Newsletter 2009

Season’s greetings and best wishes for 2010!


Here’s a little look back on 2009. At LSF, it really has been a very good year. If you have been here for an hour, for a day, for a weekend, or a week, you will already know that. Throughout the year, events, courses, and workshops have all generated the kind of energy, action, and delight that remind us that life really is for learning, people, and pleasure, a feeling we try to foster at Lower Shaw Farm! This makes our work worthwhile, and we are thankful.

Hayloft HappeningsHayloft

The year kicked off with the Hayloft being wrecked. Crowbars and hammers in hand, erstwhile resident maintenance man Paul and helpers, brought the ceiling down. The good news was that this revealed a wonder-world of ancient pitted oak beams; and the bad, that it showed up all the holes in the roof and damaged pan tiles. So then, local builder Chris, his roofer Dad, and stalwart helpmate Beth moved in and re-felted and tiled the bits that leaked, sanded down the oak beams, and fully insulated the spaces between the rafters. To finish the job, they came back a few weeks later and put in new handmade wooden windows and a smooth insulated bamboo floor. A team of painters, led by Claire, made the walls white. Finally, local tennis-playing sparky Glyn and his sons installed some serious electrics, including bright lights and red hot heaters. By late Spring, the new-look Hayloft was a joy to behold and a pleasure to use. It is now a very popular space, drawing residents to their daily stretches and visitors to weekly ones. Its walls witness lots of yoga, massage, and mindfulness meetings, plus baby massage and bouncing yoga berries!

Caravan Cabaret

Spring also saw the start of the monthly Caravan Cabaret, in the big shed on last Sundays of the month. It’s a Dr Schmoos’ promotion, and is the brainchild of bright young LSF users Casey, Jake, Rebecca, and friends. It is they who do the work and make happen great nights of entertainments in every imaginable sphere of the expressive arts. The feel-fine factor goes off the feel-good scale!

Music MaestroParaguayan Music

This youthful LSF support crew was also part of a splendid April evening of talk, music, movement, and meaning. A Paraguayan musician and composer, known as El Maestro, who conducts orchestras in most of Europe’s capital cities, came to visit LSF. He told us about his project, Sonidos de la Tierra, which takes music where it’s most needed. (Google it and see!) His talk was followed by an evening of home-made music, song, stories, and words, which brought tears to the eyes and joy to the heart. (Look out for the next time South America comes to Swindon, 6th April at the Arts Centre!)

Animal ActionPig

On the animal front, the early months of 2009 saw life, death, and wool removal. The two Tamworth pigs went unwillingly to slaughter, while the little white hen hatched a clutch of chicks right on cue for the Spring Chicken Weekend, and the sheep got shorn before Blue Bottles could lay eggs in their wool. The pigsty now has new residents, a pair of over-friendly, snuffling, and ever-expanding Kune Kunes, whose we-want-breakfast squeals can probably be heard by their cousins in New Zealand. The spring chicks are quieter and about to come into lay; and the sheep have all grown themselves wonderful woollen winter coats.

Josie House

On her many visits over the years, stalwart friend of LSF and regular chef in residence, Josie, has slept in many a borrowed bedroom during her stays. It was reckoned to be high time she had a room of her own. So we found a sunny site between garden and lawn and there, without much ado, builder Chris with helpers galore, built a little wooden Josie House. It’s lovely, with bed that faces the rising sun, reading veranda, and flower pots. Visting children are intrigued by it and resident residents envy Josie, but only in summer.

Literature Live

In May, the Swindon Festival of Literature made its annual impact on LSF. New and familiar helpers appeared, the buzz of beautiful book talk brightened our busy lives, and the Arts Centre was a daily destination. It also meant that we had the likes of Emma Darwin (great great granddaughter of Charles) for breakfast, Margaret Drabble for lunch, and Alistair McGowan for supper. One day, work was gleefully interrupted by a spontaneous and brilliant staff jazz jam session with Jonny Gee in the Cats’ Room.

