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Old Hall: The English Manor House That Became a Thriving Commune

How One Community in Sussex is Finding Solutions to the Cost of Living Crisis and More
Old Hall English Manor House

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in communal living as a solution to the crises of modernity.

From unaffordable housing to loneliness and climate change, co-living communities around the world are finding ways to tackle some of the biggest issues of our time.

We recently visited Old Hall, a thriving commune in Sussex, England.

Established in 1974, Old Hall is a former manor house, army barracks, and friary that now houses more than 50 people on 70 acres of land. The community is largely self-sufficient, with food coming from their farmland, water from a borehole, and energy from a wood-fired biomass boiler and solar panels. Other supplies are bought in bulk and costs are shared among residents.

Manor House

For Naomi Leake, who has lived at Old Hall for three years with her partner and 12-year-old daughter, communal living has been a life-changing experience. They share a unit within the house and pay around £1,000 a month for all bills and food. Leake, an artist, also rents a studio in the old stable block.

Residents at Old Hall are expected to work 15 hours a week communally, which might include farming the land or looking after animals. There are also numerous communal spaces, including a dairy, post room, laundry, chapel, yoga rooms, and a library where weekly meetings are held to discuss issues or decisions that need to be made.

Residents at Old Hall range in age from nine months to those in their 90s, and there are currently 15 children living in the community. Leake says that her daughter loves being around other children and has friends of all ages.

The community operates on a like-minded ethos towards sustainability and the importance of community. Decisions are made by consensus, which can be laborious but fair. “We’re not bonded by a religion or spiritual approach. It’s a space that allows for differences,” says Leake.

While communal living at Old Hall has its highs and lows, Leake says that the best thing is the land and the fact that they all work it together. “You’re not writing your own story, it’s a group effort,” she says. The worst thing, she admits, is that communal areas can be mucky and not all residents have the same approach to parenting.

Despite these challenges, Old Hall continues to thrive as a lesson in community spirit, resourcefulness, and self-sufficiency. As the cost of living crisis continues to affect many people around the world, communal living may offer a viable alternative for those seeking a more sustainable and affordable way of life.