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    garden shed

    The Pilsdon Community

    On the Dorset coast, a farm offers community, work, and sanctuary to those who need healing and a new direction.

    By Tobias Jones

    September 9, 2021
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    • Bob Dipert

      We need more places like this in our world of brokenness.

    The Pilsdon Community was founded in 1958 by a visionary Anglican priest, Percy Smith, and his wife, Gaynor, who had both been inspired by the story of Nicholas Ferrar’s seventeenth-century religious community at Little Gidding. Most people first glimpse the community from the Iron Age hill fort, Pilsdon Pen, which overlooks the green fields of the Marshwood Vale and, just beyond, the Dorset coastline. There, far below, is the three-story manor house with its grassy quadrangle created by barns, stables, looseboxes, pigsties, and other outbuildings. Its twelve acres have all the usual greenhouses, vegetable patches, and livestock you would expect of an intentional community, plus a medieval stone church by the stream.

    group of people chatting in a garden shed

    Garden meeting at Pilsdon community, March 2021 Photograph courtesy of the Pilsdon community

    It’s a community whose founding purpose is to offer sanctuary to people in a period of crisis in their lives. There are usually about half a dozen community members and twenty or so guests, some of whom have lived there for many years. There are also weekend visitors and volunteers. There’s a regular rhythm to the community, with bells announcing meals and prayers, which are usually drawn from the Society of St Francis’s daily office, Celebrating Common Prayer.

    Percy Smith called Pilsdon “a school for sinners, not a museum of saints,” and it’s a working farm which often feels distinguished by its humility and simplicity. There’s a lot of mud and manure and earthy humor. Pilsdon doesn’t do branding, or franchising, or even shout about itself to the world. But it’s a place where agricultural parables suddenly seem to make sense, and where broken people are given the time, and love, to make sense of themselves and their wounds. While there’s not a formal, therapeutic program, the combination of a drink- and drug-free space with lots of good food, companionship, manual labor, and mentoring often helps people begin to put their lives back together.


    Pilsdon is gradually opening up to new people as Covid restrictions ease. Please visit pilsdon.org.uk for more information.

    Contributed By

    Tobias Jones is the cofounder of Windsor Hill Wood, and the author of Utopian Dreams and A Place of Refuge.

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