Written by William Tooby, Founder and Director of The Fold.

Why The Fold was created?

I was born here in Bransford and had the privilege of the Teme valley as my childhood playground. I so love the natural world, having always felt a deep connection with her and my despair at the way we treat her has grown over my life to a level of exasperation.

I came back here to farm organically back in the seventies and loved reconnecting with the energy of this land and listening deeply to her to learn how to best grow the bread wheats I was specialising in. I loved it but after a few years the adjacent nursery which was the main part of the family business hit hard times and I had to choose between the 20 or so staff employed, many of whom I had known most of my life,  and organic farming that was nourishing me and my newly founded Tooby Mills flour company.  After deep consideration I chose to focus on the nursery and spent the next twenty years doing so and building it up. As I did so I got caught in the treadmill of our growth economy and worked too many hours to the detriment of my dear family, but did succeed in creating a successful people based plant nursery business – well until covid came along!

As the nursery expanded it needed more land and we begun to convert hop yards into nursery growing fields. Every time we did so I would have sleepless nights thinking about the impact on mother earth. How was I allowing this beautiful land with potential to grow food or even rewild to be covered with plastic mypex, rubble roads and plants in plastic pots for people’s gardens? I worked with the Horticultural Trades Association to help develop the science around the positive and healing benefits of plants in gardens and this helped satiate my concerns to some extent but never got to the core.

I needed to do something more ethically and ecologically based and soon after the millennium started working with my then wife Janne and a coach dreaming in the Fold as a Haven for Inspiration Creativity and Health. A place to Meet, Eat and Heal; Earth, Body and Soul. I retired from the nursery, had a period making large ceramic sculptures and then focused on designing the Fold. Having sold some beautiful redundant barns and with a DEFRA grant, work commenced early 2006 and the Fold opened in May 2007.

I had wanted the Fold to be an organisation standing for positive change where people could get involved and share the journey. With help from Ruth Hunt from Community First and Tom Jardine who joined us as a director and our first operational manager we agreed to set up as a Community Interest Company. The Café was known as the EcoCafe and with Shaman Chef David McCaw we developed our offer based on a mainly vegetarian buffet where customers could graze across a range of delights and try vegetarian foods that took their eye that they may not have had before and pay by the plate. This slowly built but we never installed a pay by weight system that may have made it more cost effective!

Other people and organisations like BCMB and café philosophique got involved, we ran film nights and published Fold Fact sheets on living more sustainably. In 2009 I was inspired by Jon Davenport to open a care farm supporting probation and other vulnerable groups from Worcester college. This was a heady time and we had some remarkable experiences working with and significantly helping individuals with differing life challenges to see a more nature based holistic view of their world; but as ever government funding was being cut after the crash and my focus became more on finances,  keeping the boat afloat and personnel issues rather than how we might make more change in the community.

Society has moved so much since 2007, hitting a tipping point in global awareness of ecological issues around December 2018. Back in the earlier years we had removed eco from café as we learnt that some people did not visit us as they thought they were not green enough!

A highlight for me was when Satish Kumar, who so deeply embodies what we are standing for, agreed to be our patron. Having the opportunity to run Gandhi, Globalisation and Gratitude workshops with him was such an honour. We have so much we can learn in these times from Gandhi’s four pillars of Sarvodaya – well-being for all, Swaraj – Self discipline, self rule & self organising,  Swardeshu – The economy of place and Satyagraha – The power of truth. . I still tingle when I connect with them and am convinced it would be valuable to bring these more alive in these times and the new normal. My connection and respect for Indian culture has deepened over the years and I am also now privileged to have Awantika as my life partner.

Why The Fold is important in today’s world

If we carry on with business as usual with its growth model of economy, science based on reductionism and ‘Power Over’ rather than focusing on Gross National Happiness the interconnected nature of everything and ‘Power With’, we will absolutely go bust in a way that hurts. There will be a great unravelling of society as we know it with potentially catastrophic consequences.

As we become conscious of what is going on and what each of us is doing, we need take responsibility, to stand up and say a clear NO to things that are not acceptable and, create better ways of doing things.

The Fold is an example that has followed in the footsteps of the likes of Schumacher College, Findhorn and the Centre for Alternative Technology, all remarkable organisations paving the way for doing things differently. Likewise, Extinction Rebellion is a great example of people coming together to say no to what is not acceptable.

The Fold growing the change into the future

I have many dreams and aspirations, I would love the Fold to become more substantial and resilient, a place for real change. My dream has been to create an Earth Academy and resilient community where learning from and living with nature are core. The Fold Farm and market garden to become sustainable for the amazing team that run it. Finding creative ways, perhaps with an artist in residence to articulate the issues and possibilities of our time. To hear more raga music and see more beautiful dance, more circles with the way of council regularly practised by many. The hop kiln becoming a thriving learning and practice centre with a fabulous multi-purpose room upstairs for yoga, dance, gigs and more. Through all, a stronger focus on consciousness and connection with spirit, light and laughter.

The next step is the community housing project which will provide accommodation for people investing in and building their home on site, accommodation for staff, volunteers and interns to stay and accommodation for participants on residential courses. When any are vacant then they can be eco-lets. This will bring a significant shift here building the internal community from around eight to fifty souls with around thirty long term residents and twenty on courses.

Beyond this I want to live into a more caring sensitive world. One where we are less driven and more being; less male and more male female balanced; where we have learnt to source our happiness in gratitude for this incredible opportunity we have on earth and to share and make the most of it with all life on earth.

I hope we can evolve The Fold into a robust and resilient community based organisation that helps to make a real difference to this, our beautiful world.