Working with the soul of Embercombe

socialmedia_squareWorking at Embercombe is an adventure.  One day you might watch a group of tough, savvy, scared inner-city teenagers arrive on a coach, and as the week rolls on you watch them drop into themselves, take steps in new directions, connect with the land and those smiles change from a jokey defensiveness to an awakening sense of wonder.  Another day you’ll see people on the Journey programme eating quietly in the dining yurt: the deepest questions of their lives calling them to make the most significant changes they can.  The Combe thrums with potential.  And some days you just sit in the morning circle and listen to one anothers’ truth.  You’re touched, you’re triggered, you laugh at someone’s joke, you share someone’s hurt.  It’s just laid out there; people speaking simply and from the heart, then getting up and throwing themselves into another day.  If you’ve spent any time there, you know: Embercombe’s special.

I’m part of a little group of whose role is to shepherd Embercombe’s soul.  I might be sitting by a little fire in the water meadow with somebody who’s at the threshold, ready to dive deeper into life, and they just want a witness, a guide, the right words at the right time.  We might call that “coaching” or “mentoring” but no word really does justice to what happens at those times. On other days I’ll be sitting in Centrefire with the other Council Chiefs, and we bring to life the ancient roots that underpin Embercombe and her philosophy, and we talk about the deeper questions that are surfacing within the charity and in the wider world, and we reaffirm our commitment to the Children’s Fire.  I co-run an aspect of the Apprenticeship programme where we take those courageous women and men deeper into the connections with themselves and each other, forging the most significant year possible.  Those are the kinds of things I do for this extraordinary charity.

Embercombe is taking bold steps into a challenging future.  We’re a long way from a booming national economy; it’s not an easy sector to work in; and across the world there’s a growing inner crisis as people wake up to the unhealthy choices we’ve made and inherited, even as the outer crises of environmental devastation and social disintegration accelerate.  Embercombe is an expression of hope at this difficult and exciting time, and it’s a clarion call.  If you’ve ever been there – to a Friends’ Weekend; on a programme; at an event – never be fooled that things are happening effortlessly.  There will be teams, experts and passionate people planning, creating, holding, digging, cleaning and manifesting everything that happens around you.  For myself, it’s an honour to be part of that, doing my quiet, sacred work, watching the charity I love grow, change and thrive.

Alexander has just moved to the Brighton Area and is available for coaching and mentoring.  Please see for more information.

Embercombe Veg Box Scheme (and salad too!)

Embercombe Garden – Harvest Share Scheme


Receive fresh, local, ecologically-produced fruit and vegetables from £10 a week.

We are starting a new subscription farming scheme based on the idea of Community Supported Agriculture. We produce fruit and vegetables for our own kitchens, but are now able to grow a surplus and will be offering members of the scheme their share of the harvest in the form of a weekly veg box through the year. This is a relatively new approach to farming where consumers become members of the farm and commit to buy a share of the farm’s harvest for 12-months at a time.


In this way we have a secure market and are able to tailor our production to meet our customer’s demand.  We farm in an ecological and low-input way and offer to our members the opportunity to take an active interest in where their food is coming from and how it is produced.


Here is how the Embercombe Harvest Share Scheme works:

  • The season runs for 9 months (40 weeks) of the year, from the beginning of July to the beginning of April. This is the period when we aim to provide you with a veg box of delicious, fresh, local and ecologically produced fruit and vegetables.

  • In summer, a share may be 10 different items including high value produce such as ecologically produced tomatoes.

  • In autumn, a share will likely be more than 10 different items including a wide range of fruit and veg, staples and higher value produce.

  • In winter and into early spring, your weekly share will again be approximately 10 items, including winter squash, a variety of root vegetables, various greens, mixed salad leaves and apples.

  • For the remaining 12 weeks of the year, we do not aim to provide members with a veg box, as this time includes the hungry gap when not so much is available from the garden. This is why the membership price is calculated based on 40 weeks – at £10 per week (for a small box) and £15 per week (for a large box). It is possible, in a good year, that we will be able to provide some produce to our members during these 12 weeks, but we do not guarantee it.

