BY: KATY WILLIS
When people think of the British, they think of tradition, the “stiff upper lip,” and a nation that follows convention at all costs. That, of course, isn’t universally true. If you dig around, you can easily find pockets of people who defy convention—blending traditions they admire with new technology and ideas to live life on their own terms. And, in communes, those terms mean working and living together for the good of the group rather than the individual.
Modern communes aren’t an ironic throwback to the 1960s. Contrary to popular belief, communes didn’t begin and end in a span of 10 years. Communes, in some form, have been around for centuries. The first communities were arguably communes; every member lived in close proximity and worked toward the greater good of the whole society.
Today, though most communes in the U.K. are rural, set on large areas of land that can exceed 70 acres, some are located in cities or in industrial areas. They can have one large residential building—where everyone has their own private sleeping quarters but shares bathrooms, kitchens, and living spaces—or individual flats or small houses, where people only come together to participate in meetings, work, and events.
Many of them, including Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset, strive for green living. They often operate as charities or awareness groups, running events, workshops, and courses to teach regular people how to live greener lives. By producing their own energy, dairy products, meat, fruit, and vegetables, communes are typically self-sufficient.
That kind of life might sound simplistic, but it’s not the Dark Ages. You’ll find people of all ages and backgrounds living in communes: writers, artists, and musicians who can work from home; web designers, engineers, and architects who might work a regular job outside the commune; older generations, young families with children, and everyone in between. There are no rules governing who can or can’t live in a commune, just a basic prerequisite: respect for others and the planet and the desire to live in an active community.
That’s the only real catch. To live in a commune, you have to work toward the good of the community. For a set number of hours every week, you have to care for animals, clean, build, fix, farm, and even do office work. And whether you co-own the space, rent it, or receive free accommodation for your work, you almost always have to pay a monthly maintenance fee that includes heating, electricity, water, and, in some cases, food.
If you want join a commune, it’s a slow process. Many require hopefuls to visit and volunteer for a few days at a time so that the community can get to know you and come to a consensus about whether you’re a good fit. After a volunteer trial period that can stretch over weeks or months, you too will discover whether you’re able to live in harmony with others—or if you’re really just another member of the self-centred majority.