Diggers and Dreamers: practices of environmental care in British eco-communities

Nadia Bertolino*, Ziana Namboori Madathil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The paper investigates how architectural spaces can support practices of environmental care in some rural intentional communities in the UK. The paper suggests a reflection on the role that architectural spaces can play in supporting such ways of co-living through situated spatial practices and examines what can be learnt from such communities to envision and eventually produce an architecture that enables communities to tackle today’s environmental challenges.
Intentional communities are generally groups of families and individuals who have chosen to live together, drawing on a shared environmental agenda and a desire to live an egalitarian, co-operative life, ‘to enhance their shared values or for some other mutually agreed-upon purpose’ . Such communities stand opposite centralised political systems and social constructs and produce inclusive and environmentally resilient ways of living. Most British intentional communities flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, echoing the back-to-the-land movement and claiming a greater degree of autonomy and inclusion than could be found in the increasingly high-tech post-war society . The generation of ‘diggers’ (named after the 17th-century English communards) challenged social rules and constructs, opting out of ‘the grab-game of straight society’, as Richard Neville wrote in Oz magazine about the first London digger commune, the Love Commune In Full Flower. In The World Turned Upside down, Hill highlighted how the digger communities “might have given the counter-culture an economic basis" , as they proposed a social system where the abolition of exploitation would allow for the creation of a society which would “transcend the property system” . This resonates with the experience of some contemporary eco-communities, “a mixture of the practically minded and utopianists” , emphasizing the close link between the political agenda of such communities and their collective commitment to enable practices of environmental care. In 2021, the Guardian reported an increase in applications to join eco-communities across Britain during the pandemic. Interestingly, the lockdown appears to have shone a new light on the alternatives these communities can offer to de-commodify received and typically unquestioned beliefs about human nature and environmental agency, economy and the material geographies of life. As Helen Jarvis has noted, this can be seen as a recognition that mainstream contemporary society and the lifestyles of the past are permanently broken . By mapping spatial practices of environmental care and adaptation in three eco- communities, the paper questions whether there are shared socio-spatial configurations that architectural practice can embody and replicate to provide responses to today environmental challenges. To this extent, unstructured interviews will be conducted with representatives of such communities, focusing on 1) the individual experience of the place and the role they held within the community social structure 2) the collective actions put in place to implement practices of environmental care. Interviewees will be invited to share images that, according to their experience and sensitivity, best represent this aspect.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAHRA2022: Building Ground for Climate Collectivism: Architecture after the Anthropocene
Place of PublicationNew York
Publication statusSubmitted - Nov 2022
EventAHRA 2022 - Building Ground for Climate Collectivism: Architecture after the Anthropocene - Pratt School of Architecture, New York, United States
Duration: 17 Nov 202220 Nov 2022


ConferenceAHRA 2022 - Building Ground for Climate Collectivism: Architecture after the Anthropocene
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York
Internet address


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