  • We do not buy in any produce and so we only supply what we grow. This means that if there is a shortage or crop failure, the members carry the risk in order to support the farm through lean times. The reward is that in a good season the members will enjoy shares that are full to over-brimming with wonderful produce that is ecologically produced, delivered as fresh as it could be, and supporting the local community.

  • As members you will also be welcome to attend our monthly friends’ working weekends as day guests, and we will keep you informed about all other events.

  • Your membership helps us to continue to produce high quality, organic fruit and vegetables right here, on the edge of the Teign Valley, and to continue offering valuable educational opportunities for many people – including many local school children – to come and experience how their food is grown.

  • If you chose to pay by standing order your payment will be spread over the whole year in monthly payments but there will be some weeks when you will not receive any produce (in April, May and June). The model of Community Supported Agriculture works best when members pay up-front at the beginning of the season but we understand that this is not possible for everyone.


Embercombe Garden – Salad Share Scheme

If you don’t want all that veg, you can also become a member of the salad share scheme. Members will get a bag of seasonal and delicious, freshly picked salad leaves every week of the year.  Bags will always have a seasonal selection of leaves, and will often have a mix of over 10 different leaves.

Again, we will take on members for the whole year, paying upfront or monthly. Membership costs £78 for the year (£1.50 a week) for a medium bag, and £130 for the year (about £2.50) for a very large bag.


Veg boxes and salad bags will be available for pick up from Embercombe or a local drop-off point on Thursday late afternoons/early evenings.

To become a member of either scheme, contact Dan at or on 01647 252 983 and we will send you a membership form.

Why Do We Need ‘Sustainable Parenting?’

By Joanna Watters, Sustainable Parenting Practitioner.

Joanna Watters at Summer CampJoanna is an Embercombe Associate, mother of 2 grown sons, parenting facilitator, ex-primary school teacher, and a long time worker in family education as a workshop leader and counsellor.

“Global Transformation…. starts with us and how we parent”  (Dr Shefali Tsabary – see

In our privileged consumer culture, the reality of raising children can be more challenging than we expected.

In trying to explain what Sustainable Parenting is all about, I decided to quote from an email I received last week, as it expresses a typical scenario.  It is from a mature, functional professional couple (names have been changed).

We both feel very powerless in relation to dealing with James our 5 year old who is expressing a lot of anger, opposition, forcefulness, not responding to discipline etc. This is at least in part provoked by the birth of our second son Mark who was born 5 months ago.

We need guidance in how to parent from our hearts with skill and consciousness, to hold this little being with as much care and love as possible, in his anger and vulnerability

“Sustainable Parenting” is about supporting parents like these – families who have their basic needs met, and who want to parent consciously so that the generation we are raising are emotionally intelligent, as well as functional.

Parents work in the Stone Circle

Parents work in the Stone Circle

The reasons that parenting is often more challenging than we thought it would be are complex.

Often its because in the demands of 24/7 care, often done by one adult alone for much or all of those 24 hours, we forget to resource ourselves.

And also because children are designed to be mirrors – they copy what they see, and reflect back what they’ve absorbed from us. We might be saying one thing and actually doing another.  This is a wonderful opportunity to grow our own integrity and get real rather than idealistic about being human, if we are willing to look.

And because often there are still “young” aspects of ourselves, in which our parents/teachers were not able to support us to develop (as they themselves had not been supported by the previous generation) – many of us reach adulthood without, for example, having an integrated and responsible relationship with our own anger – so when we see anger in our child, we feel powerless/frightened/angry.

“Sustainable Parenting” aims to support parents to resource themselves, to bring their attention back to them for a moment, and relax.  It aims to break the parent’s isolation, through the sense of sharing with a community of parents who can listen to each other and empathize.  And by helping parents take time to notice what the little mirrors are reflecting, we can encourage them to welcome the opportunity to deepen; And we offer guidance and good listening to support parents to grow any apparent less evolved aspects (which happens very efficiently and effectively, however old we are, when we are really heard and received).

So – Sustainable Parenting exists so that parents, like the ones who wrote me that email, can feel empowered in raising their children consciously, with heart – so that we step up, as parents, and really participate in global transformation.

