The story of Chickenshack Co-op began in Zimbabwe in 1990/1. A chance conversation led to a chance encounter which led me and friend Sue to the village of Chimanimani in the eastern mountains there. A wonderful and unexpected opportunity to care take a pemaculture designed small holding quickly evolved into the opportunity to develop a derelict neighbouring property, using the knowledge and momentum from the first project. The new property had once been the home of John Wilson a permaculture pioneer in Zimbabwer involved in several key early permaculture projects in that country. Ever since that time my life has also been inextricably linked to the world of permaculture.
Looking after the small holding of Graham Metlerkamp had taught me so many new things and slowly the idea to apply this learning to new and subsequent projects really took hold. The first port of call was the neighbouring property, which has now evolved to become Heaven Lodge an absolutely stand out destination for travellers in Southern Africa in itself, let alone the stunning region surrounding it.
One of the first real sources of inspiration came when we visited Chikukwa in 1991 and met Uli and Ellie Westermann, two German teachers who had naturalised to the traditional Mashona homeland area, and who in consultation with John Wilson, the previous owner of Heaven helped begin the impetus that has gone on to transform the whole of the Chikukwa area.
The combination of these and other experiences led me to discover my own passion for permaculture and realise a determination to take this ideas and put them into practice via my own life an work. So the dream of Chickenshack was born and on my eventual return to the UK I set about finding ways I could both learn more about permaculture and put the ideas into practice myself. I have to mention my great friend at the time Andreas Heigl, it is in part down to him that we actually called the housing co-op that name, we had lived in a wooden shack in Zimbabwe and kept chickens so there had been lots of jokes and silly names around chickens at the time, including a band and a repertoire of silly songs, but with Andreas the Chickens name kind of stuck. When we reunited in a camping site in Amsterdam in 1993 he even coined the word Hunchenfest, for Chicken party, i used it as a net pseudonym for a while.
It was through the support and belief of dozens of people like Andreas that the idea grew into a reality. I bumped into a woman called Stephanie McCann in the Green Futures field at Glastonbury and she told me all about Housing Co-operatives, Radical Routes and how to buy and manage property without necessarily having capital. Suddenly what had been a whimsical aspiration become a potential realistic proposition.
It still didn’t really seem real when we put our offer in on the property in early 1995, we still didn’t have much of the money and only barely had a few members committed to living there, as people kept getting all excited about the prospect then dropping out when the full complexity of the challenge presented itself.
Then came the Permaculture design course at Centre for Alternative technology and that served to click all the pieces into place. We only had 3 of the required 8 members in place at that time and still needed money, we had allowed our focus to broaden to make the coop more broadly appealing, who knew what permaculture was all about after all?
But with course all that changed. the design course not only gave us a why, it gave us a how, it showed how to prioritise, via zoning where to place by sectors, it showed how to make decisions by consensus. Ironically the tighter the focus for the co-op the more attractive it became. It became easier to explain what is was all about and how it was going to run. we found our other 5 members on the course and in the surrounding community, we had our focus, our raison d’etre and momentum was finally on our side.
The basic lay out of the land, the position of the veg garden, orchard, forest garden, wind breaks, paths and much more was mapped on on the PDC as our group design project. It has been a fascinating process to see how it has matured and how well it has all worked, over the years and the successive residents and members of the co-op.
I have too many memories to try and list them here, I dug out a handful of battered old photos from those early days and I have scanned a few of them in. I would like to write much more about the whole experience, and the three other housing co-ops I have been closely involved in starting, the fourth of which I currently reside at.
The whole thing has been and continues to be an amazing journey and thank everyone who has been part of it so far. I am certain that the co-operative model is one of the most powerful tools we have to transform our society and to empower us all to pursue our dreams of sustainability and abundance.
I am going to be there this weekend, and will be photographing and making some sound clips and video for posterity. it feels like a significant achievement for all concerned and hopefully can act as inspiration for future potential projects.
If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything
Chris Reid’s Dad