A Cunning Plan - Smart Ways to Rent Land and Live the Dream!

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I thought I’d share some thoughts on looking for land.
We’ve been ‘smallholding’ for over two decades, in various ways, on various bits of land – and we still don’t own a square foot.
A growing number of people want to get onto the land and find a way to live a simpler life. I come across people who have a way to buy a bit of land, who are prepared to build an offgrid cabin, or live in a van. I’m not one of those people – I have a family. When we started out, we had baby children. Rightly or wrongly, we weren’t prepared to live in a ditch.
When we first came down to Wiltshire, fresh from a number of catastrophes, we came down to a farm job.  Neil had some experience of working on a farm, but nothing major.  This particular job had a number of things going for it, and these may or may not be some things to look out for!
1.   They were getting desperate. If the job is doing the winter feeding and mucking out for dairy cows who come in in October, and the job’s still going in September, there’s a chance they may be less than picky when they’re hiring.
2.   It was a simple, basic job. Once you knew how to drive the tractor and operate the feeder, you could do it. As time went on, you’d do it better, but you were competent really quickly. There wasn’t much training to do, and they gave someone half competent a shot at it.
3.   It was seasonal. It came with a cheap house to rent, which was a big plus, but it was only a winter job. We had to take a chance that we’d find work in summer. As it turned out, Neil started a gardening business that ran for some years off the back of those unbooked summers. But the income from the farm job from April to October was: zero.
4.   The bloke who was herd manager was less than charismatic. If you were hoping for a new best friend, you weren’t going to want this gig. If you could let it wash over you on the other hand …
So. That’s how we got our first shot at it. We got a three bed bungalow with a huge untouched slab of garden for a song, and a half decent income in winter.

Once we moved away from this first job, we rented cottages from the Crown Estate.  Rented houses can be adaptable, quirky, with land, with woodburners - and you can be free to keep pets, keep chickens, grow vegetables. Your average buy to let landlord isn't going to let you do that though. Landlords like the Crown Estate, Duchy of Cornwall, and the National Trust, can be a bit more relaxed.
  • The National Trust properties to let. I'm warning you there is actually a tearoom in Somerset on here. I may  have to pack after I finish writing this.
We never actually got around to community living, but it's undoubtedly a way to get onto the land, and also to learn a lot. There are some unusual opportunities and although these days some of them come with a price tag that would buy you a regular house, there are still some openings for renters.
Eventually, we got into a private arrangement with a local fellow Crown tenant who had some grazing he wasn't using, and we had that off him on a handshake for a number of years before we formalised it, and we now rent on an FBT off the Crown. Having a little faith and just getting on with it paid off for us - it might not have done since he was in breach of contract, subletting to us, and it could have ended horribly wrong, but it didn't.
II have no way of knowing what's on offer in your area, but land does go up for let.
  • UK Land and Farms is a good place to look for land tenancies.
  • Greenshifters used to be good but these days has few lets in the UK, and those it does have seem to be overpriced. 
Ihope that's been of some use to people whose hearts call out to the land, but know they can't afford to buy, and don't know where to start to make a big life change while renting. 
Renting has its issues - don't we know it - but if you really want to get onto the land and get started, you may be like we were - we had limited choices!

i don't regret our choice to move right away, diving into life onto the land by way of tied and rented accommodation. I'd always advise you to watch your back, and have an exit strategy* but it's been a lot of fun. 

If it's where your heart is, you probably need to follow!

*ho hum. We still don't have one!
 




Street Cat

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A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday.

I was thinking about this after my shared ownership rant last night - for my birthday treat I chose to go to see 'A Street Cat Named Bob'. I knew I wanted to see it, from the moment I saw the trailer.


Funnily enough, the other movie I wanted to see  - I, Daniel Blake - also touches on similar issues  but I  made it pretty clear that wasn't birthday treat material. I still haven't seen it, and I still want to, but I'm very aware it will not cheer me up.

If you haven't seen it, (and please do) A Street Cat Named Bob is the true story of the redemption of a homeless heroin addict.

What's that got to do with shared ownership?

Well - it struck me that night - which was a fabulous one, the movie was great, we went and ate Mexican, I had a wonderful time - that we are actually this close to homelessness. Many of us are.

In a moment, we could have been on the road to owning our own home. But. In a moment, we could be homeless. It could happen. It would not take much.

I sometimes loathe being at work. Today was one of those days. The sky sparkled and the cold, brilliant light bounced off my prison walls. The hills mocked me from the window. My heart broke pretty much on the hour. My very soul needs to be outside. However, I mustn't lose my gratitude for the job that keeps the roof over our heads.

