This month, the On the Brink book club have been reading ‘Skating to Antarctica’ by Jenny Diski. We chose this as we are craving travel, the excitement of going on a journey and being some where different from our usual surroundings. We all wanted to take our minds on an adventure, even if our bodies had to stay put.
It’s fair to say we had a varied response… One of us couldn’t stop falling asleep, one of us enjoyed the humour in it and the rest of us spent our time trying to decide whether we liked the narrator or not. We wondered whether it mattered if we liked her and whether she wanted our sympathy at all? Or whether she was so self-sufficient that the opinions of others were an intrusion. We also talked about the narrative and how truthful, or otherwise, it felt. Isn’t truth always subjective?
We speculated about how the author’s daughter, Chloe, felt. Both about the book and her own experiences as a child. Given everything her mother experienced, we admired how functional Chloe appeared to be (with the caveat that this was her mother’s narrative). Some of us liked the way Chloe found the answers that her mother had been too scared to look for. We were also grateful that we weren’t fellow passengers on her boat. None of us would have enjoyed the sometimes vicious write up that her cohabiters received!
We agreed that the descriptions of the natural world in the book were beautiful, particularly her first discovery of ice. And nobody fancied a room of plain white oblivion, though we did think it might be nice to have someone else take care of things for a while…
If you’d like to read the book, keep an eye on our free library!
This week we finally saw the handover of keys to the three houses in our newly built terrace! Our new houses are called Froggatt, Stanage and Birchen.
Three families have moved into these lovely new homes. This blog shows how the youngest members feel about their new home
I like that my new house has a window on the roof.
I get a new room with huge windows and I can jump down from my ladder onto the carpet. I can go to the second rung and then jump from the top.
I like the taps that go to the left and then up and down. Up is hot and down is cold, which I normally use the hot.
I liked moving stuff into the new house because I liked going back and forth so I don’t get lost anywhere.
I like where the table goes - I missed it when it was in the storage van.
I’ve never seen underfloor heating!
It’s a bit not nice when we can’t shut the kitchen door because it sticks.
So get a new house and be glad!
Froggatt is the best to have a
On the sofa is
And you can find
Two places to hide
To make dens on the sofa.
To the roof.
Getting to see each other
Birds, like an owl
In the night.
Night night rats!
Horticultural Journal outback 2020
From Jeannie’s point of view
March – Coronavirus lock down: Physically distanced gardening
As the spring opens, by the end of March, the massive beech tree finally catches the sun early in the morning. The wych elm is in yellow, green bud and alive with birds! Birds! The Rowan tree has finally unfurled. Surely the ivy will kill that Sycamore? Next door’s willow is SO alive.
Indoors, with seed trays on newspaper near the back door, I’m planting tomatoes, broad beans, cosmos seeds, coriander. Lobelia, is that? Not sure. Whatever was left over from last year.
We’ve got potatoes in bags to save space…
April – still no garden centres open, but our greenhouses are
Blossom everywhere and bluebells . beyond this garden. The Rowan tree looks like a fan palm. Transplanting tomato seedlings. Tom has ordered plants through the post, which during this pandemic still seems to be working, so plants arrive. Peppers, aubergines, tomatoes. The tiered system in the greenhouses works well for watering. Shouldn’t we have changed the compost inside?
A new bed appearing from the nettles/brambles/cow parsley.
Every day watering. The driest May on record and the water butts are empty. This sun and wind also dry out what’s above the ground, as well as what’s in the ground. The trees that were left in pots need a lot of water. They look sad.
Planting out peas, beans, kale and chard. The lettuce has been spectacularly successful. Lots of salads and although contentious, stopping the chard from flowering in its second season means it’s still good to eat and not bitter. How do we encourage people to come and pick what’s flourishing? Something is eating the new kale, chard and beans???
