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‘Living Life in Common: Stories from the Pilsdon Community’

by Michael Ford last modified 16 Mar, 2022 04:36 PM

Marian Barnes, Mary Davies and David Prior of the Pilsdon Community have released a new book.

At the foot of Pilsdon Pen in the Marshwood Vale, Dorset is a rather remarkable place. For over 60 years the Pilsdon Community has offered a place of security and nurture to people experiencing troubles resulting from mental health difficulties, addictions and homelessness. The community is based in the 17th century Pilsdon Manor House and in its 13 acres there is space for cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and ducks as well as a substantial vegetable garden and orchard that feeds the residents. A church is the spiritual centre of what is a Christian community that offers hospitality to people of all faiths and none. The contemplative nature of the prayer life balances the very practical tasks of every day life in the community to which everyone is welcome and no-one is under pressure to attend. 

People coming to Pilsdon may stay for weeks, months or years – for some it has become a long-term home, and many of those who have left the community return from time to time when they feel the need for a break or for renewal. The flexibility of the way in which people can come and go contrasts with the formal requirements that shape how many services operate. Pilsdon is not a service provider – in the community the members who commit themselves to live in community live and work alongside those who are called ‘guests’ who come looking for a place of refuge. The only firm rules are no alcohol or non-prescription drugs, and no aggressive behaviour. 

The community celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018. That year, Mary Davies, a community member, led a Heritage Lottery funded oral history project that enabled people who had been part of the community throughout its history to tell their stories of life at Pilsdon and what it had meant to them. Those interviewed for this project included Gaynor Smith who, with her husband Percy, had founded the community in 1958. It also included people who had lived in the community as members, guests and volunteers, and others who had visited as wayfarers, or who lived locally and had been friends of the community. 

‘Living Life in Common: stories from the Pilsdon Community’ is a book just published that recounts these stories. It explores what brings people to Pilsdon and what the experience of living in community in this special place is like. The book describes the hard work involved in caring for the animals, the land, the old buildings, as well as managing finances (the community is a charity) and external relationships. It also offers inspiration for different 

ways of living well together and acknowledging our vulnerabilities. In the words of one reviewer the book ‘truly lifts your spirits ……As we emerge from lockdown, and with growing concern about mental health generally, it raises crucial questions about faith and care in the community in the future.’ 

Pilsdon is a place of radical hospitality which not only offers shelter to those in need but also invites those who come to live the life an opportunity to welcome the unsettling and the challenging in themselves. This is something Mary writes about in the book: 

“The welcome is about shifting something within us to create room to hear the different opinions, ideas and experiences of life that people bring with them. The prayer above the Common Room fire place summarises this for me: “Make the roof of Pilsdon wide enough for all opinions, oil the door of our house so it opens easily to friend and stranger, and set such a table in our house that all may speak kindly and freely around it”. The welcome must remain wide, and we must not look to what will be taken away from us in the process, but how the challenge of the other will change us for the better, and enrich the common life that we live (…). We all have to work hard to resist excluding others who we know will bring a challenge to our rhythms, and who are unpredictable. We must endeavour to follow the teachings of Jesus and welcome the stranger whenever we can. As we do we make room for the unexpected, and the gift, and the enriching of others. We also welcome the difficult parts of ourselves”. 

In these times of polarisation and disconnection the holding together of difference amongst people and reconciling it within ourselves seems a vital practice for the thriving of our world. 

The community are looking for new people willing to share their life and to take some of the responsibility for the day to day running of the community. Well supported by people locally and across the wider country, applications can come from anywhere in the world. 

For more information about the Pilsdon Community, please contact Rev Sue Langdon, Warden for the Community. To purchase a copy of the book please go to the website The book is also available through bookshops. 

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