Meet off-grid Brits dodging energy bill hikes – from family-of-four to City banker



Energy bills are set to rocket as wholesale costs hit record highs but some savvy Brits are dodging the price hikes by going off-grid.

Thousands have already made the switch, so don’t rely on public utilities for electricity, gas or water.

And that’s a move that may well pay off in April when gas and electricity bills are expected to shoot up by 50%.

The looming price crisis is linked to a surge in wholesale energy costs.

A big rise in energy bills is expected on April 1 after the price cap for households on default tariffs jumps.

However, the price hikes won’t affect the 150,000 people in the UK who generate their own power and heating.

Nick Rosen, who has been living off-grid for more than 20 years, reckons the number of people turning their backs on household bills has doubled in a decade.

The author of How to Live Off-Grid and founder of Off-Grid.net said: “Some people go off-grid to save money, others do it because they’ve had enough of consumer society, then there’s people who are doing it for the environment.

“But ultimately, its about freedom.”

Here, we speak to four off-grid Brits who will never again have to worry about expensive energy bills.

Ex-city banker in Portuguese wilderness

Laurence Manchee, pictured with wife Kimberly, reckons he can live like a king on £11,000 a year

After saving £100,000 in two years, former City banker Laurence Manchee went off-grid in 2016.

The 39-year-old and his wife Kimberly, 41, now live in the wilderness in central Portugal.

As part of his new lifestyle, Laurence has to work seven days a week.

But he reckons he can live like a king on just £11,000 a year, which he makes from selling eggs, cheese and meat.

He said: “It’s about living in nature and not having to commute to work.

“We have to make money but we do it in our own time and you don’t need much to live, so you’re not just working to pay rent and the bills. We are now about as far off-grid as you can get and we have everything here now.

“We do everything off the sun through the solar panels.

“You grow your own meat and vegetables and whatever you don’t have can be traded with other people living off-grid.

“You feel much more connected to everything because you are not buying what you need – you make it.

“It’s a healthier lifestyle and it’s much better for the environment.”

Laurence, whose nearest village is Mata Da Rainha, added: “In Portugal, property is so cheap so when people want to do it, they come here.

“It’s ridiculous. When you go to the DIY store, it’s full of English people buying tools to live off-grid.

“You can buy a bit of land in the middle of nowhere and stick a caravan on it for £10,000 so if you’ve got ten grand, you can be mortgage-free.”

Family-of-4 in converted horse box


Matthew Watkinson, 44, wife Charis, 36, and their kids Elsa, seven, and Billy, four, ditched Essex for rural life in Wales
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Image:

instagram.com/beeviewfarming)

Initially, Matthew Watkinson just wanted a nice place to take his kids on holiday when he bought land in Wales in 2011.

But he soon decided to ditch his Essex home and go off-grid.

The 44-year-old now lives in a converted horse box on a farm with wife Charis, 36, and kids Elsa, seven, and four-year-old Billy.

It was created under the Welsh government’s One Planet Development scheme, which allows homes to be built on agricultural land outside normal planning areas if they satisfy certain criteria.

The family grow a lot of their own food, generate electricity from solar and wind power and make gas from food waste.


The family’s idyllic farm
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Image:

instagram.com/beeviewfarming)

They also make money by selling eggs and honey, cleaning and teaching others how to live off-grid.

Former vet Matthew reckons the cost of building the family home, near Newport, Pembrokeshire, was about £30,000.

He says: “We still pay council tax, internet and for mobile phones, but there are zero utility bills. I love it – and getting rid of all those bills is brilliant.”

See more of the Watkinsons’ off-grid life on Instagram @beeviewfarming

Divorcee in an £1,800 caravan

Lindsay Banks sold her house and bought a caravan off Facebook
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Image:

Hull News & Picture)

Self-employed writer Lindsay, 41, lives semi-off grid in an £1,800 caravan.

Before she officially made the switch last June, the mum-of-two struggled to make ends meet.

But Lindsay, who is on Universal Credit, has since cut her bills from over £1,000 a month to £250 in land rent and still has all the mod cons she used to enjoy in her three-bed semi.

Lindsay, 41, who got divorced in 2017, said: “The houses I was looking at cost £800 a month plus bills. I was paying about £140 a month to heat my three-bed semi… the financial pressure was intense.

“There were some landlords that just said no because I am self-employed. I felt discriminated against and thought, ‘Why am I working so hard to pay into a system that feels broken anyway?’”

After buying a caravan on Facebook Marketplace, Lindsay, who is originally from Newcastle, moved to a patch of land near York with her children, who are aged seven and 10.

She said: “Since I’ve moved on site I’ve gone through one Calor gas bottle that cost £60.

“We have mains electric that goes straight into the caravan and I have a lovely electric heater that is 2,000 watts at its max. The cost of electric is included in the rent of £60 a week.

“I don’t have the money to buy my own site right now, but I’m working towards that.”

Tree surgeon and girlfriend living wild

Matthew Plumb with girlfriend Lauren Youngs live stress-free
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Image:

Matthew Plumb)

The thud of bills being shoved through the letterbox is not a sound that troubles Matthew Plumb and his girlfriend Lauren Youngs.

Even if the tree surgeon did receive mail – which he does not – his monthly outgoings for heat, electric, water and rent amount to less than £25.

Matthew, 43, and Lauren, 28, have been living wild in a shepherd’s hut for four years with their cat, Baby.

He said: “It’s mental how much money you can save. I spend nothing on rent, zero on electric as we get all we need from solar panels and about £25 every six weeks on propane gas. I have four pigs that I breed and 20 chickens we use for meat and eggs.”

Matthew told how the couple are also planning for the future and building another room to be a kitchen/lounge.

Speaking from the woods where they live in Monmouthshire, South East Wales, he added: “We want to start a family and for our kids to live a healthier and happier lifestyle than many people get in the modern world.

“More and more people are taking an interest in going off-grid. I think the pandemic has been a wake-up call.”

Follow the couple on Instagram @bleu_jean_ @twometresplumb

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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