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Who are we
We are a group of families and individuals who have chosen to live together in a large old building, with 70 acres of land, in rural Suffolk. There are approximately 40 adults and 10 under 18s living here, though that can vary from year to year. A number of the founder members from 1974 still live here and, although people come and go, we are a fairly settled community. We see ourselves as part of the wider community rather than separated from it – our children attend local schools and several members have jobs locally, in nearby towns or London. We have a ‘no dogs‘ policy.
There is no single ethos for living at Old Hall – beliefs are as diverse as the individuals living here. Generally however, we share a concern for the environment and a desire to live an egalitarian, co-operative and healthy lifestyle. We attempt to farm the land, rear our animals and grow our food as organically as we can. Decision making at all meetings is by consensus.
Formally we are a Housing Association. Each year we elect a committee from community members to run the association. These rotating posts include a chairperson a treasurer a secretary and others. In addition we have convenors for the land, domestic matters, energy, volunteers, recycling, use of water, our social life and building maintenance. These sub-groups have regular or occasional meetings and make recommendations to the weekly meeting.
Most people have part-time paid employment outside the community. There are also several members of retirement age. Regardless of job commitment, members are expected to put in a share towards the running of the farm for the community – an estimate is a minimum of 12-15 hours of work a week. Domestic work – cooking, bread-making, cleaning, washing up, etc – is done via a rota system and forms part of the 12-15 hours commitment. Secondary school children are expected to do one rota job a week, adults three. Although some work is done communally – such as the potato harvest – people usually take on individual responsibilities of their own choice. A certain amount of commitment, drive and stamina is necessary for happy co-existence.
Our Social Life
Most social activities are informal and spontaneous. We do sometimes have big parties and hold events open to the public. Christmas, New Year, and our summer birthday are celebrated in grand style. We also have an annual summer camp for children plus Maypole dancing and a pantomime. Living in a large group of people has its joys – and its difficulties. Not everyone gets on all the time and decisions can be frustratingly hard to reach. However, on the whole we are a bit like an extended family. At the same time, despite the number of people, it is always possible to find peace and quiet.
Old Hall is owned by UOSHA Ltd a non-profit housing association. There is a monthly ‘maintenance’ payment linked to space occupied and the number of people living in that space – this space covers all of the bills related to the building (maintenance, gas, electricity, council tax, etc). There is also a standard monthly charge that covers all of the costs associated with producing the food and eating meals, as well as the use of such consumables as washing powder, tea, coffee, flour, etc. The actual amount paid every month varies; but it is always considerably less than it is possible to exist on in the real world.
We are located in the heart of Constable country in a large village which has a few shops, pubs and a post office, plus play groups, a primary and secondary school (up to year 11). Sixth forms are in Colchester and Ipswich, both about 10 miles distant. There are three trains an hour to London from Manningtree, a commuter town three miles away. Buses to Colchester, Ipswich and Hadleigh stop at our gate. A nearby trunk road (A12) links the village to major towns and cities in the region.
Originally a manor, then a convent, an army barracks during the Second World War and latterly a Franciscan friary, Old Hall was purchased by the community in 1974. Legally we are known as Unit One Suffolk Housing Association (UOSHA). The building covers about two acres of ground and is divided into private and communal areas. Much of the interior has been altered and improved since the community purchased it. Many facilities are shared – these include a large kitchen/dining area, sitting room, sewing room, ballroom, library, washrooms, showers and laundry room. There is also a separate cottage. Some of the many buildings have been converted into workspaces – these include a wood and metal workshop, a garage and a space for repairing bicycles. We also have a deconsecrated chapel and a lay chapel where we occasionally put on events. There is wheelchair access to most communal areas.
Ways to visit
There are three ways to visit our community
Become a member
Members buy ‘loan stock’ which is their share of the Housing Association that is Old Hall. Standard mortgages are not available. Please email The Potential Members Secretary with enquiries. People interested in becoming members of the community should write or e-mail The Potential Members Secretary giving biographical details, reasons for considering community life and the type of skills you would be contributing to the collective were you to be accepted. You will be sent an information pack about our application process and about costs and, if still interested, may then be invited to make an initial short visit of a few days in order for you to look around and to meet some of the members. After your first visit you may be invited to visit again. It is expected that potential members will visit several times and over a long period in order to get to know everyone and decide if the lifestyle suits them. The most important aspects of joining, however, are your relationship with the other people here and your commitment to work and the shared ethos of the community. The process can take time, especially if a suitable unit is not immediately available. If a unit space becomes available the community will make a decision and offer it to one of the potential members. A small charge is made for your visits and you will be expected to contribute to the daily running of the community as we all do. Email The Potential Members Secretary for more information on potential membership.
Become a guest
A guest is a person invited to stay by a member. The member is the sponsor and is responsible for their guest and must not go away leaving their guest behind. The length of time a guest can stay is a maximum of two weeks if they have been booked into one of our guest rooms. If the guest is staying in the members private unit space then they are allowed to stay up to a maximum of six months. If a member wishes their guest to stay beyond these periods it must be agreed beforehand by the community at our weekly meeting. A further time limit is set. Members pay a small charge for their visitors and they will be expected to contribute to the daily running of the community as we all do. The community guest rooms are often fully booked especially during the summer. Visitors are advised to bring warm clothes in winter, plus, if possible, wellies, hot water bottle and a torch. Bedding is supplied.
Become a volunteer
During the summer we often have people who work on the farm or building in exchange for board and lodging. They are frequently foreign students wishing to improve their English, some have become long-term friends of the community. We welcome volunteers and members of the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) organisation each year from April until the end of October. We limit stays to two weeks to allow as many people as possible to experience Old Hall and also we feel that a shorter period does not provide enough time for us all to get to know each other. There is a limit to the number of volunteers we can accommodate at any one time and so please do not be disappointed if we cannot fit you in at precisely the time you want to come. There is space for up to six wwoofers at any one two week period from 1st April until the end of October. We provide meals and accommodation in return for your help of thirty hours per week working in the gardens, or on the farmland, or with the animals or sometimes on our building and decorating projects – depending on your skills, the time of year and the activities we are engaged in. You will work alongside members of the community and alongside other volunteers in a relaxed atmosphere. On your time off you can go for walks in the beautiful Constable countryside around us. There are regular trains to London from the local railway station and buses serve the nearby historic towns of Colchester and Ipswich. Email The Volunteers Secretary for more information on volunteering.
We are currently looking for new members. We welcome enquiries from young people and young families who may be interested in our well established rural community. Members buy ‘loan stock’ which is their share of the Housing Association that is Old Hall. Standard mortgages are not available. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and write to The Potential Members Secretary giving biographical details, reasons for considering community life and the type of skills you would be contributing to the collective were you to be accepted. You will be sent an information pack about our application process and about costs and, if still interested, may then be invited to make an initial short visit of a few days in order for you to look around and to meet some of the members. After your first visit you may be invited to visit again. It is expected that potential members will visit several times and over a long period in order to get to know everyone and decide if the lifestyle suits them. The most important aspects of joining, however, are your relationship with the other people here and your commitment to work and the shared ethos of the community. The process can take time, especially if a suitable unit is not immediately available. If a unit space becomes available the community will make a decision and offer it to one of the potential members. A small charge is made for your visits and you will be expected to contribute to the daily running of the community as we all do.
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