Welcome to the village where there is no TV, divorce or debt – but also strict regulations

It seems like utopia. In the tiny village of Darvell, near Robertsbridge, a community of 300 people live idyllic lives. There is no crime, debt or homelessness.

Children are not glued to screens as there are no televisions, computers or mobile phones. Everyone has a job, but no one earns a salary. Everything is provided for the inhabitants, from groceries to clothes.

This self-sufficient community runs its own farm, orchard, kitchen, laundry, schools and even a multi-million-pound business which makes children’s toys and furniture.

Living as disciples of Jesus, they relinquish all possessions, money and status when they take their vow of commitment.

But there are strict rules and restrictions around same-sex relationships, divorce and what members wear.

The women avoid fashion of any sort, adopting a uniform of traditional peasant dress, with headscarves, loose shirts, plaid dresses and skirts. Many decisions about the residents’ lives are made for them, including what job they do and where they live.

Bernard Hibbs, his wife Rachel and their three children live in a shared house with several other families, including Bernard’s parents. Most of their meals are taken with the other residents in a large communal dining room where they eat, sing and worship together.

Bernard said: “My parents joined the community when I was nine. I had a pretty normal childhood before, but coming to the Bruderhof was amazing. It is a great place to be a kid. I remember crying every time we left after a visit here.

“You have to make some sacrifices to live here – that is clear. Everyone joins here knowing that.

“It might sound hard, but once you do it, you realise how happy you can be living a life where you own nothing.

“I live in a place where everyone shares everything and where everyone is needed and valued for who they are. There are no rich or poor. We try to put into practice Jesus’s command to love our neighbour.”

“Many of our friends talk about social media and how it affects their children, and how they worry about it. They see our kids running around outside, swimming, climbing trees and playing with their friends. Most people would like something similar for their children.”

The Bruderhof began in 1920 in Germany. A group of young people had a vision for a new society where they could follow Jesus completely.

But when the Nazis confiscated their property they moved to England.

After 50 years of living in virtual secrecy the community allowed a BBC documentary crew to film their lives.

Hardy and his family left the Bruderhof when he was a teenager but he has now returned. He said: “As a teenager, I occasionally felt like I was missing out on the lifestyle that many of my peers who were living outside the community had. Like any teen, I tried to push the boundaries because I felt like the Bruderhof was perhaps a little too strict in certain areas.

“I felt like I was missing out on the ability to make decisions for myself. I wanted the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do with my life.

“I got to a point where I had to decide what my life’s priorities were going to be. I felt strongly that I needed to commit every part of my life to Christ, and I didn’t feel like I could fully do this while still pursuing a selfish existence in ‘normal’ society.”

The documentary followed Hannah, 18, as she ventured outside the closeted community for the first time with a paid job in London.

She said: “It was a good experience, and I am glad that I did it. But I missed my parents and my friends. At the Bruderhof, you always have people around to do stuff with – not so in London.

“I played video games, but mainly I spent my time hanging out with people my age. I was never really into watching a screen all day long – personal preference – I find it unproductive and unhealthy.

“But I found a lot of young people who were really happy to just be together and have a face to face relationship.

“Membership in the Bruderhof is not a trivial decision so I will spend the next few years considering. But it is where I want to be right now.”

Bernard said: “Regardless of whether the Bruderhof is for them or not, this documentary should give people hope that it is possible to live differently.”

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