On Home & Homelessness

Maddy Harland
Friday, 28th January 2022

Home is a place we can often take for granted until we lose it. Sometimes living in a temporary home can really hone who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives. It can make us count our blessings as well.

Home... The word is deeply evocative. In its idealised form, it speaks of comfort, security, warmth, and stability. To have a troubled relationship with home is to challenge the foundation of the psyche. To lose our home is punishing.

My early home was troubled, not a harmonious or necessarily safe place to grow up in, and then it was gone. Family life as I knew it changed forever when I left London for a boarding school in Slough, of all places, at the age of 10, suddenly adrift from my three elder brothers. Afterwards came more schools and moves, and ‘home’ was brotherless and temporary.

Tim too was induced into the British prep school system that sends young boys to board aged 8. Unenlightened and often brutal, our formative years taught us how to survive but not to thrive – that was to come later. Yet even at a young age, we were both blessed with a bellyful of questions about Life and why we are here.

When we met years later, we promised each other that if we had children we would try not to repeat our childhood experience. No being sent away, no abrupt moves in formative years. Stability and the sweet pleasure of carrying friends through life, known since childhood, was the ideal. So we set up a family home, with its permaculture food forest, and wove it into our local community. Permaculture has a way of rooting us in our locality. It is a ‘homecoming’. Years later, when COVID struck, our grown up kids returned for Lockdown and found themselves unravelling the inevitable difficulties and challenges of their own childhoods. (Nothing is perfect.)

Disrupting the pattern of Home

All good things come to an end and our kids left to carry on their lives again and we felt that after many years in the same place it was time for us to disrupt the pattern of Home. The publishing company has run remotely since 2018 so it doesn’t make a lot of difference where each of the team live.

The house sold immediately to someone who loved the garden, but we were caught in a pandemic housing boom. Everyone wanted to move! Without an assured destination, we felt we had to uproot our lives and see where the current took us. Time for an adventure! So we have temporarily moved to Somerset to live with Tim’s mum (thanks Granny) until our new home becomes available. (Fingers still crossed.)

Letting go of possessions

What we both hadn’t taken account of is the enormous task of dismantling a family home of 34 years. Where does all this stuff come from? We are meant to be non-consumers! The temptation of keeping tools and materials that might come in useful is a dangerous ploy and letting go of the past – including letters from deceased parents, kids’ drawings and writings, gifts from loved ones – is a psychological act of regression and an art in itself. Never again will we put anything except insulation in an attic.

What I take from this experience is the intense level of stress caused by moving and buying and selling houses. The system in England guarantees no sale until completion and there are often tortuous pitfalls. Below the watermark of privilege though is the stark reality of what it is like to not have a safe and warm home. However stressed we might feel, we keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be buyers, not renters or indeed homeless, in a country where buying and renting costs are beyond so many families and where you can be made homeless too easily.

Crisis at Christmas

Our son-in-law is acutely aware of homelessness and volunteers each year for Crisis at Christmas. He reminds me: “People without supportive families are often one step away from being homeless.” Mental illness, a messy divorce, unemployment with escalating debts … unforeseen life events can send even seemingly stable and ‘professional’ people out on the streets, let alone vulnerable teenagers from abusive homes and those suffering from the ravages of addiction. And our industrial growth culture has made buying a home even more unobtainable to most Millennials. This is plain wrong.

Our lack of a permanent home has made us count our blessings, even in times of anxiety, and appreciate our great fortune to have the security of family and friends to fall back on. However difficult life may sometimes seem, we are not refugees fleeing from a brutal regime or climate chaos. We remind ourselves of the suffering of the dispossessed and how the numbers will only increase exponentially as natural resources wane and our planet warms. This has increased our resolve to do more to develop The Permaculture Magazine Prize which grants funds annually to projects that regenerate local ecologies and also economies and communities.

Of course, when Tim and I ‘land’ somewhere (and we will very soon, we hope), we look forward to sharing our adventures with you. In the meantime, stability is found in work and the rhythm of entering the 30th year of PM with this issue.

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