Roger Tempest is the custodian of Broughton Hall Estate, a 3,000-acre plot of land in Yorkshire, England. Along with his partner, Paris, and a hard-working team, he has transformed the centuries-old estate into a sanctuary for the environment and for human wellbeing. Broughton hosts over 50 businesses and thousands of visitors each year who come for retreats, holidays, film projects, and more. Every detail of Broughton, from the rooms of the state-of-the-art Avalon Wellbeing Centre to the name of each building, has been mindfully and intentionally planned to fit into the cohesive mission of bringing people closer to their full potential. Read on for our full interview with Roger, where we take a deep dive into ethical business practices and a refreshing approach to building community.
- How have you and Paris influenced each other to build a continuously evolving ethos and business practice?
Paris and I influence each other in a way that spirals upward; day by day for the past nine years, we have quietly built together all our thinking, opinions of the direction we are going in, and lessons from each retreat and event at Broughton Hall. We are continually creating this mind, body, and spirit landscape. Sometimes it requires bravery. The “Avalon” in “Avalon Wellbeing Centre” actually means “an island of spiritual refuge,” and that’s what we’re really creating: a house of transformation. We build on it each year through our travels, discussions, and meetings with influential people (facilitators, philosophers, spiritual thinkers, and community members). Paris has been a big influence on my life, and hopefully I am also an influence on hers.
- What does “rewilding” mean, and how have you implemented it at Broughton?
“Rewilding” effectively means letting nature do its own thing, cutting down completely on human intervention. The rewilding program at Broughton was triggered by the fact that when you look at the helicopter view of what we have been doing with nature and agriculture and the whole environment, it is so blatantly obvious that something needs to be done to it. If we poison our seas, rivers, and lands, it’s naturally going to have a negative effect. It’s so basic, and yet we’ve done so little about it. So, this year, we became the largest new tree planting scheme in England, and we planted 50,000 trees. Six percent of our region was woodlands, but we plan to be 30%. Why? Biodiversity dropped so rapidly in the 21st century; for example, there are 4-5 different moths and butterflies per acre when there used to be 50. By planting trees, we encourage more insect life, bird life, and predators. We’ve already seen the effects this first year and know that they will improve year after year. There will also be less flooding into valleys and cities as well, which is an issue in our area.
Within the 3,000 acres of Broughton’s sanctuary, we not only have the outer nature (which is manifesting in all that we and nature does in the physical form), but also an inner nature. We are very interested in rewilding the spirit and inner nature so that we get back more to our natural state rather than living distorted, half-lived lives in a distorted civilization. So, we “return to source” in many ways.
- In your view, are there ways to encourage a culture of rewilding even in cities?
The rewilding movement is really taking off. Even though people may be concerned about what is happening in the Amazon, if you go in a helicopter and look at England, you will see so many roads, industrial farming facilities, etc. Rewilding can be adopted in cities by choosing particular architecture. You can even forage remarkable amounts of herbs and produce in cities if you know what you are doing.
- Over 50 businesses call Broughton Hall Estate home. What kind of ethos do you encourage while selecting and providing space for these businesses?
We repurposed and reused many buildings that were incompatible with 21st century life. We brought enterprise back into this rural parish and ended up with 52 companies employing 700 people. This creates many secondary effects, not only to reuse, restore, and save the buildings, many of them historic, but it also creates a community effect with a new economic system. Pubs, churches, and schools become more busy, creating an upward-spiraling energy. Enterprise is the engine house of any rural community, and so we build on that strongly and try to look after, in any way we can, our enterprise community. We are trying to cluster transformational, sustainable businesses. For example, we have the Center for Crisis Psychology, that looks after people who have gone through traumas, shock, disasters, and tragedies. We also have a florist who specializes in well-being. We have a business that specializes in conscious tech and the paranormal. This parish has a very vibrant and dynamic community with social, cultural, and economic equilibrium.
- Describe what it’s like working with Andrew Harvey, and what his role is for the estate.
