From a Caravan to a Community


Moving into a caravan in the middle of Hill Holt Wood in 1995 gave Nigel Lowthrop his roots.
His purchase of the 22-acre woodlands in beautiful, rural northern Britain near the evocative C16th village of Norton Disney led to the beginning of a sustainable social enterprise community which he and his wife Karen have been growing for 20 years.

Gradually building and then moving into a kit house by the side of a lake, Nigel’s entirely self-sustainable area comprises 12 acres.
The house is fully equipped with wood and stove heating, purified rainwater tanks and solar panels.
The remaining Hillholt area is now a successful social project, home to several protected species and owned by the Hill Holt Wood Charity, which oversees educational, social and health programs.

Nigel, a biologist who has worked in land management since 1970, said his desire to build a social enterprise community was born from a need to do better by the environment.

“I felt we as a country weren’t doing a very good job of managing the countryside,” Nigel told the Newark Advertiser.
“I believed you could manage it both sustainably and economically. The whole basis (of Hill Holt Wood) was to apply a [social, environmental and economic] legacy, to mutually benefit each other.” However, it wasn’t an easy road to success – Nigel fought a battle with government and planning representatives when building lakeside property. He recalls the first day the Forestry Commission’s regional director came; Nigel overhead him and his team wondering why they were there.
“I knew what they were picturing: this eco-warrior who was dirty and smelly and living in the woods.

They were getting ready to say ‘you’re a nice loony, but you are a loony nonetheless; this isn’t mainstream,’” he said. “But by the time they had walked around the land once, you could see them thinking ‘this isn’t what we expected’”.

Nigel, who recently put his property on the market for £650,000 due to health reasons, among others, believes more work needs to be done to educate the wider community, and government, on the benefits of sustainable living.
“I don’t think most planners understand sustainable,” he said.
“One of the things that would take years to overcome after we first moved here was the planning. They seemed to be against things that were outside towns and villages.
“The government has changed the planning rules so that there should be a presumption of positive response to sustainable development — but there is no definition of sustainable.”

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