The 3rd ‘Grow the Grown Ups’ Summer Camp at Embercombe happens this August, for parents with children of all ages.

Every day there are “Sustainable Parenting” sessions for adults, facilitated by Joanna Watters, with parallel ‘Hand in Hand’ creche and age specific activities in nature for the children. And there is also time for families to spend time together and with other families in the afternoons, enjoying the environment at Embercombe with a variety of activities on offer.

This year there will be three certified Parenting by Connection/Hand in Hand practitioners on site, leading the child care and available to advise parents.

Embercombe Summer Camp Monday August 18th to Friday 22nd 2014


For more information on Parenting by Connection see

free teleseminar


Free Teleseminar for parents and professionals in the field of education
delivered by Zsuzsanna Egry, certified Parenting by Connection instructor
18th of November 5pm (Uk local time)

Our otherwise sweet child drops herself on the ground, cries her lungs out, and shakes her limbs in trance… for some kids it happens in a shop, for others when getting dressed, or when having to leave the playground. What is common in these situations is that we, the parents, live the carousel of feelings : shame, anger, desperation, exasperation, powerlessness etc.
We may try to ignore, shout louder, threaten or bribe our child out of the tantrum, but even if our attempt works for a while, the success is shortlived, as our child – more often than not – starts the same scene all over again.

Why do children cry and tantrum, and what can we, the parents do to help them (and ourselves) with the difficult feelings? How can we handle tantrums in a way that does not erode, but on the contrary, strengthens our relationship with our child so we come out of it with a deeper sense of trust and connection?

This is a free call offered in English by our Hungarian partner in the “Soft Skills – Empowered Parents” Grundtvig Learning Partnership project, of which Embercombe are the UK partners. We are funded by the European Commission’s Lifelong learning programme. For more information, contact:
Joanna on
or Tim on

Zsuzsi Egry is a certified Hand in Hand instructor, living in Hungary. She graduated with an MA in English and travelled, volunteered and lived in Swaziland, France, the USA and Ireland before becoming a mother of three young children, presently 8, 6, and nearly 2 years old. Her own challenging and difficult experiences that she has encountered since the birth of her children led her to find the Parenting by Connection approach, which she now gladly shares with others, so that they too can transform their family experience from struggle and survival to a lot more fun and deep satisfaction.

Heart Listening

toni and joannaCommunication  – how to do it better, how to get more of it, how to get less of it (!) – is on everyone’s lips here at the moment. So it was a fantastic co-incidence that Joanna Watters had offered to run a session in ‘heart listening’ for our long term volunteers and staff today. Supported by Toni Spencer, she ran a session to enable us to get present to ourselves. It was fascinating to hear Joanna explain how much we long to to be touched by our lives, but yet are scared of the feelings that this brings  -  so we both want and fear it. It rang true for me. And this place of ‘embodiment’ is a great place from which to start our communications with each other. Over lunch afterwards,  I was introduced to Emma and Keian from The Princes Trust who are doing work experience with us. Emma explained how she’d been moved by Mac’s words this week, that she loved just hearing him speak. I was able to invite her to imagine herself speaking and coming from a space so connected with herself that people would listen to her in that way too…and thanks to Joanna’s work with us this morning, I was so present to myself as I told her, she ‘got it’ and was really moved by this vision of herself. And so the impact from our Heart Listening rippled out.

Joanna Watters delivers Sustainable Parenting sessions at Embercombe and runs our Summer Camp for families. Her website is
Toni Spencer runs Eating the Hedgerow Reskilling Workshops at Embercombe. Her website is



All about The Embercombe Building Company

Phill Ireland is a busy man, so I’m posting his words for him – this is the accompanying piece to Ally’s story in Rehabiliation via The Building Site: Ally’s Story.

Phill Ireland founded the Embercombe Building Company with the intention to provide opportunities for young people who might otherwise face barriers to employment due to their personal history. A commonsense approach to sustainability, reducing transportation, diverting products from the waste stream wherever possible, building well, harnessing natural light, keeping things simple and low-tech and taking a hands-on, can-do attitude to new designs are the hall marks of Phill’s approach to sustainability.