June: Downpours and thunderstorms
Lots of weeding and now rather than half an hour of watering every evening or morning, I’m tipping 6 inches of water from the big pots of sweet peas. Sodden. From worrying that everything would dry up, I’m now thinking roots will rot. Never wanted to be a farmer, horticulturalist …nor someone living in fear of climate crisis.
Strawberries just coming to ripeness, courgettes flowering. The new green roof on the log store is covered in pink, blue and purple flowers. They are like jewels when the sun’s out.
Salad for picking and lots of herbs. Runner beans coming on. A couple of cauliflower from last season.
Tomatoes on the way!
Courgettes and mange tout to pick and eat. Abundant salad for months now. Kale and chard on the way out from last season and we need some new plants, but they are being eaten as soon as we put them out - slugs and snails? Not a single strawberry left. Bind weed coming into flower - on a mission to stop it.
August – windy, cold and wet
Bad back - the kind of work that I do in the garden is only noticed when I stop doing it. Watering, for example, and weeding. The work day on Sunday was limited to me pointing and saying thank you to those with strong backs for all the chopping, weeding, moving compost etc.
The runner beans are beautiful and abundant now, courgettes too although some have a kind of mould near the stalk? Pumpkins like the rain and the tomatoes in the green house are turning red.
It’s not balmy. 12 degrees today, feeling like 8 in the wind, and single figures at night.
Sunflower competition - The sunflowers have grown in spite of it all and the winners claim their prizes.
We have a new pond!
September: Halfway through now
The beans have carried on and the tomatoes are edible now. Hurrah!
So, some wins and some not so great results - our fruit is minimal – focus for next year.
Rhubarb, berries, apples and pears. Did the wasps get all the damsons?
This weekend – taa daa!
Scarecrow and stall as part of the local Festival.
This is a personal blog that will attempt to describe my experience of living in On the Brink, our co housing community, during the Covid-19 pandemic. I know that every person, wherever they live, will be having different experiences and challenges to their lives and their lifestyles and my heart goes out to you if you are having a difficult time.
This is my experience.
Lisa and I developed the symptoms of Covid-19 just after the middle of March. We had been observing the official precautions and it remains unclear how we managed to contract the virus. At one level we had a nasty time, Lisa more than me. Lisa was admitted to hospital when her symptoms worsened about two weeks after the start of the symptoms and was on oxygen for ten days before returning home. Phew!!! It was a horrid, frightening time for us. But living within such a wonderful, enormously supportive community has made the experience bearable.
We didn’t move to On the Brink in the expectation of needing care. However the lived experience over the last few months is that the love and support that we have received throughout this challenging time from our co housing comrades has been enormously moving and has sustained us. Thank you to all of our fellow co housers.
Listing all the ways that our co housing comrades have supported us would be a bit tedious but it includes leaving meals by our door, sending us flowers picked from the garden, WhatsApp messages, Zoom calls, telephone calls without number, offers of shopping trips... I don’t think any of this was coordinated, but certainly when Lisa was in hospital and I wasn’t well myself and couldn’t think of what to eat a delicious meal would magically arrive at the door unbidden.
I am welling up just thinking of those times and of the way that our comrades rallied round without any fuss. Within myself and for the first time in my life I found it possible to ask for the things we needed to live behind the closed door of flat 7. The worst of these for me is to ask for someone to take away our rubbish. It felt humiliating and exposing – but we asked and the task was completed as necessary without further ado.
The best thing for me was to receive cards and messages from the young people living here...
Here’s a sample:
Listening to the young people playing in the garden remains a major delight. They barrel around, swooosh down the drives in their mini vehicles, build dens, rearrange everything in the garden over and over and fill the airwaves with yells and whoops. Hearing and seeing them is as good as oxygen.
