By Nick Knight

A FAMILY-inspired Neolithic farm project that aims to “look at the past to inspire our futures” has been awarded a £7,900 grant from the Gannett Foundation.

Dr Kevin Blockley and his wife, Fran, are recreating a Neolithic farm on 50 acres of the Welsh hillside as a learning and visitor centre with the help of family, friends and volunteers.

The cheque will help the Out of Eden project at the Wilderness Trust site near Llanidloes buy a Land Rover and trailer to help with some of the more heavy tasks.

So far Kevin and Fran and their children, Iona and Merlin, have built two round houses, a tanning room and are in the process of building a long house for communal use and learning sessions.

The Wilderness Trust teaches all aspects of sustainable living.

This includes food and drink production, livestock handling, natural building, land/woodland – management skills, traditional crafts) through practical, hands on experience and through carrying out work to increase the biodiversity of the land.

The trust, based at Old Chapel Farm, Tylwch, achieves this through two main projects:

1. Old Chapel Farm – An experiment in sustainable and creative living.

2. The Out of Eden Project – Looking at the past to inspire our futures.

It is also involved in two new initiatives to deepen connections within and between rural communities:

3. The Way of Wales – A journey of discovery across Wales linking extraordinary projects and places.

4. The Fold – Building Community. Linking Communities around the world.

Dr Kevin Blockley, trust treasurer, says: “The Out of Eden project, that we sought funding for, is the reconstruction of a working Neolithic settlement (around 4000-2000BC) examining the origins of agriculture – and of our Western civilisation.

“We are trying to imagine how the very first farmers in this area would have lived and survived – their crops, their stock, their buildings. This is a journey of discovery.

“The Neolithic is a time of extraordinary transition. As such it has much relevance today. We believe that going back to the origins of things we will get a greater perspective on our own transient culture.

“Understanding our roots and the way in which we have shaped our landscape and society, empowers us to see how we can truly shape the future of our planet in the way we want, by the ways in which we live and make our choices.

“The work is carried out by volunteers – a chance to learn new practical skills, socialise, exercise, be creative, use the real connection with the natural world while improving the environment.

“We need the vehicle and trailer for collection of materials, winching trees out of the woods and moving volunteers. Most of the materials we need for the Neolithic build come from the site – the advantage is that they are free of cost. We cut our oak, coppice our hazel, dig our earth and clay.

“For thatching we need heather – since we don’t have enough in this area we harvest it from Shropshire (donated by the National Trust). We also need to transport large (one to two ton) stones from quarries to the site.”

“The Land Rover is an indispensable piece of equipment for this project.

“It will enable us to transport volunteers to the site. Residential volunteers live three miles from the site and 60 of them worked on the project in 2018.

“We will also be able to collect local volunteers from Llanidloes.

“We have started a Wednesday local volunteering group. In the first three months we have four regular volunteers and expressions of interest from another six. We expect this to grow to about seven a week by next summer. These days will resume in April.

“We engage with a wider public through open days, experience days, demonstrations, running courses. All our activities are land based.

“250 people attended our first open days in the summer of 2018, despite appalling weather conditions, – where volunteers demonstrated several stone age crafts. We expect to double that number next year with a weekend event.

“In November we hosted the first local school and youth groups, the pilot for an educational programme that will be developed in 2020.

“We ran our first courses from the site in 2018 in traditional tanning skills.

“This is the start of an extensive programme of courses in ancient arts that will be developed over the next few years. We intend to work closely with the archaeological departments of Lampeter and Exeter universities.

“We expect 100 to attend our our working camp (two weeks) next summer.

“We have had considerable local community feedback from our volunteers and visitors during the open and experience days which has fed back into project needs and benefits.

“This is the first project of its kind in Britain. We hope its impact will be huge.

“We are building an educational resource to be used by schools and universities – providing graphic and long lasting inspiration. We strive to bring people closer to the natural world and their own roots in shared experience which we hope will contribute to physical fitness and social wellbeing.

“We think this project has huge scope as an educational tool – helping us to understand ourselves and the world we live in, building confidence, understanding and hope. We intend to be developing the overall’ project for decades. The trust leases 50 acres of land for this project which gives great capacity for growth.

“It is divided into smaller phases. Phase two for which we are just putting in a planning application, is the building of a Neolithic long house, (which will take three years) development of the Educational Programme and opening of a small visitors’ centre.

Find out more on the Wilderness Trust website

The Gannett Foundation

The trustees of the charitable fund run by the publisher of the Wales Farmer have given nearly £300,000 to 50 good causes around the UK.

Newsquest Media Group is one of the UK’s leading news publishers and over the last 10 years alone it has given more than £3 million to help charitable community projects all over the country, from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to London and the West Country.

Grants are made on merit and the Wilderness Trust was a stand-out winner.

Many more grants were given across the UK for a myriad of different causes, including a helping hand for scout groups, support for people with dyslexia, sport for the disabled, special equipment for the visually-impaired and foodbanks for the needy.

If your application missed out this year, you can try again next year. Awards are made on merit and applications are invited by advertisement in your local Newsquest Media Group newspaper from the end of July. Look out for the notices.

The Gannett Foundation UK, which makes the grants, retains a modest reserve to cater for urgent applications until the next round of awards are made in December 2019. Ad hoc applications can be made through any local Newsquest Media Group editor.