Former social worker reveals he lives in a spiritual community

Former social worker reveals he lives in a spiritual community

Inside Scotland’s ‘spiritual commune’: Ben Fogle visits an ex-social worker living on Isle of Erraid where members meditate, work and eat together – and vote on who is allowed to stay

  • Phillip Hetherington, 46, living on Erraid Island, in Scotland, for past 18 months
  • Remote island is home to a spiritual community that meditate and work together 
  • Has existed for 40 years and members have to vet new arrivals who want to stay
  • Phillip told Ben Fogle he has no intention of leaving the island any time soon

Ben Fogle has visited an ex-social worker living in a spiritual community on the Isle of Erraid in Scotland where members meditate, work and eat together – and vote on who is allowed to stay. 

Phillip Hetherington, 46, originally lived on the mainland, but told the adventurer, 47, that his highly stressful job working with ex-offenders and addicts for 18 years left him experiencing low moods and anxiety. 

In tonight’s episode of Channel 5’s New Lives in the Wild, Phillip introduces the presenter to his life on Erraid – a small Scottish isle he moved to 18 months ago, where he now lives with a handful of other permanent residents.  

The isle is owned by the charity Findhorn Foundation, and residents make an income by allowing guests stay for a number of weeks, which then pays for electricity, wood and other resources. 

But those who wish to stay on the island permanently have to be considered by the rest of the community following a 22-week long trial period, which can cost up to £2,020.  

On tonight’s episode of New Lives In the Wild, Ben Fogle meets Phillip Hetherington, a former social worker who moved 18 months ago to the Isle of Erraid, in Scotland, where he lives in a community of maximum 25 people 

Harmony Row, pictured, counts seven cottages which were built in the 70s for lighthouse workers. Now, they are inhabited by the community Phillip is a part of, and their guests

Phillip tells Ben that even though he struggles with the enforced community meditations on the island, he has no intention of ever leaving. 

The 2.5 sq mile-wide isle was used by lighthouse workers in the 19th century and, since 1972, has been owned by the Findhorn Foundation, which is a Dutch charitable spiritual foundation, and home to the community. 

Terraced houses were built for the lighthouse keepers in a street which is called Harmony Row. 

The cottages all have a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living-room, as well as log burners for heat and running electricity.   

Phillip moved to Erraid 18 months ago with the idea of staying for a week, but says he instantly ‘fell in love with the place’ and applied for membership. 

All the residents of Erraid island do services for the community, like this resident making candles. People can follow a process of 22 weeks and pay £2,020 to become permanent residents, but vacancies are limited 

Everyone on the island works, meditates and lives together, pictured, but it is possible to have some alone time and to leave whenever you want for those who wish to do so 

People who wish to stay on the isle have to complete a Love in Action guest stay, which costs £500-£250.

After this initial stay, the prospective resident then must complete a longer stay of eight weeks, costing £800, where they will experience the main philosophy of the Findhorn Foundation about living together spiritually.

After a review to decide whether this person fits well with the community, the prospective resident will become a trial member and pay £60 for a 12-week-stay. 

Members receive accommodation, board and a small allowance. They are not required to pay council tax. 

Ben says Phillip’s story is one ‘of the most unusual wild life stories he immersed himself into’ after staying with him for a week

There is a limited amount of vacancies to join the island, and it actually has a waiting list for those who wish to join in the future.  

Everyone is free to leave the island when they want, with some choosing not to stay for long.  

Each day is organised around jobs and tasks the community needs to fulfil. They rely on resources on the island, growing their own fruit and vegetables and using algae as fertiliser.  

The week begins with a group meditation, followed by a discussion where members explain the services they will offer to the rest of the community – from cooking to chopping wood or completing a specific task. 

Each of the permanent residents on the isle have an area of expertise, with Phillip telling Ben he looks after everything relating to wood and fire.  

Members of the community sometimes go skinny dipping together in the waters surrounding the island. At high tide, it is completely cut off from the rest of the world 

Phillip lived in several spots on the mainland during his time as a social worker, but says his job took a toll on his wellbeing. 

‘I fell in love with the place, just like a kid in a sweet shop,’ Phillip explains. ‘The plan was initially to come here for a week. I reached a point in my life where I actually thought “I need something like this”.’