During this time there is a part of the garden where building work is going on. Our little balcony overlooks the site where the three new houses are being constructed. Of course there’s noise and dust – but there’s also tangible proof of a new future for On the Brink. Before our eyes the deliveries of stone and cement are being transformed into three lovely new living spaces. Each day the builders perform a ballet – moving around the site – carrying stuff, putting stone on stone, it’s great to watch. And it’s a real marvel to be able to watch the delicacy with which the JCB driver does the heavy parts of the work. What skill they all have.
More routine parts of the work of keeping On the Brink going are being adapted to these constrained times. Meetings are being held via Zoom calls and it is possible to join in discussions and decision-making even while being confined to barracks. Everything has changed but lots remains the same. We still need to talk with each other about finance and legal matters, we need to plan our future together and look forward to new developments within the community. Technology has been a great boon to these lines of communication – what would we do without it?
While Lisa remains inside our flat being ‘shielded’ I have cautiously started moving round the house, gardens and grounds and even on my bike for short rides around the neighbourhood. And the community has recently started to develop safe ways of re-establishing at least some of the social features that make living here such a delight.
Following government guidelines (and common sense), we have started to have social times together on the lawn where those of the community who are able to join in meet to eat or to celebrate significant events. We have celebrated Tanith’s graduation after three years of very hard work and also celebrated Mary Toon (Kate’s mother), and the 97 years of very full life that she had lived on this earth.
One of the wonderful things about living collectively is the inevitable coming together of our various experiences, cultures and interests.
Whilst we are still relatively young in our co-housing journey we've already already started to mark out the turning of the year with celebrations and events which in time will surely become On The Brink traditions. Creating these traditions out of our collective histories and experiences gives us a sense of belonging to this place and a personal connection with the ever evolving story of On The Brink.
Celebrating May Day is one of the times of the year that we embrace wholeheartedly. Last year we passed under a leafy archway, sang and danced in the garden and feasted together.
This year we were all a bit spread out due to physical distancing requirements, but it didn't stop us getting together and having a good sing!
Covid 19 Pandemic
Friday March 13th 2020
‘Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.’ Alice Walker, 2010
Is it time then?
Old Testament terror again?
We sit and squabble over little things and
The massive carries on.
Fists full of cancelled plans.
Empty 747s taking off and landing only.
To keep their landing slot.
Extend the airports, why not?
Sunday March 15th
Some members are already self-isolating – ahead of the news.
Prospective new members visit.
Drinks offered, carefully, in the shared kitchen.
No shaking hands.
We have signs up now on all the doors,
(New soap and paper towels)
Wash your Hands.
Friday March 20th
Our regular chaotic Friday meals cancelled.
One of the joys - if you can find a chair and keep it J
Bring what you would have eaten any way,
Sometimes five soups, bread and one pudding, mostly feasts, always good.
Three new children living here, with two already resident.
The film shows, spontaneous chalking, singing, hide and seek,
House concerts, party room meetings
We have struggled to find ways to explain to 5 children,
the youngest five years old, what social distance means.
Building a new house for the snails can’t be shared.
We wave and smile when we’re hanging out washing in the front
and they’re on the swing. They run over,
We hold out our hands and smile,
They nod, sombre expressions,
and then get on with digging, running,
playing football with the dog.
We have gone digital:
Birthdays, dancing, meetings, singing – some time lag.
Can’t garden online, or cut hair, or….
Airports, borders, churches, schools, pubs, cafes
Tuesday March 24th
Lock down, protect the vulnerable.
Nurses and doctors say, stay home.
We stay home.
Friday, March 27
Here they are, three of the five
near the raised beds and greenhouses
with their mum and dad and a few others
building a fire out back.
It’s cold. Some singing, a lot of laughs.
The building site that will be their new home
continues. Diggers loom up to ground floor windows
Meanwhile, Heads of State
The Prime Minister, Chief Medical Officer and the heir to the throne
with symptoms or tested positive.
There’s a birthday tomorrow.
Digital furious dancing replaces the party room gatherings
We’re so good at.
