Former social campaigner decided to "live the change"

British woman tells Ben Fogle why she moved her family to a remote farm in New Zealand where she raises her daughters ‘without rules’ or formal education – and insists they absorb all they need to know from daily life

  • Lucy and Tim AitKenRead live in a yurt in New Zealand with their two daughters 
  • The climate change campaigner said she felt there was not enough progress 
  • Decided to ‘live the change’ and sold her house to buy yurt and 25-acres of land 
  • Raises daughters Ramona and Juno without rules and home-schools them

A former climate change campaigner who was frustrated that her efforts were leading nowhere has revealed why she decided to quit her job and move her family to New Zealand where her children can live ‘without rules’. 

In tonight’s episode of Ben Fogle’s New Lives In The Wild on Channel 5, British-born Lucy AitkenRead explains how she and her husband Tim sold their London home and moved to a remote part of New Zealand where they live off the £14,000 a year she makes from blogging about their lifestyle. 

She spends her day with her two daughters Ramona and Juno, or working on the 25-acre farm she bought with her husband Tim, a New Zealander she met during her studies and married in 2005, with the profit from selling their Camberwell house in 2013. 

In the 9pm show, she reveals she decided to raise her daughters on ’empathy’ rather than rules, leaving them to fend for themselves most of the day with only a few safety restrictions. 

She home-schools Ramona, 9, and Juno, 6, but does not ‘sit them down’ for lesson time and insists that the learning opportunities which arise naturally in their daily lives span all the traditional school subjects. 

Lucy and Tim AithenRead qui their jobs, sold their house and left the UK in 2013 live in a yurt in New Zealand with their two daughters, Ramona (left) and Juno (right). They are featured on tonight’s episode of Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild on Channel 5 at 9pm

The family live off the land and cultivate a wide range of vegetables and plants. They also keep hens and chicken, which Ramona and Juno look after, and collect their eggs.

The couple also plan to build an orchard and rely on the help of their fellow off-grid friends who live nearby to help out. 

Ben is impressed with how comfortable the yurt is, noting it is powered by solar panels, but is somewhat baffled by their unconventional parenting. 

‘We live with family rhythms rather than schedules,’ Lucy tells the adventurer. 

‘We’ve got a basic rule of not hurting each other, but apart from that, we don’t really have rules we have a lot of conversations. 

Ben, a father-of-three, is not immediately convinced by Lucy’s argument, saying: ‘I’m now imagining my children living in your house. They would stay in their pyjamas all day, they would eat chocolate for breakfast. 

Ben is especially interested in the fact Lucy home-schools her two daughters, and wonders how they can learn about biology and history 

‘They would do everything that they want to do. Does that mean that if Juno and Ramona, if that’s what they choose, are they allowed to do that?’

Lucy beams as she replies: ‘Yeah, they could do that.’  

That’s a very interesting thing in society is that we usually don’t trust our kids to make good decisions for themselves.’

She then goes on to further explain the non-conventional approach to parenting she and Tim use. 

‘So it starts when they’re crawling, and we trust them to interact with their environment,’ she says.  

‘We’ll often go three to four hours and we wouldn’t have seen the kids around the farm.’ 

Pictured: Ben with Jim and Lucy AithenRead with daughters Ramona and Juno. Lucy, who was raised by Salvation Army ministers, explains she was raised with a sense of agency, to fight injustice in the world

The two girls are not allowed to go to the river by themselves, but otherwise are left to explore their surrounding as they please. They are also very self-sufficient, cooking breakfast and feeding their chickens with little parental supervision. 

Lucy admits she has the freedom to raise her children in this way because she has the luxury of time, not working a traditional nine-to-five job, and says she is ‘extremely privileged’ to get to do so. 

However, she adds: ‘We do live an incredible simple life. ‘We’ve never bought our children a new pair of clothes ever in their lives, we don’t buy them new toys.’   

‘A lot of people thing the way we parents is wacko and really extreme,’ she later adds. 

‘The kind of empathetic and connection-based parenting is inimitably related to the kind of world we want to see. 

Because if people were raised with this kind of empathy, they’re much more likely to be empathetic when they’re older, so for me it’s very much about creating the beautiful word we want to live in,’ she explains to Ben. 

After years of campaigning for climate change awareness, Lucy explains she felt her efforts were leading nowhere, which pushed her to ‘living the change’ rather than just campaigning for it. Pictured with her family in the New Zealand wilderness

Later on in the episode, while the girls are drawing, Lucy explains she also adopted a creative approach to schooling, teaching her daughters not through sit down lessons, but letting them follow their own interests. 

When Ben asks how the girls can learn to ready, count and write, she laughs: ‘Those are usually the thing people think about when they say “What about curriculum?”.’ 

She explains that instead of having dedicated time for reading or maths, she believes these issues come up naturally as the girls go about their day, citing Ramona trying to write her a card earlier that day. 

Ben then asks how such an experience can realistically widen the girls’ horizons or how they learn about biology and history if they’re not in a classroom.     

‘In my own experience, all these topics permeate everyday life, so in just an hour of our day, we’d basically cover all of those topics,’ Lucy answers. 

But Ben continues to make his point, saying his son was ‘super excited’ about Vikings after learning about them at school.  

‘That, I think, is what he gets from the education system,’ he says, ‘is learning things I would not necessarily have touched on or thought about.’ 

The mother-of-two explains she wants to raise empathetic children and does not have strict rules about how her daughters should behave, which surprises Ben

But while Lucy understands Ben’s point, she feels strongly that going out of the farm, meeting new people and doing lots of activities with her children is a good way to open their mind and hearts.

Lucy is driven by a big sense of agency she got from her own parents, who were Salvation Army Ministers. For this reason she dedicated her London life to helping others, and joining several social changes movements.

She was arrested twice for demonstrating, but this did not shake her beliefs. 

Lucy worked as a social campaigner for the charity Oxfam for five years, but explains she eventually grew frustrated by the little change she witnessed when it came to the climate change crisis. 

‘Watching the climate change issue I’d seen very little movement on that in my five years and definitely started to feel a little sense of burnout,’ she says. 

‘People that have the power to make a huge difference are not doing it despite all of our work trying to convince them.’

It was this that persuaded Lucy to focused her energy into simply living the change rather than campaigning for the change.

This led her and husband Tim to embark on a camper van trip in 2013 after quitting both their jobs and selling their house, which eventually led them to New Zealand. 

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



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