IT BEGAN as a caravan park in Morayshire in 1962 but as the Findhorn settlement turns 50 today Frances Anderson visits the eco-village that has led the way in sustainable and spiritual living.
It’s a sunny Monday morning when I arrive at the settlement now known as the Findhorn Foundation in Morayshire. I have been here many times before, the first time as a teenager when I was hugged by smiling people in woolly jumpers and I couldn’t get away quickly enough. My subsequent visits over the years have convinced me that the community in Findhorn, with its emphasis of spirituality and sustainability, was way ahead of its time when it was founded 50 years ago.
But I need to hear from the people of the community to find out what makes Findhorn tick and why it has survived when so many other similar ventures from the 1960s and 1970s have not.
Walking around the site, to one side I see the Phoenix Community stores, selling everything from organic honey and crystals to new age books and whisky. Over there is the Moray Art Centre, then the hobbit-like nature sanctuary for meditation, and not far away is the Field of Dreams, an eco-village with impressive state-of-the-art, low-energy sustainable houses.
Tucked away in the midst of all this, set in flourishing gardens, I spot a familiar sight, a rickety old blue caravan. Fifty years ago this week, it was into this caravan that a young woman, Eileen Caddy, packed herself and her children and moved to a windswept caravan park near the remote fishing village of Findhorn, with her husband, Peter, and friend Dorothy Maclean.
Peter had just been sacked from his job at the nearby Cluny Hotel because he claimed to believe in UFOs. Penniless and unemployed, Eileen decided to stay at Findhorn, and began growing vegetables on the rubbish dump next to their caravan. The garden flourished, producing 40lb cabbages and eight-foot tall foxgloves that made news round the world, and became the basis for the Findhorn Foundation. The 50th anniversary will be celebrated today when the community of about 500 members will focus on continuing with the aims of its founders, summed up in the motto Love in Action, Co-creation, and Inner Listening.
Thriving as an organisation, and with its international reputation secure, Findhorn now attracts more than 14,000 visitors a year from more than 40 countries and runs a continual series of about 200 workshops, retreats and events promoting spirituality and sustainability. It owns a number of properties, including Cluny Hill College, a large organic farm, a private school, a caravan park, and the Ecovillage – a demonstration centre for ecologically oriented building techniques. It encompasses more than 40 different businesses and related activities, and supports its own sewage system and wind generator.
For more than ten years the Findhorn Consultancy Service has been supporting the transformation of business through training, consultancy, coaching and conferences. Clients have ranged from PricewaterhouseCoopers, BP and Standard Life, through to the NHS and Birmingham City Council, to a range of smaller and often community voluntary sector projects. It even has its own currency, which is now accepted in the pubs in this part of north-east Scotland.
The “experience week” workshop at Findhorn is the most popular event for visitors, providing an insight into daily life at the community. Four mornings are spent working in the gardens, kitchen, dining room, or on maintenance, while the week also includes meditation and sacred dance. It isn’t cheap, but can be life changing.
Edward Fitsell was working in London, advising on environmental sustainability, when he decided to sign up. “I booked without knowing much about it,” he said. “I had no religious or spiritual beliefs. It was incredibly challenging and I almost left on the third day. But I gained huge personal insights and a glimpse of what life can feel like. There’s an experience of untruths falling away”.
Returning to London, he resigned from his job after experiencing profound depression and hitting rock bottom. He returned to Findhorn and now works with the Building Bridges project, which encourages people who would not usually visit Findhorn to do so – disaffected youths, people with drug and alcohol problems, and corporate clients.
Duerten Lau, from Germany, came to Findhorn 20 years ago: “I knew how violent and destructive the human mind could be and I was seeking solutions to the way human beings live together. It’s a wonderful concept, knowing I’m not alone and I can ask for help and be assured I’ll get it.”
I ask if she believes in God, and she replies, with humour: “Hallelujah! I’ve had to translate what God and spirituality mean to me, which for me is an all-creating and creative force.”
Findhorn is not a place in which to hide. Mo Haley, one of the new residents, decamped from a comfortable life and career in London earlier this year and now lives in a caravan, works at the foundation and receives a little pocket money.
She said: “I was happy in London but I reached a point where my flat and job and friends weren’t enough, my daily life lacked depth and meaning.”
Five months on, she says: “I feel calmer and less isolated. I’ve entirely changed my view of myself, the world and my part in it since being here. I feel more connected and that we all have a responsibility to one another and to the world. Things don’t stay on the surface here, people engage on a deeper level and you really learn about yourself. Findhorn pushes you to do that. It’s not somewhere to escape to.”