Phill says “We give young people who are ex-offenders and recovering drug addicts a second chance to lead a fulfilling life.  They gain skills and support through sustainable building apprenticeships, personal mentoring and the challenge of training in extreme sporting activities.  The challenge of extreme sports is crucial as it provides a very challenging alternative to the bravado associated with drugs and violence, whilst also helping to reconnect the participants with themselves through nature.

We work on numerous projects within the UK.  The diversity of projects has included the Chelsea Flower Show through to sustainable flagship developments and social housing projects. Our aim is to substantiate Embercombe’s core principles, within a sustainable business model, which helps rehabilitate and up-skill individuals as they learn trades on projects such as the one you see here.

We attempt to strike a dualism between sustainability, and the reality of operating within society as it stands today. This project demonstrates the debate in every block; stone; grain of sand and bag of lime.  The oak for the frames has in fact been felled from the woods here and was raised on the 3rd September 2012.  The foundations consist of PFA (recycled fly ash); 80% recycled blocks; crushed hard core from our demolition projects; stone salvaged from old buildings; recycled bricks from our refurbishment project on an old Victorian Manor and recycled slates from other demolition projects we are involved in, and so the list goes on.

Over 1,000 cubic metres has been excavated from the site and separated into clay and shillet.  This is being mixed with straw to create the cob walls.  You will see that a large proportion of this building is built from re-directed landfill.  In other areas, we have had to compromise by using plastics, mesh and steel in order to fulfil current Building Control Regulations.  Other areas which are not green are the diggers and dumpers on site; these are being used to create the cob walls, foundations etc.  In an ideal world this would all be completed by hand, however, the financial implications and physical toll mean this is not sustainable.”

Copyright: Embercombe Building Company.

Read more about The Linhay

Rehabilitation via the Building Site: Ally’s Story

If you visit the site of our construction project, The Linhay Landbased Learning Centre, you’ll read two notices: one tells you the story of the Embercombe Building Company (EBC), the other of one of their employees, Ally. Its a moving account of a life that was bleak and now full of hope and love. Since you may not have an opportunity to stroll up to the site gates anytime soon, I asked Phill Ireland, the MD of EBC to share it with you:

The Embercombe Building Company: The Biography of Ally

I am a 39 year old man called Ally.

I was assaulted aged 5 years and as a result I was put into care.  I was in care for approximately 1.5 years, and then went to Southbrook.  I was here for 4 years until the age of 11.  From the age of 11 to the age of 21 I went to 37 different foster parents.  Unfortunately to fight my past I turned to drugs, alcohol and crime.

The first time I experienced prison was in a young offenders centre, I was 17. I was sentenced for 8 months for burglary which was to pay for my habit, which at the time was amphetamine.  I did not realise at the time but my life was to spiral out of control.  I served my 8 months and was released and went back to my foster parents.  Again, my foster parents changed and I got into more trouble stealing cars again to subsidise my habit.  Again, I went back to prison.

I reached 21 years and my brother took me in.  He looked after me, gave me work, but most of all he gave me a chance which I was so desperate for.  I tried to hold my job down and stay away from trouble, but because of my troubled past, yet again I turned to crime and drugs.  I used the drugs to mask my past.  All I had wanted was a normal life and a nice family unit.

I was convicted of fraud at the age of 24 and was sentenced for 8 years.  I served my Bird as they call it inside by turning to heroin.  I was told it would make it easier and it was so easy to get inside.  This would be the biggest mistake of my life.

I came out of prison at age 32 and tried to lead what I would call a “normal life.”  My nephew had given me work painting and decorating which I loved, but my heroin addiction had taken hold of my life.  I could no longer hold my job down.  I was signing on and pretty much homeless now as none of my family wanted to know me, so I was staying wherever I pretty much could get my fix.

I used to pass a salon in Exeter every day and got talking to a girl called Emma.  It turned out we had known each other for years.  I asked her if she wanted a drink sometime and she said “yes”.  She did not know about my habit, but I’m sure she chose to ignore it and did not want to judge me, but just help me instead.