He admits his job resulted in him experiencing anxiety and low moods because he was tasked with dealing with ex-offenders who had taken other people’s lives and drug addicts ‘that can be a danger to you or a danger to themselves.’

He adds: ‘What you take home from that job is that your average person can easily find themselves in very difficult positions. One morning I woke up in bed and actually felt completely frozen, which I guess was a panic attack.

‘The GP essentially said “we can offer you anti-depressants or we can offer you this alternative, this mindfulness course”.’

‘The analogy that I used was when a bird flies through a window and gets trapped inside and tries to fly towards the light, thinking that’s the way out without realising that there’s glass there, and it needs someone to actually open that window.’

Ben, pictured, followed the lives of the resident s of the Isle of Erraid for a week and took party in daily life activities 

‘It felt like the GP opened the window for me. It almost felt like I was able to take a breath out,’ he adds. 

He goes on to say that this revelation has been the ‘catalyst’ that led him to Erraid.  

‘There are a lot of aspects of this community which just fit what my individual needs are,’ he says., before joking that he he has not always been an outdoors man who enjoys chopping wood.

‘I’m sure old friends will look at this and think “wow, this is not the Philip I remember” but actually I think this is the Philip that I always was,’ he says.

During the episode, the ex-social worker says his relationship with money has also changed thanks to his time on the island. 

The island, pictured, is privately owned by a charitable organisation called the Findhorn Foundation

‘I used to worry a lot about money in my past life,’ he tells Ben. ‘I had this attitude on the mainland that every time I got paid, I deserved to treat myself. And I think that’s what kept me going.

‘I never had cuts through my hands, my nails would always be immaculate, I’d go to stupidly expensive hair salons, and spend one to three figures on stupid things.’

He jokes he hasn’t cut his blonde hair since arriving on the island 18 months ago.  

 Katie, one of the residents who has been staying the longest, tells Ben that Phillip was an elusive presence when he first arrived on the island. 

‘I didn’t see so much of him,’ she explains. ‘He missed a few meals, he was quite private. He really came here to get away from life over there on the mainland and I got the feeling “he finds life quite hard and needs a break.”‘

Pictured: A member of the community chopping some wood. Each member receives a small allowance  

Pictured: Annie, a temporary resident who visited the island during Ben’s visit for the show. Even guests of the island are assigned tasks to complete 

Over dinner, another member of the community informs Ben that people tend to come to the island for specific reasons. 

‘People come at crossroads, when they’ve got decisions to make, or they are at an interesting point in their life, they’re exploring that and having a treat being away from the everyday life and taking stock,’ he says.  

While some people decide to leave the island after they’ve lived here for a while, Phillip admits he has ‘no intension of leaving.’   

‘Maybe it wouldn’t have been the right place for me 15 or 20 years ago,’ he says. Maybe I needed to be bumped around like a pinball in a machine before I event reached the point where it now becomes the perfect place for me to be.’  

During his stay, Ben witnesses the community’s celebration of the Spring Equinox, where they dance and sing during a spiritual ceremony.  

Phillip, pictured, worked for 18 years as a social worker, but suffered a burnout when work took a toll on his mental well-being. He’s now moved to Erraid

‘This for me has a real honesty to it, a real integrity,’ the presenter says. ‘It’s a great place to escape but it’s only here to be found when you’re here looking for it and Phillip found it. It found Philip.’ 

Phillip tells Ben he doesn’t plan ahead when it comes to the future.  

‘From time to time I get little flashes of questions around the future but that thought stream used to be a river, but it’s now very much a trickling stream. A lot more under control,’ he says, adding that he now feels ‘free.’

He continues: ‘When you have a very nice dream or a nightmare, you wake up in the morning and you never quite sure if it’s reality for a few moments. My only fear is that one day I’m going to wake up and it would have been a dream.’

‘I spent my whole life worrying, I’m happy where I am now in that moment. Whatever that next step is, it will be the right step for me.’

Ben, who sees the group indulge in some skinny dipping in the freezing sea and goes for a dip – in a swimsuit – himself, says Erraid is the ‘most unusual wild story he has immersed himself into.’

Ben Fogle: New Lives In the Wild airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 5. 

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