Paris and I regard Andrew Harvey as one of the leading spiritual philosophers living in this age. His sacred activism and view on the modern world is articulated in a remarkable way. When we were first working on Avalon Wellbeing Center, he came and stayed, giving us the incredible philosophical basis that introduced us to all sorts of ideas and thoughts. I remember having a conversation with him and Lawrence Blum about what was “breaking down” and what was “breaking through” and his reflections on civilization and the human constructs which work within society. Out of this, new principles came across very strongly: varying from St. Francis, “in giving you receive,” to making sure that with privilege, there comes great responsibility.
We recognized that the key to flourish as a human being is personal responsibility and free will. We have been deprived of a full life in many ways through circumstances of being distracted by the modern materialistic society, basing our lives on what we own and possess rather than our inner values.
So Andrew Harvey was a catalyst for developing our manifesto and helping us to articulate all our thoughts and putting into practice what we preach. We respect and honor his role immensely.
- You have worked hard for many years to restore Broughton Hall to its full potential. What have been some of the most challenging tasks?
Setting the strategy was initially a major challenge. You have to make a lot of right decisions in the beginning for your vision to manifest later on. It takes many years to develop this sort of metaphorical field where people can have an experience on different levels. Not only do you have to restore a couple hundred buildings, but it also takes time to develop a reputation. To build the infrastructure, including projects on restoration and interior design, requires up to 100 people. Thus, people management is also a necessary skill, and we are especially intentional about creating the right working atmosphere.
- What have been some of the most rewarding tasks?
The most rewarding aspect of this job and of being the custodian of Broughton Hall Estate is just seeing the effect it has on people. We frequently have people tell us that a retreat has been life-changing for them, and we have seen people come to Broughton and break down in tears, saying that they have been waiting for this and couldn’t find it anywhere else. It’s the internal change that Broughton helps people bring about in their lives that is deeply rewarding.
- What is the benefit of letting out Broughton’s land to grazing sheep?
We’ve had a variety of stock, from beef cattle and dairy cows to sheep. We aim to have grazing herbivores that assist in recovery of the natural landscape, and we want to ensure that everything is organic and the animals are looked after, with no intensive farming, chemicals, or fertilizers at play. There will always be a low density of stock to avoid intensive agriculture.
- Do you have any provisions, or do you plan to have any provisions, that will increase the diversity of people who can interact with the estate?
We are very proud of the diversity of activity and people who integrate into our lives at Broughton. Diversity happens naturally and is not necessarily something we have to force (although we do, of course, encourage it). Our team, for instance, varies from Libyan to Indian origin. There is no room for prejudice at Broughton. Every human being, whatever their religion, race, or particular persuasion, is welcome. The basic human values of kindness and generosity are extended to all of the community.
- How do you market a spiritual approach to environmental and celebratory events, when those who visit may have never before engaged in spiritual activity?
On many occasions, we effectively introduce people to a level of spirituality. We do not aim to be missionaries in any single direction, but rather introduce people to a different way of living. We can take the horse to water, but we don’t make it drink. Our range of retreats introduce different aspects of personal development. We don’t discriminate against any particular religion, and whatever faith people have, we celebrate. The whole spiritual path can be varied. The past century has particularly been void of a spiritual sense of purpose, and so we encourage being open to all forms of spiritual practices. It is very rare for people, if any, to become agitated or disagreeable about it. Most people welcome any help on their spiritual path. There is true beauty in watching people grow.
- Who inspires you?
Mother Teresa is one of my foremost inspirations. My mother devoted much of her life to helping Mother Teresa’s organization all the way around the world. I have witnessed such selflessness and kindness as I have worked at homeless centers worldwide and seen the work they are doing. Other inspirations include spiritual leaders and influencers like Rumi, Meister Eckhard, and Hildegard, alongside many of the modern spiritual leaders such as Andrew Harvey who are encouraging this dialogue.
- Broughton Hall Estate is filled with thousands upon thousands of curated books. If there was one book you would suggest everyone read, what would it be?
We do have thousands upon thousands of books, both old and new, and we continuously evolve our collection. My favorite book at the moment is Michael Slinger’s The Untethered Soul, which I think is a very good book for anyone to read on the spiritual journey.