In the meantime, I had got hold of some subutex which blocks heroin; I used this as an attempt to get off this awful drug.  I had had contact with my mother and she said as long as I stay out of trouble and away from drugs she would have me home in Woodbury.  I went home and tried to get my life on track.  I gave Emma a call to see if she wanted to meet me, we met up and have not been apart since that day.  I was desperate to find work and Emma had a client that had a recruitment agency and knew a little about my past.  My number had been passed to her and in May 2011 I got a phone call asking to work putting tents up for a kid’s summer camp.  I was so excited; this was when I was introduced to the Embercombe Building Company’s Managing Director.

From the moment I started working with EBC I realised they would not judge me, although I was ashamed that they did not know about my addiction to subutex to keep me away from heroin.  I wanted to say something but worried I would lose my job.  In September 2011 I went to my sisters to do some work on her house or so that what Emma and I told everyone.  I had actually booked myself into Cedars Rehab in Exeter for one week to kick this habit once and for all.  I went to Rehab and stayed and was extremely ill.  I came out and was literally climbing the walls for about 4 months.  Not sleeping, hallucinating, mood swings and extreme sweating – it was hell.  The things that kept me going were my job and Emma – knowing I still had them.

To this day all the staff at EBC has stuck by me, not judged me, but helped me no end.

I cannot thank them enough and Embercombe and all the people that I now work with.  If it was not for them I would not be where I am now.  I have my driving licence back, my own work van, I am married to Emma and I have got the best job I have ever had.  I have been given a chance and I cannot thank the MD and the EBC staff enough and this comes from the very bottom of my heart.

copyright Embercombe Building Company.

For more information about The Embercombe Building Company

For more information about The Linhay Landbased Learning Centre

an enquiry into the sacred landscapes and ancient forest of dartmoor

This week I undertook a journey, with a few others*, to walk 56km. We explored some of the most significant sacred landscapes and ancient forests of Dartmoor – linking them directly back to Embercombe – thereby keying Embercombe, with its stone circle and woodland, into this same sacred and wooded lineage.

The journey took just over two days and this is what we discovered.

The high-land of the Dart has always been valued for its special qualities – today it might be for its exposed, featureless expanse of rough moorland, treacherous mires and scoured granite tors but seven thousand years ago it was revered as a thickly forested otherworld. These wooded remnants cling on in three diminutive places within the heart of the moor and still richly clothe the steep valleys that embrace it.

Neolithic then Bronze Age tribes saw this high place, above them, as a sacred land – a place to take their dead on a journey to the after-life and a place to return and seek their intercession with the spirit world. They cleared small pockets of forest to build dolmen, barrows or burial cairns with their kistvaens to hold their ancestors. Some of these cairns developed stone rows or processional walks that channelled the approach of both the dead and those wishing to commune with them. Some of these sites developed into larger ceremonial complexes that covered huge areas such as the Merrivale ceremonial complex or the Stall Moor stone row, at 3300 metres, making it the longest prehistoric stone row on Earth.

Looking at these sacred places it is hard to imagine them as they would have been – placed within a forest landscape. The forested Fernworthy stone circle and Assycombe stone row give some sense of what this may have been like, even though they are now surrounded by sombre, mirky plantation woodland. But whilst the stone rows were the runways or landing strips for the cairn gateways to the otherworld, the open stone circles were a place of ceremony that encouraged looking outward from within the circle into the landscape they were a part of. These stone circles were indivisible from the landscape around them – seen and interpreted together – even though their meaning is now long lost. Standing in the centre of Scorhill stone circle and facing the largest, most significant menhir you cannot help but notice that its point eclipses the White Moor Stone several kilometres away: a useful pointer for anyone, given that back then it was obscured by a million trees.

These high places of Dartmoor remained as forest for thousands of years. Initially as a happy hunting ground then as an ancestral burial ground and a ceremonial, sacred landscape. It was only later, towards the iron age, that this reverence for ancestral spirits started to erode and land pressure saw greater clearances of the forest. Permanent settlements started to appear – often on the edge or on these sacred sites.

The forest still remains within the folds of Dartmoor. What is left of this ancient Dartwood are just a hint as to the power and significance the forest had. And although one might point an accusing finger to those first small clearances in the forest to make way for those ceremonial sites – the increased clearance of the land pointed to the end of the Dartwood and the forgetting of sacred landscapes – their physical and spiritual memory eroded by the changing times of a more pressing humanity.

