Tented love

The 'bender' Brian Monger has constructed in a West Country field is his vision of a family home. He says it's a thing of beauty. But John Gummer will decide if it can be a joy forever. Report by Jojo Mayes. Photograph by Nick Turpin

"This one's a bit Mongolian, with shamanic overtones. It derives very much from the nomadic concept," says Brian Monger, gesturing towards his home. "It's the most complex one I've built."

Mr Monger's home, from the outside, resembles nothing so much as a rather large and faded tent, which squats with 15 others in the middle of a remote field in East Pennard, Somerset.

Inside, however, it is almost Byzantine in its splendour: its frame created by branches knitted together in semi-Gothic intricacy, spraying out from the centre and bearing its weight on sapling buttresses. Arranged around its wheeled centre are four rooms, semi-domes from which windows highlight small altars of curios. Heavy wall hangings, rugs and floor cushions give the room something of the air of a Bedouin tent, while the wood-burning stove in the corner and accompanying teapot suggest something a little more English. The smell is sheepskin, patchouli and wood smoke and, compared to the sharp chill of the open field outside, decidedly cosy.

"Some of the others are more functional," says Mr Monger, of his "bender", as he refers to his self-built, semipermanent home. "Especially those belonging to single men. But this is a family home."

Mr Monger, his partner Christine Boal and their two children have lived as part of the Kingshill Collective - a group of 20 or so "alternative dwellers" - for the past three years. Just over 20 months ago the Collective arranged a mortgage with a local farmer to buy a field, to set up an "experimental sustainable living system" which would minimise its use of the earth's resources, and provide its members and their children with what they see as a better, less polluted way of life.

"Only the very rich or the very poor get to live in a home they have built themselves," says Mr Monger, who previously inhabited a flat in Peckham. This is a truth oft repeated by other members of the Collective. But it is unlikely that homes built by the former would provoke their neighbours into erecting 20-foot illuminated crucifixes to ward against their "heathenism". For the Collective's emphasis on paganism and alternative lifestyle has elicited strong reactions from the villagers of East Pennard, and Mendip District council has refused the group - which includes musicians, social workers and tree surgeons - permission to settle.

But thanks to representation at the village school and in the cricket team, and a couple of "open days" in which villagers were invited to see the community at close range ("The people who looked inside the benders were gobsmacked," Mr Monger says happily) many villagers are now vocal enough in their support of the Collective to aid its appeal for planning permission. This has recently been "called in" for consideration by Environment Secretary John Gummer; the results, which are likely to form a precedent for alternative dwellers everywhere, are due within weeks.

The Collective's members admit that despite the beauty of their surroundings, their way of living is not for the faint-hearted. The key difference, says Mr Monger, who until recently worked for the parish council, is that everything takes longer. Water is collected from a borehole at the top of the field. Earth closets and compost toilets provide sanitary arrangements. Electricity, for those who choose to use it, is obtained from solar panels and wind traps, and communication to the outside world - accessible only by a muddy woodland track - is achieved via an old red telephone box which sits incongruously in the middle of the field. But this, and the children's bicycles and carefully tended gardens, lend the community a strange domesticity, while tin chimneys poking from the roofs send thin trickles of wood smoke into the mist: the only clue, from a distance, that the four-acre field is inhabited at all.

"Our primary reason for doing this is to cut down on consumption of the earth's resources. We want to live on the earth's interest, rather than its capital," says Mr Monger. "We know our way of living isn't for everyone. But I feel happier and more relaxed living on the ground and our home is a thing of beauty. Everything in it - even its shape - is a reflection of our family. How many people can say that?"

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
News
peopleEnglishman managed the quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Flat out: Michael Flatley will return to the stage in his show Lord Of The Dance
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

    £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape