Q&A with Sophie Kempin: Regeneration in Portugal
Sophie Kempin, is the founder of Pure Portugal (PP). Our deep connection is due to having a similar drive for environmental regeneration. Our farm is called Quinta Das Abelhas. Seven years ago Phil, one of the initiators of this project, volunteered at a project also called Quinta Das Abelhas, that Sophie owned. Sophie and her partner Andy, gave Phil two bee hives and so the seeds for our collaboration were planted years ago.
Portugal faces many environmental challenges with pine and eucalyptus monoculture and the water and fire challenges, it needs people to return to the land. Here we have a Q&A with Sophie, an inspirational women, with a purpose to support people returning to rural areas to not only regenerate the land but also create work opportunities.
How did PP come about initially? What was the inspiration behind it?
PP originally came about because a few friends who had guest accommodation on their quintas asked me to make a website for them. So initially it was only meant to be a website advertising about 5 holiday rentals! Once the site was published other people started asking if their accommodation could also be advertised, and then we started getting requests to advertise properties for sale. We now have around 1,000 properties for sale and (can you ask Raquel and Daniel) holiday and long-term rentals.
The inspiration was always to promote and support people who are living in a more sustainable way, and to inspire and educate others about how they can themselves live more lightly on the land - even if they're living in a big city. Holiday rentals provide an an income for the quinta owners, and holiday makers can experience an alternative to the usual beach holiday, see a different part of Portugal to the well-known Algarve region, and learn about living in more harmony with nature.
What were you doing before PP was founded?
Living with our 3 children and our dog in a Dodge 50 we'd hastily converted into a camper van (by taking some furniture out of my house and sticking it to the boarded out van with "No More Nails"!). In the summers we travelled between UK festivals providing a by-donation chill out / infospace, and in the winters we travelled around France, Spain and Portugal - until one spring when we decided to stay in Portugal. Before that, I was a local group co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, and prior to that I studied "Rural Resource Development" (a course with lots of diversity all centred around countryside issues such as conservation, law, and planning) for my BSc degree.
Andy was a founder member of Catalyst Collective - helping people to set up Worker and Housing Co-operatives (Pure Portugal is a Worker Co-operative).
What vision did you have for PP when you first started?
Right at the beginning, it was no more than a favour for some friends, so we never really had a "vision" for Pure Portugal, apart from it being something that aligned with our ethics and our desire to see a world based on sustainability, co-operation and trust. We had, of course, fallen in love with Portugal and were well aware of the difficulties and expense of finding land to live on in the UK - especially if you wanted to live in a caravan / tiny home, natural building, or other low-impact dwelling - and were passionate about helping others to do what we had just done - find comparatively cheap land on which to build a home and to live a much more self-sufficient life.
What does your typical day look like?
That's one of the joys of working for Pure Portugal - there is no typical day! At the moment I'm taking a 4 month sabbatical to volunteer at Joanna Kemp Dressage, helping with all the daily tasks on the yard and supporting Jo in developing her business (and of course riding unicorns ;) ). It was through a property sale that I came to be here, as I was offered a horse as part payment for a property sale fee! So last month my wages were paid not in money, but in a beautiful dapple grey Connemara X who's here at the yard.
But, to answer your question, a typical day will usually involve flitting between PP work on the computer, work around the quinta, plus the daily household chores. I believe that flexible working hours are really important and all the team members work like this. Mondays are PP Team Meeting days where we try to get together physically (5 of us live close enough that we do this regularly) and we also use Zoom so the whole team can catch up weekly.
What would you like people to think of when they think of PP?
I'd love if when people are thinking of moving to Portugal, or looking for help and support when they're in Portugal, their first thought is Pure Portugal. I hope they'd see us as we do, a team of people who are passionate about Portugal and about helping people to live their dreams, with lots of experience to share and an understanding of what that involves, as we've all aready done it or are in the process of doing it.
When did you first realise people were really taking notice of pp and it was a business that had legs?
I guess when it started taking over my life and I was spending more hours in front of a computer than out doing what we'd come here to do - live on the land! Fortunately we'd always envisaged having volunteers to help out on the quinta (we'd volunteered ourselves before buying our property and learnt so much) and that enabled me to devote more time to the rapidly growing business.
What has been your biggest/proudest achievement since the the PP journey began?
Aside from all the people we've helped to find their dream home, what makes me proud is looking at the amazing PP team - now up to 8 members! I still find it quite hard to believe that writing a website for some friends has 14 years later grown into a business that supports 8 people. PP has always been about supporting people - be that to find a property, or a service, or to provide a job. It's never been about making a profit, but always about sharing the wealth. That we seem to be achieving that, albeit in a small way, makes me really very happy.
If you could go back fifteen years and give yourself one piece of advice, what it be?
Oh, that's a tough one! I'm a very firm believer in "everything is as it should be" so I'm not sure I'd change anything.
Any new projects in mind you can give us a hint about?
We've been talking about a possible "Pure Portugal Community Fund" so we can give more support to projects and individuals working towards sustainability, but we've not got a clear idea yet of how that could look. Ideas are welcomed!
What will PP look like in another fifteen years?
Things I'd really like to develop are our partnerships with other businesses and services, so we'd have a much more comprehensive Services Directory. We've always believed in "be the change you want to see in the world" and moving away from a competitive business environment into more collaboration and co-operation is something very important to PP.
I'd also, as mentioned above, like to involve the PP community / network in funding for sustainable projects. I'd really love to see us having a greater influence on water retention landscapes and reforestation as I feel these are two of the most important issues here in Portugal.
Although we are of course deeply passionate about helping people find their dream property - selling property has never really been the main function of PP! Or at least maybe I should say that our role is about so much more than selling property. What we're truly passionate about is being instrumental in seeing those properties brought back to life in a sustainable way, and enabling people to live a much better quality of life whilst having a lower environmental impact (even having an environmental benefit!). This has always been the driving force behind Pure Portugal - playing a small part in helping to create a better world for people and planet - this ethos permeates the whole business, and we're always seeking out new ways that we're able to do this.
Thank you Sophie. To read more about Pure Portugal click here.