Ellie Hare and Murray Martin, both members of the Newcastle based Amber Film and Photography collective, moved to Thorpe Lea East Farm in Easington Colliery in 1997. For the next 10 years they lived here, making films in and around East Durham, breeding and racing trotting horses, accommodating documentary photographers and other waifs and strays whilst home educating their son Matt and his friends.
In 2007 Murray died suddenly, leaving Ellie, much to her friends’ surprise, keeping the home fires burning for the next 5 years. She knew that the philosophy of open house was what would get her through and there were two people in particular who breathed life into the farm in that period. One was the photographer Josefin Bengtsson, whose work reflects the love she feels for the place and is featured on this website which she has designed. The other was the singer songwriter Gem Andrews who made the crazy suggestion that we should host a music festival. That idea became Muma Moonshine, which took over the derelict barn in the summer of 2009 and heralded a new phase of life on the farm.
In 2012 Nicola Balfour and her family came to live at Thorpe Lea East. Nicola and Ellie were old friends and had lived together when their kids were small. They converted the old stables into another half of the house, and the two families naturally remingled.
Nicola brought a new vision for the Barn. She is an artist who has worked a lot in early years outdoor education in schools and nurseries all over the North East. Forest School-trained, and inspired by working with Reggio Emillio projects, Nicola has developed her own philosophy based on process more than product; experience more than skills; the power of looking and listening and simply being in the landscape. She saw the potential for the Barn and its surrounding meadows, woods and beach as the ideal place to bring children. She set about persuading the nurseries she was currently working with to come and try it out, and in the summer of 2013 the farm rang with the sound of happy children, amazed that they were allowed to run in the meadow and eat their lunch with the swallows in the Barn.
The final piece of the puzzle was Nicola’s partner Jon Codd. The Genie in the woodpile! Set designer and builder extraordinaire, Jon can make anything from anything. He is often to be seen around the farm carrying unlikely objects and giving advice to anyone who needs it. He set about transforming a somewhat ramshackle and malfunctioning farmstead into a beautifully functioning and leak free venue for live music, workshops and whatever else it is to become. He has done all this with minimal funds, using reclaimed materials and without in any way harming the gentle nature of the place.
Which brings us to the ethos bit. Yes, what we are about is sharing this place with anyone who will appreciate its gentle but wild nature. To put as little as possible between the person and the wonder of the outside. To create events and facilitate activities that celebrate the restorative qualities of nature, live music and simple human togetherness. To make a place where comfort means sitting round an open fire listening to live music, not wifi or four poster beds.
So leave your laptops and smart phones at the gate (they won’t work here anyway, although we do have a broadband spot at the top of the bank for those who are digitally addicted) and WALK ON THE WILD SIDE.