We went out onto terraces, balconies last night
To ‘clap the carers’
‘Sometimes you just have to make a lot of noise.’
Apricity – old word meaning the heat of the sun in winter.
February 5, 2020, and we’ve got the sun at the back of the house until after 4.30.
We are half an hour’s walk from Sheffield city centre and the Peace Gardens, a bit more to the station. With the chickens now established on the front lawn of Brincliffe House, and the massive beech and sycamore trees at the back, it feels like a different and more rural world. Birds and green all around. Friends who hadn’t visited for over a year were astonished by the changes: ‘It was all brambles and nettles,’ they said. Some of it still is a wilderness and we hope to keep some of it that way.
We had a first grounds and gardens work day of the year on Sunday. Some of the kids constructed a building site complete with tip up trucks and traffic cones. Some of us tended the flower beds and pots that are such a joy in the summer; others extended the hard-core path so that it’s no longer a slippery, teetering kind of walk to the greenhouses and raised beds out back. Some of us cleared leaf mould from a long hidden path around the front lawn. The chickens enjoyed a couple of barrow loads of leaves and worms with ivy carefully removed.
‘Write something every day, even if it’s only a line, it will protect you.’ Says poet Elaine Feinsten.
How can words on a page defend us in this way?
‘Unless by strengthening our fierce and obstinate centres.’ (Feinstein, 1993)
Sometimes in cohousing groups, when the going gets tough, we might need our fierce and obstinate centres. When we are at our best here, celebrating Burns night and many other festivities, or all working together in the garden, it’s maybe less important to be ‘strengthened’. But writing something every day is a given with me. I started young and have maintained the habit. So I’ll keep going with catching thoughts and feelings on paper as spring blows in.
Feinstein, E. (1993). Muse: for E.T. In Sixty Women Poets. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books,
The Vegetable Patch at Brincliffe House: photos of the first year
There’s a lovely little area right at the back of the garden. These photographs show the area before any work was started.
We were given two greenhouses. One previously lived in Walkley the other in Crookes.
We also built a garden shed:
Together we built lots of raised beds:
Working together got a lot of jobs done!
And here is some of what we grew in our lovely garden!
Looking forward to growing lots more this year... with a little help from friends!
It is Monday in the week before Christmas and I'm in my flat with U3A film crew making a film about our community as we are now in our 18th month of living together.
'How's it going?' - this is the big question and I have to say it's everything I wanted it to be and more. The events of last week tested our spirits and resilience as a community. Some of us had spent many days and weeks door knocking, some singing songs of cheer and rebellion and some building a chicken shack in the garden for our 3 new hens! On Thursday evening our world was turned upside down by the landslide to Brexit and the devastation of a huge Labour defection. On Friday we grouped together to talk about our feelings and fears and then we rallied to prepare to welcome our newest members of OTB, a family of five arriving from Newcastle.
Our communal Friday night meal was special with nearly all our community round the table, the joy of children excited to meet new friends and adults exploring each others histories and tastes. Playing music and having fun into the evening.
I take reference from Africa; it takes a whole village to raise a child and today it feels like we are a village. Things fall apart but we will regroup and hold together. For me Cohousing is my glue; it is why I am here to live together through the hard times and to share and protect our love for humanity.
Stained glass seems to be an important feature of Brincliffe House. When the first OTB members looked round in 2015 the magnificent stained glass window above the back door was one of the most attractive features of the house.
And in the front lobby the NHS had mounted a couple of original art deco windows.
And after we bought the house, as we explored the attic and cellars we came across more stored stained glass. Some of it was in a terrible state.
Kate, Paul and Charlotte restored these pieces and we are now looking for a place to exhibit the finished piece.
It is not always clear where the stored glass has come from. A rectangular piece has now been reshaped and fitted to the back door where it seems at home.
Quite a few On the Brink members have become interested in learning about stained glass making and have created some new designs for the doors of Brincliffe House. here are a few examples