Inspiring Individual: Nick Rosen
by Benjamin Salt
Energy bills are soaring and many people feel disconnected from the natural environment. Benjamin Salt speaks to off-grid pioneer Nick Rosen, who shares his story and shows a genuine passion to help others make the shift to a greener future.
Have you ever longed for freedom from the grid of power that underpins our lives? Free from spiralling energy bills and reliance on fossil fuels, or even just relief from hectic commuter schedules. Escaping the daily grind may seem a distant dream relegated to a small section of society, but living an off-grid life may be more attainable than you think. Eco journalist Nick Rosen has dedicated the last five years of his career attempting to show how this is an achievable goal for everyone, even you and I. Many have now had a new lease of life as fulltime off-gridders, all thanks to the words of wisdom and how-to guides contained within the pages of Nick’s best-selling book, How To Live Off-Grid.
In the beginning...
Nick, the son of a scientist, began his career back in the late ‘80s freelancing for his “local newspapers” The Times and The Guardian – but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that his first big contribution to the canon of eco journalism was published. While working for a magazine entitled Undercurrents, he teamed up with the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett to found eco magazine Tomorrow. Despite fantastic publicity, problems with distributors meant the publication failed to reach the heights its founders had hoped for. However Tomorrow’s anti-consumerist message, pro-environmentalist articles and radical decision to omit any form of advertising sowed the seeds of what Nick would later embark upon.
It was from these seeds, and a great deal of life experience, that How To Live Off-Grid first sprouted and subsequently blossomed. “It all started with me buying a place in Majorca as a second home,” says Nick. Due to his new sundrenched shack residing high in the Balearic foothills, he had to find an alternative way to power his mini paradise away from the established grid of energy. “In essence I became a part-time off-gridder; I liked being half in the system and half out of it,” he reminisces. Kitting out his home with gas bottles, early solar panels and a water tank, while using his car as an electricity source, he was able to generate enough power to run his Majorcan retreat. This in turn got him thinking, if it was possible to live a self-sufficient life on that island, what was stopping people from doing it back in the British countryside, small hamlets or even central London?
It was this that inspired the book. “I realised that it was an amazing option for everybody, that anybody could do this,” recalls Nick. “You could live somewhere cheap, almost free without working as hard, without having to worry about your career or how you’re going to make a living. I wanted to tell everybody about it.” So, with the aid of his trusty campervan, he set off to explore and document the thriving off-grid subculture that was infiltrating the length and breadth of the nation. Taking in everything from eco communes beside Welsh valleys to a houseboat moored upon the River Lee in inner city London, the different types of off-gridder and their ways of implementing their own alternative power supplies were endless. “It was staggering to see how many people were living this way secretly and privately because it’s so hard to get planning permission,” recalls Nick.
What his book has done is inspire a mini revolution with visible results. Many who saw going off-grid as an unachievable life-style were able to read first hand accounts of how it was possible, enticing them to also take the plunge and sever their own connections with the grid. This impact on the subculture has not been lost on Nick. “Since my book came out the number of people living around the River Lee and nearby canals in Hackney for example has gone up 10 times,” he divulges. “If you go down there now, instead of there being 20 or 30 boats there’s a couple of hundred with more arriving all the time. My book has had a direct effect on that and I’m very proud of it.”
Although Nick wasn’t the first to go off-grid, he was the first to bring the phenomenon to a mass audience, something he continues to do via his position as editor of www.off-grid.net and also follow up book Off The Grid: True Independence In Modern America. The website has proven particularly popular. Acting as a community hub for the off-grid population, it is a place where people can find others to go off-grid with as well as read news and personality pieces. Under his steady stewardship the site is about to undergo a thorough relaunch, becoming more of a user’s manual on how to adopt the off-grid way of life.
Looking to the future, Nick has his eyes set on campaigning and inspiring the off-grid movement further. “What I’m trying to do is bring together a team of people to make a move to off-grid living easily viable,” he reveals. “I’m in conversation with local authorities that are interested in bringing cheap housing and employment to their areas and I am trying to build a team of lawyers, architects, engineers, agriculturists and builders to try and make this a reality.” With big plans already firmly in motion and a passion for the cause still raging in his belly, take a leaf from this eco-pioneer’s book and embrace the off-grid revolution.