Ethical Award

While all this was going on, the Observer newspaper and its appointed judges were considering farm supporter Diana’s entry of LSF for their Ethical Gardens Award. Their Garden Correspondent came along and looked us over making notes on even the tiniest things, like Andrea’s use of Brillo pads as slug defence mechanisms. He was followed by a photographic squad who asked us to pose with the scarecrow, get into difficult positions with animals, and do things we never do, like pet them. The outcome was a picture that looked like two nervous waxwork LSF residents on a stage set standing awkwardly by nice trees and hungry animals. In the background, the scarecrow looked good.

But we were suffering for our art because, a month later, at a glitzy celeb-smothered awards ceremony on Kensington Roof Gardens, an actor called C Firth opened an envelope, and said, ‘The winner is Lower Shaw Farm!’, kissed Andrea, and gave her a model of a small naked white man. For the rest of the evening, she carried the little man round on her arm, drank more Pimms, and schmoozed with the glitterati. Her other little man tagged along and basked in reflected glory.

Super Summer

Even though we tried not to let this lovely award go to our heads, it did give us a nice impetus for summer, which proved to be one of the best ever. Wonderful events, great camaraderie, terrific workers, helpers, and visitors. If you were able to join us, you will know what we mean.

Tree FellingTree Felling

As the year turned, we took another significant step that has, literally, changed the face of LSF. We brought in Green Shave, a great crew of tree fellas, who clambered all over three of our four remaining giant Poplar trees, and brought them down, limb by limb. This had to be done because breaking branches were becoming a danger to people and property below. Furthermore, sunlight can now reach all parts of LSF.


If only sunlight could also help us reach agreement with our landlords about the long-term future for LSF. All we can tell you, for the third year running, is that negotiations continue. One of the reasons given for their snail’s pace is a kind of compliment to the place. Here is a direct quote. ‘This property and its activities are unique. There is no pricing or valuation model for it.’ This makes things very difficult. And slow!

Architects’ Ideas

But these delays have not stopped us working and planning for the future. Our new programme testifies to that, as does an inspiring little project just completed with architecture students from the University of the West of England, Bristol. They came, they measured, asked questions, did drawings, measured some more, and picked our brains. Then they came back, with three possible models for the yard, warehouse, and woodshed area of the farm. Fascinating! Their ideas were green and great, and ranged from renovation and modification to demolition and re-build. Inspiring imaginative stuff, much of which, with a long-term future for LSF, could be made reality.

Warehouse Improvements

Our lovely Warehouse gets a lot of use and improvements were needed that just could not wait for landlord’s lease and architects’ plans. So we called in former resident and builder Martin, who replaced the faded old plastic curtain with a beautiful hand-made wooden door to keep the cold out and the jugglers in. Next, electrician Dee travelled up from Devon and supplemented our ancient strip lights with two rows of twenty-first century ones. Unlike their ‘ancestors’, they come on instantly, at the flick of a switch, and shine on places the other lights just could not reach.

Residents’ SortiesJake the Juggler's van

Most of our time is spent on site, with work, play, work, play; but we have also found time for action elsewhere. Residents Claire and Melissa took a trip across the sea to see family and friends in Canada and Chicago. And they have ended the year snow-bound in Shropshire. For three weeks in Spring, Andrea joined Rosa in Bali, looking for makers and suppliers for Rosa Bloom, whose stall appeared at summer festivals including Glastonbury and Big Chill. In November, Matt slipped off to Paraguay where he rode, swam, did book talk, and made a few more South America-Swindon links. Anna completed a fascinating three-month internship with the United Nations in New York, before heading back to Oxford to continue studying international relations; while Jake, with his brightly-painted juggle bus and crew, went on a two-month tour, doing daily shows in village squares, across Portugal and Spain. They have been asked back!

Singing TogetherCarols by Candlelight

As this newsletter goes to press, we have just enjoyed LSF’s penultimate public event of the year: Carols by Candlelight, which is not only an occasion for people who like LSF and marking the spirit of Christmas together but also raises money to help others who are homeless. It was a wonderful event! The night was still. In the yard, candles flickered. In the Warehouse, lights twinkled among the ivy decorations. The clear water sparkled in the wishing pond. The shadow play, that told the story of a lost star meeting farm animals, was captivating. The Scratch Choir led us in song. And we raised our voices, and sang, and sang.

We do hope that we will see you in 2010 and hear of your adventures, in deed or thought, the songs and stories of your life.

Till then, keep warm, and well!