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27 June 2008

New Age old people’s home

As in society as a whole, the wealth of the boomer generation is provoking a crisis of access for yo

By Jonathan Dawson

One of the early Findhorn luminaries, David Spangler, once famously said that a major challenge for Findhorn would be to avoid becoming a New Age old people’s home. I notice that I have been recounting this anecdote over the years with a certain self-satisfaction, sure in the knowledge that this is a fate we have managed to escape.

After recent visits to a couple of ecovillages where youth truly are in the driving seat, all at once I find much less for us to be smug about. In truth, it really does feel like we face a significant demographic challenge.

Nor is this the case in Findhorn alone. With some notable exceptions, I would say that the European ecovillage family in general is ageing, with the proportion of young people among ecovillage residents unhealthily low.

This insight comes as something of a shock, not least because it carries a strongly personal dimension. Like many others, I have failed to recognise that I myself am ageing.

A youthful 52-year old I may be – but still, 52 is some distance from the young man I can all too easily imagine myself still to be. Now, as I begin to find myself referred to as an ‘elder’ of the ecovillage movement, this realisation is becoming sadly inescapable.

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Two main reasons appear to lie behind the marginalisation of young people within many of today’s European ecovillages. Neither of these, thankfully, seem to have much to do with a decline in the appeal of an idealistic communitarian vision – all the indications are that young people remain engaged and excited by the concept.

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The problem seems to lie more in the realm of practicalities. On the one hand, rising land prices in a context where a growing number of ecovillages are experiencing some degree of privatisation of assets is simply driving the young out of the market. As in society as a whole, the wealth of the boomer generation is provoking a crisis of access for youth.

On the other, most of the juiciest niches in our now mature communities – many of which are 30 or more years old (Findhorn celebrates its 46th anniversary this year) – are more or less full. Our early pioneering days, illuminated by now fading photographs of gangs of young people in great smiling work parties, now lie far behind us.

In this context, it is really encouraging to see our young people pick up the challenge and embark with zest on the task of injecting some vital youth energy back into the community. Most recently, this has manifested in the launch of a series of evenings under the banner of Café Culture.

Michael Mitton (who last appeared in this blog under the guise of Scotland’s Young Thinker of the Year), Elliott and Lucy from NextGEN (GEN’s youth council) have set up these evenings as an opportunity for Findhorn’s young people to get together in the evenings, to make music and to share their ideas and inspirations.

These evenings have been successful and well attended, with issues addressed including affordable housing, work opportunities and the idea of a youth community centre.

It is inspiring to see our young people find their voice and, in the best ecovillage tradition, engage with our current situation as an opportunity rather than a problem. May they help us rediscover and nurture the youthful spirit in all of us.