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A bold TV experiment sent 24 people to live off the land with no modern trappings

The Western world has more wealth and more choice than ever before. Yet, with higher rates of depression and suicide, it’s also more miserable. So it’s no surprise many of us hanker after a simpler life – no traffic jams or technology – and the pandemic seemed to strengthen that feeling.

But how would we really fare? A fascinating new show on Channel 4 aims to find out. Called The Simpler Life, it sees 24 modern Brits try to live like an Amish community – the Christian group who live a modest life of self-sufficiency, mostly in the American Midwest – over a six-month period.

Over the course of the project, the community – which includes a rapper, a former soldier and a social media content creator – live without mains electricity, gas or any form of technology on a 40-acre farm in Devon complete with a lake and a wood.

Channel 4’s new show The Simpler Life, challenges 24 modern Brits to live like the Amish community on a 40-acre farm in Devon for six months. Pictured: Some of the contestants, with Lloyd and Edna Miller in the centre

They have to harvest more than three acres of hay – without mechanisation – as well as build a barn and a shelter for pigs and wash their clothes and dishes without modern appliances. 

Luckily, Amish farmer Lloyd Miller came to the UK with his wife Edna and three of their six children to show them how it’s done.

The six-episode series is hugely entertaining – a sort of Big Brother but with campfires – but less so for some of the guinea pigs. While the majority were happier by the end, some weren’t.

Londoner Penny, 44, a former PA for professional footballers, was one who struggled. She decided to take part with her two daughters Dilara, 15, and Azara, nine, after being caught in an earthquake in Turkey in 2020, and then catching Covid, which left her seriously ill in hospital.

Londoner Penny, 44, (pictured) who decided to take part with her two daughters Dilara, 15, and Azara, nine, admitted that she would secretly cry most days throughout the TV experiment

Londoner Penny, 44, (pictured) who decided to take part with her two daughters Dilara, 15, and Azara, nine, admitted that she would secretly cry most days throughout the TV experiment 

‘Things needed to change,’ she says. ‘The kids and I spent too much time on our devices and I was looking for something completely different.’

Although she grew to love aspects of the experiment, like the peace and quiet of the countryside, she hated the clothes she had to wear and living with other people.

‘During rows, I kept finding myself in the middle of them,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t think I’d have trouble with anyone, but I have set ways of doing things. The washing up wasn’t done properly, so I started doing ours separately and kept it in our room. I would secretly cry most days; I was a nervous wreck.’

In contrast, it was a life-changing experience for 23-year-old barman Kevin from Wigan. ‘Before I went in, I was in a lot of pain with colitis [an inflammation of the colon]. I was underweight and had a real lack of confidence,’ he says. 

Kevin, 23, (pictured) from Wigan, who was underweight and suffering pain before taking part in the experiment, claims the experience has turned his life around

Kevin, 23, (pictured) from Wigan, who was underweight and suffering pain before taking part in the experiment, claims the experience has turned his life around

‘Being in this farmhouse, working hard and eating healthily totally turned my life around.’

He became close to the Miller family and is going to see them in Ohio for a wedding. Since leaving, he’s got his first girlfriend and is hoping to get a job in radio. The only blight was Penny. 

‘She was so negative,’ he says, ‘that I struggled to be around her.’

For farmer Lloyd, the project proved rewarding. ‘In this age, everything is ‘me, me, me’,’ he says. 

‘It’s hard to put other people first. Our hope is that we were sowing seeds for them to take back to their lives. What we have is priceless.’  

The Simpler Life starts Tuesday, 9.15pm, Channel 4.

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