand our ability to secure a quality of life for all.

Anyway that’s general plan, there’s also partnering with the elderly, farmers without heirs (or interested heirs), and those wishing to leave a positive legacy (most donations made in will - why not land?). The elderly are ill served in our present society, they have knowledge and assets and a need for community recognition and participation. There is both need and opportunity to bridge this gap.

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Looks interesting as well

But it can’t login without bigbro account. So I’ll post here.

Just as few key words that might be of help:

book:, weak on domestic use, more artsy but better than nothing

optimal shape (bucky) vs optimal manfacturing (sips/iso teu) vs optimal moving (iso teu) vs optimal use (difficult) -> trade offs

modularity and extension - box vs dome

container architecture pretty established in netherlands, (and US army)

fraction of brought stuff vs new local stuff - which items and materials can you ditch and old site and source at new?

Now a little more coherent. Not surprisingly, I also started out with a “bucky design” (I worked on Fullerenes, one my friend’s kids is called Buckminster). I met a bunch of architects “haggling over his legacy” at an event. But they were almost all “duck architecture” people. I am not. So I set out to think this through on my own. One motivation was the rent part, the other was to have an adaptable building that could “age with me”, move to the people I want to spend my time with, and can be split up or passed onto my descendents. That way it would also make sense to keep investing in high quality durable goods. My assumption was that I’d probably move long distances (so containers made sense) and not terribly often (5-10 more times), so it may be a bit on the clunky side of considerations. I think I even made a rough calc of basic features and cost to move. Set up will be too dependent on details with the size I had in mind.

The problem is now relatively moot for me as I have changed career path out of the pretty overrun elite center, to somewhere else. And basically there is a lot of housing to go around for everyone (exceptions apply) then. People just won’t let you in to keep the prices high and the market looking good. That reminds me that I have a architect and a city planner friend in Vienna whom support my perception here. So in my case there would be a policy fix - and I could just go to reuse and wouldn’t have to build (admittedly kind of lame). If you want to have a chat with them or ask a couple of questions (with some context) I can probably arrange it. They “get it” already, you won’t have to explain too much.

Okay now why did I move away from the dome?

A couple of reasons. Mostly because of simplicity. Manufacturing triangles needs extra cuts. Each lap (especially “funny angles”) makes things more complicated, expensive and failure prone. Especially where the points meet and you get coefficient of thermal expansion mismatch, rot, and whatnot. Sure there’s smarter and dumber ways to tackle all that - but it ain’t easy. All that can be outweighed by a more efficient overall design of course (hi Bucky). But is it? Well if I want to make my furniture and wallpaper out of polygons, perhaps. Otherwise I’d be happy to have a couple of roughly perpendicular walls. The hexayurt fixes that, and your concept apparently too. But if you now draw some roof overhang (which we both totally should have in our concepts), it looks an awful lot like a regular small house. But in your house the wall has to perform two tasks - it has to hold up the roof (compressive stress) and it does the insulation, at the same time. In my concept the packing container has two tasks: either be a mobile container - and at another time, “only” take up the compressive stresses of the roof and walls, and whatnot. But that is not a hard job for a container (you can stack them 7 high - filled). The problem is of course that the container insulates about as good as a frying pan ( = 0). So the insulation is done by another set of walls (the klimahülle, in effect = greenhouse), which does not have to support its own weight. Thus I can go real light on materials (they are under no compressive stress) and achieve far superior insulation at the same time (because the insulating elements are the pockets of air trapped in the material, any material is worse than no material). It still has to deal with wind loads though. And because I have very little thermal mass (no big walls, just a very few tons of steel) I really need to monitor and manage heat (and moisture). That can be done by shading off (or reflecting in additional) sunlight. If I end up needing more thermal mass I would put in a couple of tons of water + heat exchanger (can nicely be coupled to the steel containers). Finally I expect something not working, or a couple of extreme temperature days - for that I’d put in a smallish room in a room, so you don’t have to heat the whole place.

If you are frugal you can probably break the concept down to a 1-2 container version - but the ratio of transport volume to necessary wall+roof (or membrane) area gets more challenging the smaller you go. One the other hand if you want to be mobile you should avoid to have to convince a group of 10 people to pack up tomorrow.

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Thanks - containers come later in the plan

Thanks for the comments. Roof overhang is an interesting point. I’d be inclined to solve this with external blinds to avoid complicating construction and folding.

As for containers, I think they’re interesting as a larger infrastructure component. One of my collaborators is obsessed with them and did the folding Illy house, but my plan is to start small and accessible - want to be able to move under my own steam - although it should fit in a container for when we want to travel a bit further afield. As for taking the tribe with you - I see communities as fluid sometimes moving together in harmony, others moving independently. Always better to give people a map and tell them where to meet you than waiting for everybody to be ready :wink: - too much social inertia.

I’d love to take you up on your offer of an intro to your city planner friend, would be great to discuss it further - please feel free to introduce - or jaycousins on twitter.


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Re tribe: Agree! Also important to allow for alone time/split offs in some benign manner.

Re architect & planner: Will fwd the summary at next opportunity and see what the echo is. I assume you’d like to know what they’d like to know before they “let you camp” in city limits… My guess: it’ll depend a lot on the technicalities. If you can qualify as a circus (no permanent dwelling, no foundation works) you got good chances.

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Fantastic Thanks

Yep that was thinking with the circus - could be a good way to hack existing systems and protocals :wink: