Paul and Melanie aim to get back to ‘The Good Life’ with smallholding near Raglan

Tuesday 13th September 2022 6:15 pm
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Paul and Melanie Trotter
(Paul and Melanie Trotter )

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A MARRIED couple are to attempting to live ‘The Good Life’ in the Welsh countryside and leave their jobs behind to lead a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Since getting married in 2017 Paul Trotter and wife Melanie have been working towards an all-or-nothing plan to allow them to support themselves by moving to Wales and establishing a small holding near Raglan.

If the venture fails they will have to pack up and quit the timber frame and straw-bale home and workshop they plan to build and restore the land to its original state.

Though the move sounds similar to 1970s sitcom The Good Life, in which 40-year-old Tom Good, played by Richard Briers, and wife Barbara, played by Felicity Kendal, quit a secure job and income to live a totally self-sufficient lifestyle in their suburban home, the real-life couple will be moving to a currently undeveloped field adjacent to woodland.

At the land south of Trecastle Farm, at Llangovan in Monmouthshire, the couple will build a zero-carbon home, using environmentally friendly building techniques and materials, and establish a number of land-based enterprises that will have to support their needs.

On the similarities with the BBC classic, Mr Trotter, who is in his early 40s and previously worked in website development, said: “I’ve never watched it but I can see how people relate it to that.

But the couple will have no fall-back option, as one of the requirements to continue living on the land is that they will have to meet 65 per cent of all their needs, including income, energy and food.

The couple are using a Welsh Government initiative, called the One Planet Policy, which is intended to support global sustainable development targets. It allows individuals, or groups, to build homes that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed in the open countryside, provided 65 per cent of the residents’ basic needs can be met from the land within the first five years.

Paul Trotter with a display explaining the One Planet development at the Monmouth Climate Future Festival
Paul Trotter with a display explaining the One Planet development at the Monmouth Climate Future Festival (Supplied )

The couple’s plan, which was last week approved by councillors, is only the second such application approved in Monmouthshire, though a number have been established in West Wales since the policy was introduced in 2011.

The couple will now have to sign a legal agreement with the council over the use of the land and setting down the target for it being able to sustain their lifestyle with the requirement they vacate it if they have failed to meet the self-sufficiency test.

“To be honest it is a big sacrifice and a big risk as we needed to buy the land and then there was a long period from pre-application stage to writing the management plan and to finally getting the planning permission,” said Mr Trotter. “It took a number of years and was a huge investment of time and it may not have been given permission, so it was a big risk.”

The proposal was independently assessed by an expert in the One Planet policy on the council’s behalf, and sets out how the couple plan to support themselves, and a future family.

Income will be based on producing sheep and pork grazed between new woodlands they will plant, selling chicken eggs, and other animal by-products, as well as offering craft courses and selling willow.

They will also use solar power to store meat, and heating will be produced from biomass grown on site. Rainwater will have to be harvested and their own toilet waste composted.

Mr and Mrs Trotter, who may for a period continue to work part-time, have calculated their minimum financial needs, including council tax, at £4,612 a year.

“It is a very simple lifestyle and we won’t have huge expenses but it is enough for our basic needs,” said Mr Trotter, who accepted there “certainly will be an element” of foregoing luxuries.

But the couple have lived “off-grid” for the past seven years, on a narrow boat, on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Bristol, which they have now sold. They say their ecological footprint at their new home will be 70 per cent lower than the Welsh average.

“We will have to use less electricity than most people do at home and be careful with our water use but we’ve lived off grid and are used to managing our resources and it has given us the confidence to put forward a proposal based on a more pared down lifestyle,” said Mr Trotter.

While Mr Trotter says friends are often “shocked” when the couple tell them of their move, but “hugely supportive” when the details are explained, their motivation is based on their concern for the environment.

“We had been thinking a lot about the climate and biodiversity crisis thinking we could make a difference and what, if in the future, my child asked ‘when you realised the full extent of the climate crisis, what did you do about it?’,” he said. “I wanted to have a good answer to that.”

Friends are often shocked but hugely supportive

Paul Trotter

Though the local Mitchel Troy United Community Council and local county Councillor Jayne McKenna had requested the application be refused, along with a number of local objections, Mr Trotter said he hoped now the couple have planning permission they can convince those with concerns they “really want to do the right thing”.

He pointed out their application had also had more letters of support than objection and their intention is to work with local initiatives on sustainability.

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