It's very, very cold tonight, I am wrapped up in bed, with my knitting, the Tightwad Gazette, Tales from the Green Valley on YouTube, and a mug of Horlicks. I wouldn't like to be out there, alone and afraid.

We really do have to nail this financial thing.

Why we won't be sharing

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In the middle of all that, we found out about the possibility of a shared ownership house.
The last one we got wind of, we qualified for, were offered, and then were denied the mortgage, on grounds that during a ten year period of consistent self employment, Neil had chosen to spend one year employed. There had been no blip in his income, only a change of contractual arrangement. But it was inconsistent, so no mortgage.

Now I say we found out about - by the time these properties hit the pages of Help to Buy South - the agency where you are supposed to find them - they have gone. You have to hope you catch the right email at the right time from the Housing Association representing them.

Then you are told you need to go through a specific mortgage company for assessment.

Bear in mind, you are buying, in this case, a 40% share of a £200,000 house. You are not invited to see it, to visit the site, or to enquire any further about it. You are just Housing Association. You are parting with £80,000 but, they say, they *may* permit you to keep pets.

Now for the 60%, they charge you £300 a month rent. Which is good, because obviously with the lions share of the property in their hands, they're mostly responsible for the upkeep, right? Wrong. You are 100% responsible for maintenance and upkeep, despite only getting 40% of the house and despite paying market rent on the remaining 60%.

So we spoke to the compulsory mortgage advisor, who plagued us day and night for a day or two - and hurrah, we qualified for the mortgage. At our ages, the longest one they were prepared to offer was 12 years, so it was twice the price most people would pay, and nearly twice our current rent, once you added in the £300 they were getting in rent for ... er .. nothing.

Exhilarated by finally qualifying for a mortgage, we got back as instructed to the Housing Association, still having not seen the site, or been given a jot of information. There are no show homes for Shared Ownership, and it's no use looking at the regular show home, because the Shared Ownership one will be built to the lowest of low standards, with the cheapest of materials and fittings, and the absolute minimum footprint, so will look literally nothing like the rest of the houses.

At no point had anyone been courteous to us, much less simpering. No one cared if we were interested or excited or not. Just tenants.

utterly bloody annoying shared ownership website whereby we learn that shared ownership is really for badly drawn teenagers of limited intelligence.


Still in a high state of excitement, Neil phoned the HA to be told - oh it's gone. There will be no more three beds on that development. We're expecting one in {neighbouring town} in Autumn of 2017.

Really? That's a year away. One a YEAR?  And we could go through all this again (11 years on the mortgage now,  though, and counting) and still be told 'Oh, it's gone'.

No. I'm not sure where or how we'll live if this rental goes pear shaped, but I am not going through that again. Treated like scum, as if at any minute they'd have to slap an asbo on us, with no courtesy or politeness, much less 'customer service'. Treated as disposable, making up the numbers, presumably a back stop in case the chosen family failed at one of the many hurdles.

Failing again. Our fourth attempt - the first time both my children were still in school, by the next time, they will both be at University. In the time from the first 'opportunity' to the last, we will have paid £45,000 in rent.  Despite having paid rent here for a decade, with no let up , we have nothing to show for it, nor now it seems will we ever.

Something needs to be done on so many levels about housing in this country. It's an utter disgrace. Council Houses are sold off for a song.  Buy to let landlords get rich off  my taxes, because their exorbitant rents are paid by Housing Benefit. I work until I drop and for my trouble I get to pay out - over the course of a decade over £80,000 in rent and what will I do when I'm too old to work to pay it? I don't know.

This is why I've decided we just have to step out in faith and trust that we will be come up with something.

We won't be sharing.

Gather Round

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Advent Sunday caught me somewhat on the hop.

I'm usually all ablaze, waiting to get going on that spiritual journey - I think it's beautifully symbolised by the Steiner Waldorf advent spiral. A meandering inward journey, searching for meaning, and finding it, where else but in the centre, where God comes down to man.

I am not usually caught out by Advent Sunday being in November, but there we have it, this year I work full time, I've got a lot on my plate, and I didn't notice.
Add to which - last minute addition of inlaws for Christmas.  I'm actually really happy about this, as I have always wanted family to come around for Christmas, and they never have. Okay, I'll be honest and say that I'd have preferred it if they'd chosen one of the nineteen years I was not working full time outside the home, but I don't mind. Only trouble is the sitting room was in a state of semi decoration (who'd be married to a P&D? Can't do it myself, won't be up to standard, he can't do it, hasn't got time!) and now somehow it has to get done before Christmas, along with a whole house overhaul.

This coming week is fierce. All four of us are out tomorrow night, for example - and everyone's schedule is manic. So to enable Neil to get some time to decorate, we've decamped to the kitchen.

There's something wonderful about our occasional 'live in the kitchen' spells. We are blessed to have a big old farm cottage kitchen in our little house. Despite the fact that we rent our cottage, which was originally tied to Neil's job on the farm, it's a step up in size and quality by virtue of having originally been the dairyman's house.

 This is the 'other' end of the kitchen from the Rayburn, and since moving the furniture around, I have added a cushion and a quilt to that rocking chair!
The sofa is out of H's bedroom, and has to come out anyway to accommodate another bed, for our guests.
It is cosy in the extreme but we shall manage for a week or two.

 After our 'choir practice' - a group at church perfecting 'The First Noel' for the Carol Service - I came home, cleared up, made soup, and then positioned my laptop on the counter you can't see in that picture, and sat happily knitting and watching a BBC2 documentary about the pilgrim fathers - The Mayflower Pilgrims: Behind the Myth. - until the others came back.

There is a great deal of peace in a winter kitchen. I believe my advent lesson this year will be to learn to trust God, with everything (not just the small stuff) and live my life to its fullest potential.

For I must work, but I must also live a dream.

Two Hearts

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The estimable Mel of Inkblots fame recently spoke of the discombobulating effect of two worlds colliding.
This is one of my worst fears/realities. My progress in creating an online entity of any real worth has always been held back by my absolute terror of one life colliding with or even caressing the other. Ugh.  It's not that I am holding a lot back - I mean I'm not secretly the svelte twenty something mistress of a Russian oligarch or something - but I have comfort zones around me both in world one and world two and they don't overlap.
But I'm wondering if I have two internal worlds ... or more ... which collide within my very self and cause just the same retraction ?
Normal calls to me like a gilded siren - a tempting dream of ironed shirts, mown lawns, clear kitchens and social gatherings, friends 'for dinner' - heck actually just friends! - smiling set piece garden capers in summer. Success at Slimming World, a sleek, well dressed appeal, holidays with sun and sand. The debts, all paid, the appointed way, with wisdom and restraint. A new bright venture running on oiled accounts and crisply proffered business cards over steaming fresh coffee.
And just as I am about to dip the tip of a toe into her sleek smooth waters...
My heart digs her heels in and whispers wood smoke,  spun wool of much loved Jacob, dye beds and herbs upon herbs, soap and butter making, goats' cheese, hand knits, a roaring fire and silence, the dark of the woods, hand made shelter from the wind and rain.
The gut deep urge to create that reality, hand drawn line by home grown seed, overwhelms. Leaves me a little drunk on damson wine and heady sourdough. Breaks my stubborn heart in two and cries for room to breathe, to dream, to talk, to draw, to share.
I've nurtured this boiling, blistering, baffling conflict for a decade or two. Like its outward bound cousin, it makes me recoil in terror, and as such, it has power over me. A power which, before I reach my demise, I must overcome.
Choose. Do something. Keep choosing. Keep doing.
It's the only way forward I can see.


A sharp autumn frost

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We awoke to a crisp, white frost and bright sunshine, easily my favourite weather.
I however awoke to a headcold making me feel miserable and the onset of seasonal depression.
Like many other people, I suffer with seasonal affective disorder, and this year it is extra challenging, because I am inside all day, five days a week, and to be honest it is pretty hard to get outside the other two, when some kind of sketchy housework has been factored in, and the shopping done, and meals cooked.
I have a SAD lamp, bought for me by my wonderful niece/sister (you have to know us to get the ambiguity of our relationship, but I promise you it's not of the genetic kind!) and I used to use it for half an hour each morning as I prepared school lunches and breakfasts. That time seems to have been downsized now, so while on a two day course last week (you don't want to know about the driving home part) I asked our HR director if it was ok to take it into work, and he said yes, definitely.
So tomorrow I think I'll be working bathed in bright light.
Cormac is now clipped and rugged up in his quilted PJs, the nights are dark early, two fires are lit and the bedroom still feels like cold storage by bedtime.
Welcome to autumn

I just don't know

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Right now, we're trying to figure a way we can employ Boo on the land for a few hours a week, and provide her with wheels - but at the same time producing something of worth. We can't just hand her money and a car.
It's complicated why we want to do it like this - she's hell bent on a car and we want her to focus on her exams. We want her back in the family/farm fold just a bit more before she goes off to uni. (She's applied to Oxford which is a long process, and three out of her four other unis have already made her offers, two unconditional as long as she opts for them as firm choice.)
In the midst of this financial juggling, a new shared ownership house has come up, and I would *really* like it.
We'd have to juggle and fiddle to qualify for the house.
We'd have to juggle and fiddle to work out the Boo and sheep gig.
There's no way to do both.
In an instant, I feel like doing the right thing by my daughter is a no brainer.
But we need a roof over our heads and some security.

Not sure which way to go.
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