Photographer Ed Gold has been documenting communities living off-grid for many year, and recently he visited the woodland community at Tinkers Bubble in Somerset and spoke to some of those living close to the land.
Ed Shaw, 29, has been living at the site for more than two years and has spent much of his life on the road, having found city life was not to his liking.
“Broadly I’d say that any change you make in your life, no matter how small the change, in living closer to nature, will make your life better and more worthwhile,” he says.
“It could be the joy in your life, whatever that is, whether it’s planting flowers or raising butterflies indigenous to your area or living like this, will make a difference.
“To be still, that’s the joy of being settled.
“We have 300 volunteers who visit every year as they have realised how their lives have been and because of how they’d like their lives to be.
“There is a flow of people moving around who want to change their lives, and I think that will create a positive change in society.”
In contrast Ed’s partner, Sophia, who is training to be a Shiatsu practitioner, had not lived off-grid prior to moving to Tinkers Bubble, but had been doing an apprenticeship on a farm.
“It was a leap of faith to move here as I’d never really visited before, but it was an easy transition as I knew a few of the members already,” she says.
“The interpersonal dynamics are the most rewarding but most challenging aspect of living in the community.
“It’s unpredictable and button-pressing.
“It’s a real blessing to feel connected to a group of people, it’s a big family and that comes from bonded interpersonal relations.
“We get about 40 emails a day in the summer from people asking if they can volunteer and two or three every week from random people asking if they can live at Tinkers Bubble, so that’s an indicator that people realise it’s a better way to live, even if they romanticise the idea.
“It’s not something that anyone can do, but it’s better for mental health to live outside and getting away from the business and rush of day to day.
“The hardest thing is missing having a washing machine, because of the time.
“Washing my clothes by hand takes about three hours.”
Laura Axe, 30, moved here a year ago, having previously lived in a house in Switzerland that did not have electricity.
“It’s very real here because we are trying to live as sustainably as possible, we are producing our food, it’s something that feels very wholesome about this lifestyle,” she says.
“People tend to go towards what they are drawn to, I work with the horses, milk the cow, food production.
“If it’s a big project like the round house, re-thatching it and putting in more windows, we all help out.
“This is the longest I’ve stayed in one place for any length of time.
“I like it here. It says to me it is the way forward – positive steps, positive futures.
“For me, it’s a real encouragement to know this place exists, it feels really supportive that you’re part of a network that is growing.
“I think people are seeing a lot more sense in living this way.
“People are kind of changing their opinion or at least getting their own opinion on what is really important.
“I think it is starting to become very real to people that we can’t continue with the consumerism lifestyle that we’ve had.”
Jen Joseph has spent most of her life on the move, both as a child and in recent years living in Europe and Africa, where she helped set up educational establishments for children.
“There’s this window that is sensible to live within, you make things work within it,” she says.
“The off-gridness fulfils my selfish need to have green around me.
“But if everybody wanted to have that space of green around them, it wouldn’t be possible because there are too many people.
“I have more than my fair share, there aren’t many people that can live like this.
“I feel absolutely privileged the fact that everywhere I look I have real diversity of landscape and am able to wander wherever I like.
“If you allowed people to live like this everywhere, it just wouldn’t work.”
“I have high hopes for the younger generation because I think they think more what it means to be part of this world.
“It’s not about nationality or race or what you’re entitled to, it’s about compassion.
“Compassion in action, just giving up everything and doing the best you can.”
It was 1994 when Michael Zair arrived at the site having worked in a number of jobs, including as a buyer for J Lyons.
“I don’t think I miss anything from living in a house, but there will come a time when my hip joints will struggle with the uneven ground here,” he says.
“And if I have an operation for a hip replacement, it will take a while to recover and I will be quite dependent on other people.
“I’ve been here 22 years so I’ve been saving the government a lot of money on housing benefit.
“I feel very privileged, I have no desire to go and get housebound and dependent on the grid.
“If I had been married, I would never have come here.
“This is my family here and it’s been an exciting adventure.
“Nine babies have been born here.
“It’s sometimes been suggested that this place should be a template for the imagination – to have your dreams here and then go and have the chance to fulfil them.”
This is the first time Eden Evans, 22, has lived off-grid
“I’d heard lots of good things about Tinkers Bubble, and I’m doing a dissertation about eco villages, so I’m here to get first hand experience,” she says.
“I’m interested in growing and gardening and being environmental.
“I’m studying social anthropology, and generally what I like to study is land attitude, which is the cosmology in how landscapes are used in general and affects people’s lifestyle.
“The typical Western ideology is called naturalist cosmology, which has a tendency to view humans as an exception in their surroundings.
“It’s a much less holistic view and more of a hierarchical view of doing things.”
“Culturally, it’s not easy to make a living whilst living in an off-grid community,” says Jake.
“Living without fossil fuels is much more labour intensive and it’s hard to find the balance.
“We do integrate with the local community, but there’s an obvious distinction between living in the community and with the outside world.
“I won’t deny that it’s mentally and physically challenging, especially in winter.
“It’s hard to live here as a musician, because of the way they are expected to live because of travelling around.
“If you want to be successful, you are expected to travel.
“I’m a live musician and you have to go to where the people are that want to see you.
“I don’t know where I’m going to live next, probably in a city to teach English and play music.
“I’m a bit sad to leave. I’ve not come across another community like this in the UK. It’s beautiful.”
Natalie Huss originally came to Britain from Germany to work in Scotland in nature conservation, but it was only when she decided to quit that job that she became interested in living in communities such as this.
“When I was younger I wanted to save the world, I wanted to be one of those on the [Greenpeace ship] Rainbow Warrior,” she says.
“Over the years, I became more and more unsatisfied about the fact that I wasn’t able to work in conservation as well as living a much more sustainable life.
“I lived in an ordinary house, used a car and other machinery for work, bought most of my food.
“I felt it was time to to quit my job and focus on living sustainably and close to the land.
“People feel like they have to get a job and do what everyone else is doing.
“People don’t necessarily have a longing to live off-grid, but many have a longing to change their lives.
“People have such a fear and worry about pensions – but in return for paying into one, in possibly a job that they do not like, they just give up so much for a major part of their lives for so little at the end.”
All photographs Ed Gold