- Describe Avalon and its philosophy.
Avalon Wellbeing is all about creating a place of transformation for people, a home where they can have a safe and trusted space in order to reach their full potential. It is a place dedicated to transformation and curating a wide range of retreats which go deep into what motivates us, our sense of purpose, our belief system, and our values. Avalon is about hope and becoming a force for good. Mother Teresa said that God gave us the gift of life, and what we become is our gift to God. And so we hope Avalon can become a breeding ground of hope, positive change, and becoming a force for good.
Avalon has a range of uses. It has a spacious sanctuary for large gatherings, a pool suite, and yoga rooms. It provides the crucible for all the work we do. It is surrounded by 3,000 acres of land that provides place activation: we have a fire temple, a labyrinth, moon baths, woodland sauna, wild swimming, and more, all helping people on their particular personal journeys.
- Likewise, describe Utopia and all that it stands for.
Utopia is a hub for food. We have hundreds of guests each week, if not more, and we try to provide them with the most nutritious and healthy plant-based food. We try to get rid of all the processed food, instead providing ecologically and sustainably sound food that restores, heals, and nourishes the body. We have no alcohol and very limited meat. The name “Utopia” came from Thomas More’s book of the same name, and it shows that we are trying to provide a beautiful haven within this mad world.
- How does Broughton Hall Estate fit into Yorkshire culture – what harmonies and tensions can you identify?
We are very proud of our Yorkshire heritage, as it is a very unique culture. It is friendly, grounded, and down-to-Earth. Avalon and Broughton Hall Sanctuary sit well within Yorkshire. I find the Dales landscape to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and a very high-quality environment in which to live. But it does take effort and human endeavor from all the individuals involved to make this work. This culture is so deep, rich, and long-lasting, and people of the Yorkshire community have beautiful hearts.
- Many people are required to run an estate as comprehensive and large as Broughton Hall Estate. What would you like to say about the team surrounding you?
We have a fantastic team at Broughton of employed and self-employed people. We are about 100 people, with many advisors and sub-contractors. Quietly over the years, it does change, but many people have stayed a very long time. It makes me wonder how the modern ashram should really form itself. Our idea is that we are like a metaphorical field where people can plug in on whatever level they wish: whether it is long-term, short-term, for a particular retreat or course, for a holiday, or for a well-being or nature recovery experience. They can then take their experiences back into their own worlds.
- By traveling, inviting foreign film crews to the estate, reading often, and forging connections with people from all walks of life, you have interacted with many different cultures. What unifying threads of philosophy regarding the environment have you discovered?
We are very blessed to have many international visitors from different cultures. We have filmmakers, people on holiday, people on retreats, and visitors from indigenous tribes in Brazil and Guatemala. It becomes obvious that the common bond is our humanity. Even though we may vary in skin color and religion, it doesn’t really matter because the human spirit rises above all these differences. We have the common bond of being human on Earth. As Andrew Harvey says, there is a rebirthing of humanity quietly occurring, but it is a free choice. Whether or not a full rebirthing will really happen depends on our own endeavors and our strength of will.
We try to take on the best and discard the worst from all the different philosophies around the world, and generally head in the direction of hope and meaningful living. This requires discretion and discrimination between bad and good. In some ways, the world is artificially separated by geographical boundaries, even though we are all human and have been brought into this life by a creator. We have to live in the best way we can intuitively.
- What’s next, both for yourself and for Broughton?
We will continue this momentum of change and try to stay this strong force for good. As we develop our retreats, our online courses, and our experiences, it’s all coming from the heart and not driven by hard economics. Our heart lies in being of service to the world. We have so many different schemes, from the newly established New Life Center, which treats addiction, to continuing our sustainability journey and pursuing a future with no oil. We will continue to develop a wide range of measures to respect nature that can be incorporated into all the things we do. We will stand up for freedom of choice and personal responsibility. It feels as though it is a movement yet to be defined, with aims and objectives that come from the heart and cannot clearly be expressed, but it’s a knowingness and inner intuition that humanity needs to move into the right direction in order to survive and to savor this life. So we walk with hope into the future.