A GROUP of friends from Bristol who wanted to support each other through varying physical and mental health issues sold up and moved nearly 100 miles away to a small holding in Llandybie, Carmarthenshire.
The four friends – Roz, Heather, Chris and Jo – found that they were unable to support each other adequately while living in different areas across Bristol. They decided to move their lives, and for one of them their career, so that they could be closer together and are now living together in a terraced house in Ammanford while working on the smallholding.
Collectively, they formed the MeddwlCoed co-operative, and bought fifty acres of marginal land, on which they hope, via the One Planet Development scheme, to create a self-sustaining, community-housing initiative which will provide affordable housing and benefit the wider community through courses, workshops and retreats.
Roz Clarke, who has fibromyalgia, explained that living in Bristol wasn’t working for the group: “We used to travel back and forth through Bristol to look after each other and help when it was needed, but it wasn’t easy. It was in around 2016 that we started chatting about how difficult it was becoming, and we thought that living closer together would make it easier to support each other.
“As a group, we also had similar views on living sustainably but were finding it difficult to make this a reality in Bristol so in April last year we upped sticks and moved to Carmarthenshire. Four of us now live together in our home in Ammanford and we juggle the small holding with other work, and our medical conditions.”
Roz added that they had been welcomed with open arms by the local community: “We were worried that people would think we were raving hippies, but everyone has been so welcoming, helping us out in lots of ways and local farmers have been chatting to us about some of our initiatives such as fossil fuel free gardening and not deep ploughing on the farm.
“Now we’d like to encourage others to get involved in what we are doing at MeddwlCoed. We are planning a big tree planting event and would love people to come along and support and we can then chat to them about the joys of living in a nurturing and supportive co-housing project such as ours.”
Meddwl Coed is just one of a large movement of co-operative and community-led housing schemes in Wales that are being championed by the Wales Co-operative Centre with its Communities Creating Homes programme. The programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and Welsh Government.
Recent research commissioned by the Wales Co-operative Centre found that those living in community-led housing felt less isolated as they were surrounded by a supportive network, had improved mental health and wellbeing and had further developed their skills set as well as gaining improved levels of confidence.
Jocelle Lovell, Communities Creating Homes programme manager for the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “MeddwlCoed is the epitome of a supportive and nurturing co-housing project, which was borne out of a real need for those involved. The fact that they are now looking for people to network with who share the same interests and concerns to partner with to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes from the land is wonderful and we wholeheartedly support them.
“Wales is facing a housing crisis, with many people not able to afford a home to buy or to rent. The problem isn’t going away, so we need new and creative ways to work around it – community-led housing schemes are an exciting development that solves the affordability problem and helps to create strong, like-minded communities.”
Jocelle added: “Anyone who feels isolated, lonely or is struggling in their current accommodation should consider developing something similar to MeddwlCoed. A place where people will be able to live in peace, but with help and support on hand should they need it. It’s the perfect antidote to today’s remote society.”
Wales Co-operative Centre has been supporting and championing the growth of community-led housing since 2012, and in April this year, it launched its Communities Creating Homes programme which aims to stimulate demand for co-operative and community-led housing throughout Wales.
With more than 30 schemes already in place across Wales, communities can be created for various purposes and shared visions. Where some schemes have been created to make housing more affordable for residents, others have been developed for people who want improved eco-friendly lifestyles.