Living la vida local

Dr Naomi Sykes and Dr Richard Jones 
28 Jul 2010 17:01:15.710
 PA 196/10

A lecturer from The University of Nottingham is to spend a month living off the land as part of a ‘living community’ study.

Dr Naomi Sykes in the Department of Archaeology will be joining her partner Dr Richard Jones, a lecturer from the University of Leicester, in spending September living solely off produce sourced from within a 1.5 mile radius of their Nottinghamshire home.

As part of his work at the renowned Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester, Dr Jones, a lecturer in Landscape History, is undertaking the project to examine the meaning of locality and community in the twenty-first century.
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Both share an interest in the relationship that develops between people, their animals and crops, wild fauna and flora and the soil, which reflects Dr Sykes’ academic specialty in medieval and earlier food production and consumption.

Together they have designed what is a truly organic experiment that will be part of their normal daily life. Rather than spending months filling their stores, the couple have deliberately minimised their preparation; the results will thus be a realistic reflection on their lifestyle, rather than an artificial one.

Although the researchers plan to live off the land, unlike The Good Life Dr Jones stresses that the experiment is not designed to be an exercise in self-sufficiency or ‘back-to-basics’; the couple will not be dependent on themselves but on their local community for support, and will continue to use mains water and refrigeration.

Drs Jones and Sykes will conduct the experiment from their home in Upton, Nottinghamshire. The village has a population of approximately 400. Although they have their own chickens and cultivate a small vegetable patch, they will be largely at the mercy of this community for a month’s supply of food and drink. They anticipate buying milk at the farm gate and have discovered a local source of honey to replace sugar. They also intend to dabble in recipes for nettle tea, dandelion coffee and cider.

Dr Jones said: “In the modern times of globalisation in which our food travels half way around the world, the research wants to discover if it is still possible to live entirely from within a local community.

“From churning butter to baking bread, we know we will have to learn new skills. We also know that at times we may fail, but we believe that it is at these times that we will learn how far the ‘local’ really extends.

“We also want to measure the response of the community — to discover whether anyone will offer surplus produce from their gardens and what the farmer believes is the honest price of a pint of milk. “

Dr Sykes added: “Food is an excellent medium through which to explore the ideas of locality and community both past and present because it has always been so important in the formation of individual and group identities. We all use food to say something about ourselves and we hope that in this experiment food might also offer perspectives on both the people and places we currently share our lives with and also those past communities we study as historians and archaeologists.”

The meaning of locality and community underpins Dr Jones’ research which focuses on aspects of medieval rural society, ranging from the idea of ‘sense of place’ in Anglo-Saxon England, to understandings of the medieval natural world, place-names and settlement archaeology, and peasant farming practices — even medieval manure!

Both Dr Jones and Dr Sykes will maintain all their usual commitments, heading into work every day with their locally-sourced packed lunch. In addition, Dr Jones plans to keep a blog for the duration of the project, whilst Dr Sykes hopes to attract interest of a filmmaker.

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Images to accompany this story are available on request.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Naomi Sykes on +44 (0)115 951 4813,; Dr Richard Jones on + 44 (0)116 252 2764,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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