‘We just held hands and jumped!’ How one of Britain’s happiest, healthiest communes was built

It took 13 years of dreaming, peril and hard graft before the first residents moved into Cannock Mill – an eco-village that tackles both the climate crisis and loneliness

by Anita Chaudhuri 

Look at this – can you see what it is?” The architect Anne Thorne is showing me around Cannock Mill, the eco-village on the outskirts of Colchester, Essex, that she designed in collaboration with a group of her friends who had grown tired of London life. We are standing behind a terrace of terracotta and honey-toned houses; even on a dreich day, the 1-hectare (2.4-acre) site has a distinctly Mediterranean vibe. There are well-tended grounds, a communal allotment and a fire pit.

Thorne is gesticulating at a tiny path. “It’s a frog passerelle,” she enthuses. I have no clue. “So that frogs can get safely to the mill pond down there.” I can’t see any amphibious commuters, but Claudine and Piaf, the community chickens, are scrabbling around. There are three buzzing beehives, too.

Cannock Mill is the UK’s first co-housing community aimed at tackling the climate crisis and loneliness in later life. On paper, the project sounds a bit like Coopers Chase, the luxurious fictional retirement village featured in Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. The most popular communal activity here involves listening to Wagner, rather than solving cold cases in a room devoted to jigsaws.

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