Urban Homesteading in the UK

UK homesteaders give ‘how-to’ advice on sustainable and self-sufficient urban living.

In 2005, Tim Payne and his wife Ros Payne set out to make a more self sustainable life by making as much of their food, meat and household items as possible, as well as installing resourceful energy systems in their house in the UK which use natural and renewable resources to generate water, heat, and electricity.

Tim explained in an interview with EthicalFoods.com that his reasons for embarking on homesteading extended beyond his family’s desire to become more independent from a food and resource distribution system which relies on a dwindling natural resource.  This globalized foodshed, Tim commented, also employs cheap labor and land in foreign countries where workers’ rights are rarely on par with those in the first world.  Tim explained that he and his family did not approve of the “ethical implications of indigenous workers and peoples growing food they themselves couldn’t afford.”

Furthermore, Tim and Ros looked at the life the next generation would lead and saw one fraught with chemical laden processed foods and disconnected from the basic skills needed to survive. The Payne’s wanted their son to know where food came from and how it was produced, as well as have an understanding of the extensive requirements needed to raise an animal and the responsibility of taking its life.

Cultivating skills, cultivating growing space

Throughout his childhood, Tim experienced growing his own food as well as raising chickens, lambs, geese, bee keeping and catching rabbits, fish and pheasant—skills that came in handy when he decided to turn to homesteading.  When I asked him what other resources he used to develop this new lifestyle, he commented that he was initially inspired by John Seymour’s book The Guide To Self Sufficiency. Tim turned to the wealth of resources that the internet offered, benefited from shared experiences from others, and of course, learned through his own trial and error.

The Payne family grows food in their front and back garden space, equating to roughly 500 sq yards, as well as a 1,200 sq yard allotment, which combined, produces enough food to sustain Tim’s family of three.  They also raise pigs and keep bees on a vacant lot which has been abandoned and overgrown for over twenty years.  The Payne’s growing space requires a total of 2-3 days of gardening and animal care, although this fluctuates with the seasons.

Tim commented that most years he is left with a surplus of honey, which they sell at county events, as well as eggs which they offer for sale from their home.

Saving on bills

  • Tim’s family has cut their food bills nearly in half, with the exception for items that they don’t make themselves like dairy products, household cleaning products, tea and coffee, toiletries, etc.
  • They’ve been able to cut their energy costs by a third and the installation of a PV solar system allows the Payne family to sell electricity back to the grid. Tim estimates that in ten years’ time this electricity tariff will cover the system’s initial cost.  In January, Tim installed a solar thermal system which they are still waiting to see the effects of on their water heating bill.
  • By installing a wood burner, and offering free tree felling services within a ten mile radius of their home in exchange for the resulting fire wood, the Payne’s winter heating bills have fallen over 95%.
  • A rainwater harvesting system has dropped their paid water consumption by 50%, and after the wettest summer on record that is plaguing the UK, the Payne’s will not be short of stored water this year.


Advice to aspiring urban farmers

I asked Tim what advice he would give to aspiring urban farmers, to which he commented.

Self sufficiency is an ideal and a goal as well as a challenge, especially in an urban setting. No one is truly ‘self sufficient’—there are levels or degrees of independence; we will always need the support of our loved ones, friendships and services of others.

If you are truly contemplating living more sustainably you will need to accept that what could be achieved and what is practical will always boil down to a compromise.

Contributing factors that influence you will be:

  • Physical limitations of space and your own practical/physical ability
  • Finances— income and commitments, expenditure
  • Your neighbors’ tolerance toward your activities

You must be prepared to make a tradeoff between what you want to achieve and what is practical. We would love to rear tilapia using aquaculture, however our climate is too cold—we would need to use lots of energy to heat the tank—and this breaks our ideal of living in a way that is environmentally sustainable. We would love to keep a goat but the smell for our neighbors and daily milking commitment is too great at this stage in our lives.

If you can find a way to make your endeavors self-financing, then even better.  Our 10 hens pay for themselves through egg sales and totally finance the pigs; the sale of a spare turkey at Christmas just about pays for our 3 turkeys; honey sales and the beekeeping experience courses we run cover the bees.

Some general principles we live by:

  • Be ready to learn everything you can.
  • If you find failure hard, don’t start.  It is a part of the joy of the learning experience.
  • Don’t do everything at once; take time to establish a way of life that is sustainable.
  • Don’t borrow money to finance this life style—save up for things.
  • Invest in quality, not cheap and cheerful equipment—it doesn’t last.
  • Buy everything local where you can, (if it doesn’t break the principle above).
  • Always make what you can yourself.  Gleaning is fun, do it where you can and stay within the law.
  • If you want to eat meat you should be prepared to rear and kill the animal humanely.
  • Make time to develop links and share resources and information.
  • Keep everything of use, like jars and bottles.
  • Don’t live in a mess, (it’s easy to do if storing lots of stuff) .
  • Recycle, reuse, reduce and repair all you can (where it is practical to do so).
  • Beekeeping is wonderful but vastly expensive; it is also a huge commitment and responsibility.

Limiting the effect we have on our environment and ‘living gently in creation’ is truly rewarding. It gives a peace and a satisfaction, not just of eating good food, but also of knowing your endeavors will help yourself and those around you, the environment, and those that follow after you.  Fossil fuels are a finite resource and lessening our consumption today will prolong its life for future generations and hopefully allow time to develop genuine alternatives.

Earn extra income

Want to make money from food you grow in your own garden? Check out the Seed to Cash program here and save 50%.

Recommended reading

Tim suggests:
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It

Editor’s picks:
You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise
Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More
Homemade Living: Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More
Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock
Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living


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