Building a homeplace

By Guest Blogger Oliver Bettany of Sacred Earth


These days Embercombe Experience weekends are hugely popular, elaborate planned events for which pre-booking is essential. This was not always the case. In one of my favourite stories that he tells about the early days of Embercombe, Mac recalls a time when he and Joey would often find themselves standing expectantly outside the hangar which would eventually become Centre Fire on the mornings of volunteer work days, gazing up the drive, waiting hopefully for helpers to arrive. According to Mac, often he would turn and say with a sigh, “Well Joey, it looks like it’s just you and me again…”

I wonder how many of us who have a close and passionate relationship with Embercombe and feel ignited by the great beacon of inspiration which it has become have been around long enough to remember a time when, for many years, it was all about faith, hope and the extremely hard work of a handful of people who carefully kindled the vision in their hearts – a vision which was still many difficult years away from bearing the fruit that we all now feel so nourished by.

Mac’s simple story about the early days resonates with me because it has an important lesson to teach me. Like so many others who have been called to Embercombe, I understand that I am in recovery from a sickness which is caused by our modern western civilisation. One of the symptoms of my own particular strain of this sickness is a chronic difficulty making long-term commitments – to stick with someone or something when the honeymoon period comes to an end and the going gets tough. As a young man I drifted from one romance to another, from one job to another, from one exotic destination to another, looking for somewhere to feel at home with myself without understanding that “home” is something which has to be made not found.

Naomi Klein sums it up beautifully: “After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our ‘homeplace’ more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for home. ‘Stop somewhere,’ he replied. ‘And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.’”


For many of us perhaps, Embercombe symbolises this “homeplace”. Certainly there’s a feeling of coming home to a place of safety, inspiration and welcome challenge when I return to Embercombe, but I have also recently chosen another homeplace, a community land project in East Sussex which is now at the stage Embercombe was fifteen years ago. This project is called Sacred Earth, and it has similar aspirations and aims to Embercombe. The vision we’re holding in our hearts is that one day Sacred Earth will become a beacon and an inspiration to others in the south east, just like Embercombe is in the south west. I wonder how many sapling projects, spread all over the country, have these kinds of ambitions? Lots I hope! Many readers, I trust, are involved in these kinds of projects and draw energy and inspiration from the example which Embercombe offers us.

Some of these projects could also benefit from the experience we have had over the last twelve months of becoming a Community Benefit Society, a new kind of organisation, similar to a Cooperative, which is owned and run by the local community through the issue of community shares. Community shares have proved a powerful way for people to take control of the things that really matter to them – from starting new community energy schemes to saving vital assets in their local area like shops, pubs and libraries. Valuable institutions such as Embercombe and Sacred Earth offer a contribution in their different ways in terms of supporting the development of resilient, strong, supportive and inclusive communities.

Earlier this month we launched our first community share offer. We’re hoping that our project will be supported not only by our local community in East Sussex but also by the activists, farmers, business folk, craftspeople, artists, visionaries and dreamers who make up the wider community of committed change makers in the UK. If the CBS model of community building appeals to you please consider becoming a Sacred Earth shareholder or contact us if you’re curious about whether it would work for a community project your involved in.


When Sacred Earth was inaugurated and blessed in 2011, Mac attended the ceremony. Even though I wasn’t involved in the project back then this means a lot to me. I participated in a phenomenal Descent programme last year, my main reason for signing up was a powerful desire I was feeling to spend time with an elder. Without putting him on a pedestal, the fact that Mac feels like the only true elder in my life is something that grieves me, but I imagine this may also be true for others who have spent time with him. Many years from now, when the time comes for me to enter the eldership phase of my life, I hope that Sacred Earth and all of the other local community projects with big ambitions so many of us are in the early stages of establishing are flourishing in the way Embercombe is now, providing a network of homeplaces throughout the country which are accessible to all who seek them. The Community Benefit Society model could prove to be a really helpful way to make this vision a reality.

The Sacred Earth community share offer is now underway. For more information visit the Sacred Earth website or download our share offer document and business plan.