But the sacred places still exist. The landscape they sit in still exists. And the forest lives on too.

Click on any picture to view full image

Places visited: White Moor stone circle, White Moor Stone, Buttern Hill stone circle, Buttern Hill chambered cairn, Scorhill stone circle, Round Pound, Kestor Rock basin, Shovel Down ceremonial complex, Fernworthy stone row and circle, Grey Wethers twin stone circle, Assycombe stone row, Grimspound, Jay’s Grave, Houndtor kerb-cairn and cist, Houndtor medieval settlement, Black Hill stone row, Houndtor ridge, Houndtor Woods, Lustleigh Cleave, Casely Wood, Tottiford, Kennick and Trenchford woods and submerged ceremonial complex, Canonteign Woods, Embercombe stone circle and woodland.

*Accompanied by Rob, Alastair, Tina and Juliette.


Meeting the bees

We have just run this year’s second Natural Beekeeping course here at Embercombe.

The course intends to inspire and inform people about bee-first natural beekeeping. People leave feeling confident and ready to take their next steps to support the honeybee – whether that involves setting up their own hives, planting some bee-friendly plants, or just spreading the word.

The sun came out on sunday and we were able to spend a good amount of time with the hives in the garden. We spent time observing the bees at the entrances… watching the many workers laden with pollen on their legs coming home after a foraging trip. There were also a large number of drones (male bees) around both hives, but particularly ‘light’ hive, which we had found out the previous day, is superseding. This involves replacing the older queen with a new one, so the unborn virgin queen is likely to be attracting the drones to the hive.
It is a good idea to observe the activity around the hives before checking inside. You can tell a lot about what’s going on inside the hive from what you see at the entrance. Pollen being brought in tells you they are likely to be raising young (bee larvae eat pollen). Ordered, steady activity suggests all is well in the colony.

Participant holding comb from the topbar hive
The sunny weather meant we could have a peek into both topbar hives, and even a look inside one of our conventional dadant hives which is being run naturally. Most participants on the course said that the time with the hives was one of the most inspiring aspects of the course.
Beekeeping course around the hives

We had a brilliant and varied weekend, and we love to share our passion, experience and knowledge and to invite people to come and meet the bees.
Some participant feedback includes…

“really lovely, inspiring and accessible weekend. I feel much more confident to start beekeeping now.”

“I had a fantastic weekend and feel I have been given enough info to have a good go at my first hive”.

If you are interested in attending one of our natural beekeeping courses, please visit

wildcraft perspectives: just being….in nature

I spent last weekend, with Jane, a Wildcraft facilitator, immersing ourselves within nature. It will be something we will do alot of in Wildcraft.

We spent hours imagining ourselves as a deer as we picked our way slowly, with no purpose but existing, through the bluebell woods of the high valley in which I live.

We watched a buzzard quarter the rugged bluffs above us, scouring for a distracted rabbit. Its folorn cry a motif of the moorland beyond.

We stood, as one of our bronze-age ancestors may have done, on a granite promitory that jutted out into misty space hundreds of feet above the river that meandered far below on the valley floor.

In the dark shelter of the conifer woods I got down low, imagining myself as a woodmouse nibbling on a fir cone in the safety of my larder. I scampered around the bowl of a great tree.

I changed into that great fir tree, rooted deep in the peat soil then I became a squirrel, clambering, with its sappy branches in my paws.

Then, high up in the canopy, I imagined myself as an owl looking down from my lofty perch. I understood from this vantage why, as a mouse, I had taken twitchy care in my little journeys between stump and hollow.

We walked blindfolded through the woods touching and hearing the scenery around us.

We scraped the earth with our nails and breathed deep its herbal, resinous, mulchy smell.

We chased along trails and runs, tracing with our fingers, the bumps and edges of prints made by badger, deer and fox.

We made tea from spruce needles and nettles at a little camp amongst the jumbled boulders in the woods.

We got up before dawn and watched the sun pale the sky a rosie pink and light up the dew on the grass like a sea of fibre optics.

We had a front row seats for the Dawn Chorus.

I now feel, once again, very connected with the natural world around me.