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Inside the 'survive and thrive' farm where 1,000 people could live if society breaks down

PUBLISHED: 12:38 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 14:26 24 September 2019

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

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What would you do if society broke down?

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter DaweThe farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

Many of us, perhaps inspired by post-apocalyptic films and dramas, might have sketched out an escape route, planned our first moves and made a mental note of our survival kits.

But for entrepreneur Peter Dawe, the plans are somewhat more organised.

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter DaweThe farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

After selling his company Pipex, the UK's first commercial internet service provider, back in 1995, one of his first decisions was to buy a farm in central Norfolk.

The 65-year-old from Ely has, over the last decade, been building a survive and thrive community, a place where up to 1,000 people can live if the worst happens and society grinds to a halt.

"The project has been in process for over 10 years," he said. "I hope things will hold together in my lifetime and a little longer, but I have done a lot of research and have concluded that the current society is remarkably fragile."

Even when buying the farm future survival was in mind, with Mr Dawe - who in 2016 stood to become mayor of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire - picking an area of high land to lessen the risk of flooding.

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter DaweThe farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

Today, the project, called Beat the Bear, boasts an orchard, flour mill, solar panels and livestock.

"One of the first things we decided to do was to keep our crops in store so they were available to us should something happen," he said.

Peter Dawe, pictured in 2016. Photo: SubmitPeter Dawe, pictured in 2016. Photo: Submit

"From that, we progressively shifted the farm from being pure arable to one which was more self-sustaining.

"What we will seek to do is to create a community of what would be up to 1,000 people, and to ensure that we can not only feed ourselves but can basically thrive, rather than survive."

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter DaweThe farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

Mr Dawe, who in September was named prospective parliamentary candidate for The Brexit Party for Cambridge, said he had paid for an economic study to explore society's fragility, and said it increased as the planet neared a population of 10 billion.

He said a break down in society could be sparked in various ways - from a major Icelandic volcanic eruption to politicians stopping world trade, crop disease, drought or flooding - but said he does not believe Brexit will be the cause.

"Personally I think for the most part what we will see is a world that gets worse for more people over time," he said.

"In the last 150 years, there have been about 10 where food has been rationed. I can't understand why someone wouldn't have a month's supply of tinned food under the stairs.

The farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter DaweThe farm where Peter Dawe hopes to create a new community. Photo: Peter Dawe

"You insure your house and the chances of it burning down are slim."

He said this winter the team hoped to install an oil press to turn rape plants into diesel for tractors.

"The next step would be exploring fruit and vegetables and to create a community garden," he said.

"Rather than it being allotments where each person has a little bit of crop, we have several acres and people can grow their onions and cabbages for the whole community.

"At some point soon I anticipate we will be welcoming people who want to live off grid, and we are about to build some houses."

Though plans may change if society alters dramatically, Mr Dawe, who was made an OBE in 2001 for his work combatting child pornography, said, initially, people would pay a subscription for a spot at the farm.

He said one of the benefits of creating a large community was becoming "less attractive to marauders" - "if they have the choice between going after a farm with one family or a farm with 1,000, it's an easy decision," he added.

He described Beat the Bear - named after the joke about two hikers encountering a bear, in which one says he only needs to outrun the other - as optimistic rather than pessimistic, with its intention to create a positive future no matter what lies ahead.

And he added that it was key to remember that we lived in the "best of times", with plenty of opportunities and safer communities than ever before.

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