Some people at Findhorn believe in God, some don’t. Some find the community by accident, and others do not. For instance, Graham Meltzer, an architect and atheist, systematically researched a number of alternative communities before deciding on Findhorn. Meltzer believes it is the strong culture of spirituality and ecology that acts as the social glue for the community, and every person I spoke to expressed their belief in working in co-operation with people and nature.
One of its long-term residents is John Willoner, a down-to-earth Yorkshireman, who arrived 45 years ago. He said: “Findhorn is not a place; it’s a concept, a consciousness.”
Willoner arrived one Sunday after a friend sent him a postcard mentioning the community, and ended up staying to work with Peter Caddy on building the sanctuary.
“I remember wondering why the sanctuary was so big as there were only a few people there,” he says. “It was very run-down, the last place on earth you’d want to be, but I loved the atmosphere of people working together combined with spiritual teachings. I was trying to find some meaning in life.
“My peers would go and see rock stars and I was going to see spiritual teachers. It’s a wonderful place to know people on a deeper level, other than talking about the weather and sport.”
Three years in the planning, Willoner has organised speakers from around the world to attend a seven-day event – Love, Magic, Miracles – to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
Findhorn has endured its fair share of negative press over the years, often portrayed as a drug-taking free-wheeling hippy commune – and nothing could be further from the truth.
Its members are organised, hard-working individuals, and Findhorn has only survived as an alternative community due to its emphasis on discipline and productive work. The 50th anniversary might well provide an opportunity for the outside world to re-evaluate Findhorn, and perhaps see the deeper significance it holds for many.
In its infancy, many local people viewed Findhorn with trepidation, but it has grown to be accepted and many locals stop by for a visit. A nurse says she loves coming to visit at the weekends because “people smile at us”.
Of the original founders, only Dorothy Maclean survives and lives on site. Eileen Caddy died in 2006 and her husband, Peter, left Findhorn in the 1970s and died in a car crash in 1994. At the age of 87, Eileen Caddy was awarded an MBE for her services to spiritual inquiry. Maclean, now 92, says: “To make a difference in the world each one of us can be more loving in everything we do.”
“I don’t believe we have all the answers, but we are always asking questions”, said Carin Bolles, Findhorn’s media officer. “The magic of Findhorn is it has always been a place of possibility.”
Peter and Eileen Caddy, their three boys and friend Dorothy McLean arrive in their caravan at Findhorn Bay Caravan Park on 17 November.
Main sanctuary is built.
Findhorn Trust established as a charity.
Community centre constructed.
First core group set up to run the community.
Findhorn Foundation replaces Findhorn Trust as a legal structure.
The 135 year-old Cluny Hill Hotel is purchased.
First village council is formed to co-ordinate the growing diversity of the community.
Peter Caddy leaves. New Findhorn Directions (NFD), the trading arm of the Findhorn Foundation, is created.
Appropriate Energy Systems (AES) Ltd established to produce solar panels.
Huge fundraising appeal results in the purchase of Findhorn Bay Caravan Park. Universal Hall Arts Centre is opened.
Nature sanctuary is built.
First house constructed of whisky barrels in what became a cluster of five whisky barrel houses.
First wind turbine is constructed, producing 20 per cent of the community’s electricity needs.
Construction of Cornerstone for Eileen Caddy, one of the first ecohouses built at Findhorn.
Many businesses established and Ecovillage Ltd is formed for the Field of Dream housing development.
Peter Caddy dies in a car crash.
The living machine, an ecological waste water treatment, facility is completed.
Findhorn Foundation is recognised by the United Nations as a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
Construction is begun on the first ecohouse in the Field of Dreams.
United Nations grants the Findhorn Foundation consultative status.
New Findhorn Association (NFA) is formed to provide a structure for people and organisations in the community. Findhorn Foundation Consultancy Service is also formed.
A gift of 170 acres of land from Duneland Ltd is given to the Findhorn Dunes Trust, a new body made up of representatives of Findhorn Village as well as the Findhorn Foundation Community.
Findhorn Foundation College is established.
The eko, a local monetary system, is introduced to generate community sustainability. A straw bale house, the first of its kind in Scotland, is built.
Eileen Caddy dies. Three more wind turbines are built. The park becomes a net exporter of electricity as the four windmills produce 140 per cent of energy needs. CIFAL Findhorn is established as part of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR)’s global network. CIFAL is a hub for training urban designers, planners, politicians and others in ways to build resilient communities.
An ecological footprint study shows the Findhorn community has the lowest ever recorded ecological footprint in the industrialised world.
Moray Art Centre opens.
250Kw biomass boiler is built to replace all existing gas and oil boilers on the site.
Construction commences on Soillse and Duneland housing.
50 years since the founders arrived.