Barn Raising

We use Escapology as a metaphor. You probably already knew that. Where Houdini applied his intellect, physical prowess, and showman pizzazz to escape handcuffs and water chambers; we learn to do the same for traps like financial debt, poor schooling, boring day jobs, unsatisfying materialism, commercial dependence, tedious monogamy, and urban lethargy.

I just learned about something called barn raising. You probably knew about that too, but I’m such a city slicker and historical ignoramus that I’d never heard of it before.

It strikes me as a great metaphor for collaboration. If everyone chips in, these big, difficult, potentially expensive things just happen. And later, you can take the opportunity of being together to all get drunk and dance.

I suppose it’s like what Vonnegut used to say about the advantages of extended families.

Maybe there should be a metaphorical barn raising internet community. Twenty people join the community (or a sub-group of that community) and they all pledge their barn raising services to the group. Everyone must chip in to help with a sizable project initiated by one member of the group.

If Fred wants a to lay a patio at his house, everybody comes along and makes the project happen over a pre-planned period of time. If Marge wants to assassinate a major world leader, they all club to together Julius-Caesar style. (I’m just kidding about the assassination, but you get the picture).

It could be destined to failure. Would there be too many freeloaders? Would there be an imbalance in individuals’ skills? I can typeset a book for you, but I’m not the greatest when it comes to damp-proofing a cellar. Food for thought though. An attempt at loosely-organised, mutually-beneficial cooperation in the fashion of barn-raising could be a viable alternative to the usual solution of throwing money at a project and hoping it goes away.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

4 Responses to “Barn Raising”

  1. This exact thing happens in the permaculture movement – it’s called a “permablitz”.

    A whole bunch of people descend upon one person’s backyard for a weekend, and convert it from lawn into a productive food growing area designed along permaculture principles. Sometimes it’s a slightly different kind of project, e.g. building a pizza oven.

    It’s quite loosely organised, but there are some basic rules that make it work. Usually, you’re only eligible to host a permablitz after you’ve contributed to at least 3 yourself.

    The participants are not just giving up a weekend to provide free labour, though. Workshops are usually built into the blitz, so everyone learns new skills. It’s a great way to network with like-minded people. People often end up taking away plant cuttings, spare seedlings, etc as well.

    The people who developed the concept have produced free guides for designers, hosts, participants etc to help ensure the blitz runs smoothly.

    You can read more here:

  2. Hi Darren. This is amazing. Thanks. (You may know it already but there’s a brilliant permaculture-associated publication called ‘The Land’ that’s worth a look).

  3. Moonwaves says:

    People have done something like this in Ireland too as a result of the Irish off-shoot of the River Cottage discussion forum – someone got a polytunnel and ten or twelve others travelled from all over for the day to get it put up in return for lots of tea and sandwiches. Lovely to see happening and I wished I hadn’t already left the country. I think that quite a lot of that kind of thing is happening due to the increased use of the internet whether by connecting with people via blogs or discussion forums.

    The cynic (defeatist?) in me says that it can only go so far though before it becomes so big the taxman starts to take an interest. Hasn’t that happened to a certain extent with the LETTS (I think that’s what it’s called) scheme in the UK, whereby people trade skills for skills rather than for money? But the optimist in me thinks I should make more of an effort to actually get to one of the Tauschring meetings here (Germany) that I found out about over two years ago and still haven’t gotten around to.

  4. Moonwaves says:

    P.S. Did you never see the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? That’s when I found out what a barn-raising was (age 11, IIRC, it was on telly on New Year’s Eve and we were allowed stay up late to watch it ‘cos it was one of my Mum’s favourite films).

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