Groundwell Farm, Cricklade Road, Upper Stratton, Swindon, Wilts., England
That was the address of the communal farm I lived on for a month and half in the summer of 1985. It was a beautiful old 16th or 17th century farmhouse on the outskirts of Swindon. How I came to be there is a long, tawdry tale that I don't care to relate here, and that I actually thought about rarely during the day to day life at the farm. What was important was that I was there. It was the first real taste of freedom and self-determination in my life and I loved every moment.
I can still bring to mind the faces of a few of my fellow Groundwellians. David, a sweetheart of a guy who seemed always cheerful and helpful. Jo, the mother of little Martha, and the baby twins Saffia and Bryony. Bryn, the enormous, intimidating, yet entirely friendly and lovable Australian basketweaver. Jane, friend of Jacky (the woman who gave me the original okay to move in), who taught me that "charcoal bungs you up" as she ate slice after slice of burnt toast at a pop festival. Steven, a vegan Scotsman who taught me the importance of holding the line on your beliefs. Lucy, Steven's girlfriend. Robert, probably my best friend while I was there, we went cycling to Cirencester one day and stopped to rest in the sweet silence of a small stone church. And his and Jacky's son, Erin Cochise Bede Bardwell with whom I am still in occasional contact. With a name like that how can you lose? There were others who I knew less well and who came and went through the days, but for me these twelve were the core.
If I had been a more aware and self-aware person, I would have realized while I was there that Groundwell was more than just a bunch of hippies living in an old farm house. What I know now is that it was an arts center and had been for a while. They had a strong dedication to the young people of the area and would take in troubled youths (which is perhaps how they saw me, an American waif with no money). I did work with them a bit, doing a bit of street theatre and performing at pop festivals, but I never realized the full scope of what they were about until recently.
Over the years, I have had dreams of returning and walking through the house again. The flagstone floor of the kitchen, the tiny bathroom in which, if you felt strongly about it, you could heat water and pour it into the tub for a bath, the big gathering room, one wall of which held a door that opened into a stairway that led this way and that ultimately landing you in a tiny windowless room belonging to Erin (or Bede as I called him). The huge stairwell leading to the second floor and the narrower one leading to the third where my room was. My room was actually where Bryn's kids slept when they visited. I would sit in the window of that room looking out at the huge pines and beyond to the fields.and ponder the idea of sleeping in a house that was older than my nation.
Those dreams have been swallowed up by urban sprawl.
Last night I made the mistake of looking up Groundwell Farm on google maps. I knew from conversations with Erin that the place would be changed. I knew that the carriage house and outbuildings were no longer there, that some of the surrounding land had been turned into a subdivision, and that a dentist had bought the house and was performing some sort of renovation on it. What I saw on Google I was unprepared for.
Here is what Groundwell was:
And even before that:
Groundwell Farm build an inflatable from Swindon Viewpoint on Vimeo.
That is the worthwhile way to remember the place. Today the house is a shell of what it once was surrounded by parking lots and new houses. The one saving grace is that it remains a place of healing. I thank Robert for reminding me of that in his own tribute to the place.
The value of this whole experience for me is to realize that sometimes it is best to leave our memories as memories. I've been talking with a friend lately about going back into an old situation and finding it changed beyond repair. You can't always, or even usually go back. The way to go is forward, and the best thing to learn from the fate of places like Groundwell Farm, is that we need to stop destroying the old to make way for the new.
Some things are just worth saving.