Profile: Ecovillage is changing lives already

A family photo from 2018: L-R Jo, Henry, Hugo and Jeff.

To say the Witchcliffe Ecovillage has been dramatically life-changing for me, my husband Jeff, and our two sons Henry (10) and Hugo (9), is in no way an exaggeration. How we came to be captivated by its vision, give up both of our businesses to work for its developer, Sustainable Settlements, uproot our life in the Perth Hills to move to Margaret River, and eventually buy and build a home here in Stage 1 of the Ecovillage: well, it’s quite a story.

Jeff and I have been deeply interested in sustainability and all its permutations for a long time. Jeff is an urban designer-architect-planner and I am a communications professional and we’d both been running our own separate successful consultancies for years. We lived in Mundaring in the Perth Hills on a 1-acre property on which we had built our dream home. We were trying to put into practice our Permaculture study, develop the garden and grow as many vegies as possible, alongside raising some free-range chooks and kids.

It was all perfectly lovely, but we were both feeling mildly unsettled and without really knowing what we were looking for exactly, we opened ourselves up to the possibility of a radically different new adventure. There was serious talk of moving the family to Italy for a year so I could study gastronomy at the Slow Food university. But as fate would have it, a more achievable dream came calling, just in time.

Looking back now at the fortuitous string of events that followed, I can firmly say I’m a true believer in the power of manifesting your dreams.

In October 2018, I was in Italy in a media capacity covering Terra Madre, the Slow Food movement’s flagship event, which is held every two years in Turin. Jeff, meanwhile, was holding the family fort and had taken the kids for a weekend away down south. Jeff had been loosely following the Witchcliffe Ecovillage development for some years and had been involved in the planning of the Somerville Ecovillage in Chidlow, which had unfortunately folded a few years earlier. Before heading away for the weekend, he decided to shoot an email off to the developer, Mike Hulme, indicating his interest in the project and asking to visit and have a chat.

That chat couldn’t have been better timed for both parties. Unbeknown to Jeff, Mike was looking to employ someone with just his skillset to join the Sustainable Settlements team and work on the Ecovillage. Mike also dropped into conversation his need for someone with a communications background to run the project’s marketing and media portfolio: that would be me. So, having just landed in Italy and preparing myself for an intense week at the Slow Food event, I put a call in to Jeff on Skype while sitting on the train from Milan to Bologna. And as my head swam at his news he asked: “So, do you want to move to Margaret River?”

What followed was a rapid-fire change in our lives that had us accept permanent employment positions with Sustainable Settlements, wrap up our remaining work contracts, negotiate the sale of our house, pull our kids out of school, find a place to rent in Margaret River and move, all in the space of a few months.

Nearly a year on, we are loving life in Margaret River and couldn’t be happier with our decision to move here. We had always fantasised about living “down south”, imagining that the laidback lifestyle, stunning natural environment and mixed demographics of the region would suit us to a tee. We were right. Having the beach and river so close is a dream come true and we’re embracing the local addiction to outdoorsy activities like mountain biking, kayaking and surfing (ok, only bodyboarding). We’re making new friends and slowly immersing ourselves in the friendly community of this Goldilocks-sized town. For avid foodies who love the good things in life, Margaret River feels like a perfect fit for us.

Driving 10 minutes to the office in Witchcliffe, past paddocks of grazing cows and thick forest, is the easiest work commute I’ve ever done. At lunch time, the genial talk around the table from our motley team often bounces between soil biology, sourcing rare fruit trees, renewable technologies, the latest animal husbandry techniques and organic gardening (when we’re not lamenting bureaucratic inefficiencies!) It’s a fascinating, entertaining and educational environment but it couldn’t be more laid-back and friendly.

I’ve spent most of my career working in the property industry and I can say, hand on my heart, that I’ve never been involved with (or even heard of) a project that is as exceptional, innovative and visionary as the Witchcliffe Ecovillage. I believe this project is setting a new and incredibly important benchmark for sustainability in residential developments and the whole world should sit up and take note.

As the Ecovillage nears its launch in the first quarter of 2020, our personal excitement is growing alongside our professional anticipation, as Jeff and I have earmarked a family lot for ourselves in Stage 1. We plan to design and build our fourth and most sustainable home yet, and we’re looking forward to being part of this new and growing community.

So yes, I may be the Communications and Marketing Manager for the Witchcliffe Ecovillage, but I am putting my money where my mouth is!

I look forward to meeting you when we begin to sell lots next year; maybe we’ll even be future neighbours.