Muslim farming family used a CHILDREN'S BOOK to build their home

Muslim Oxford academics reveal how they sold their house for £130,000 to set up the UK’s first organic halal farm and used a CHILDREN’S BOOK as a guide to build a home for their family-of-seven from straw and mud

  • Ruby and Lutfi Radwan set up halal Willowbrook Farm in Oxfordshire in 2002 
  • Sold their home for £130,000 and build new one themselves on 46 acres of land
  • Used a children’s book Harry Builds a House by Derek Radford for guidance
  • Now look after hens, ducks, sheep and goat, produce meat and their own veg 
  • A Muslim family who left city life behind to start a farm from scratch and produce sustainable halal meat told Ben Fogle how they built their house using a children’s book on tonight’s episode of New Lives in the Wild. 

    In the show, which airs at 9pm on Channel 5, Lutfi  and Ruby Radwan, two Londoners turned Oxford University academics turned farmers, welcomed Ben on Willowbrook Farm, a 46-acres holding they bought for £130,000 after selling their house in 2002.

    The parents-of-five live on the farm with their children, aged 16 to 31, and look after hens, milking goats, ducks and sheep, as well as alpacas. They live off their own meat and the vegetables they grow on the farm, which is the first and only organic halal farm in the UK. 

    Lutfi, who was inspired to get away from the city after a research trip to Sudan in the noughties, revealed the whole family pitched in to build their home on the farm, which is made of mud, clay and straw sourced from the holding. 

    The father-of-five added the family used the children’s book Harry Builds a House by Derek Radford for guidance as they laid the foundations for their home, building it in just two years. 

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    On tonight's New Lives in the Wild, Lutfi and Ruby Radwan, two Londoners turned Oxford University academics turned farmers, welcomed Ben Fogle, left on Willowbrook Farm, a 46-acres holding they bought for £130,000 after selling their house in 2002

    On tonight’s New Lives in the Wild, Lutfi and Ruby Radwan, two Londoners turned Oxford University academics turned farmers, welcomed Ben Fogle, left on Willowbrook Farm, a 46-acres holding they bought for £130,000 after selling their house in 2002

    The couple used clay, mud, straw and sand to build their own house and looked after the electricals and plumbing themselves

    The couple used clay, mud, straw and sand to build their own house and looked after the electricals and plumbing themselves 








    Two decades on, Lutfi and Rubi’s children are all invested in the farm and its future, but admit they have encountered racism because of ‘how they look’. 

    Meanwhile, whilst their parents said they don’t want to pressure their children into taking on the farm, for middle son Halil, 28, and his wife, Lamia, the ‘overwhelming’ reality of looking after the holding has just set in. 

    Ben was deeply impressed with the family’s home, which is located in what he called ‘quintessential British countryside. 

    The house was built using clay, mud and straw all sourced by the family on their land, bought at the turn of the millennium.

    The whole family got involved in the building, with Lutfi admitting they had to learn on the job, especially with the plumbing and the electrics. 

    He told Ben how they relied on Harry Builds a House by Derek Radford, which tells the story of a hippo and his friends building a home, in order to build their own abode. 

    Lutfi said the family used Harry Builds a House by Derek Radford to build their own home

    Lutfi said the family used Harry Builds a House by Derek Radford to build their own home 

    He joked the ‘wonderful’ children’s book is ‘very detailed’ and taught the family how to lay their pipes. 

    Ben said he didn’t know if the family was ‘pulling his leg,’ but soon realised they were serious. He asked them if they had found building a house from scratch ‘daunting. 

    ‘Not daunting, exciting,’ Ruby said, albeit admitting building the house took a strain on the couple and that they ‘almost fell out of love’ because of it. 

    The house which took two years to build according to Lutfi and five according to Ruby, is a fully realised building with a sewage system, several rooms, a functioning kitchen and a large lounge overlooking the farms. 

    The couple live in the main house with three of their five children, including Camilla, 21, who looks after the farm’s horses and Ali, their youngest, 16, who is learning his way around farming. 

    The two eldest sons, Adam, 31 and Halil, 28, live with their own family on other houses built around the holding. The fifth child did not appear in the programme. 

    Ben learned about Lutfi and Ruby's sustainable farm, which produces halal meat and makes a limited profit

    Ben learned about Lutfi and Ruby’s sustainable farm, which produces halal meat and makes a limited profit 

    Lutfi, a father-of-five, said he does not want to pressure his children in taking over the farm once he is too old

    Lutfi, a father-of-five, said he does not want to pressure his children in taking over the farm once he is too old 

    During his stay, Ben slept in a caravan parked on the holding and learned from Ruby and Lutfi that they too stayed in caravans in the first few years on the farm while they built their home. 

    Lutfi explained the family had very little money when they first arrived because they spent all the proceeds of their house sale on buyling the land and their first flock of chickens. 

    Nearly 20 years on, however, the farm is a thriving entreprise.

    Lutfi, who oversees any of his children’s undertaking on the farm, explained to Ben that being Muslim, the family produce Halal meat, which means ‘correct,’ ‘pure’; and ‘organic’ in the Quran. 

    He said: ‘The welfare of animals is very much part of the halal process.’

    Rubi said the family is making a limited income from the farm but that it is enough, and added she'd die looking after her vegetable patch

    Rubi said the family is making a limited income from the farm but that it is enough, and added she’d die looking after her vegetable patch 

    He said halal meat makes you ‘conscious you’re taking a life at that point’, and that the family make sure their animals are calm before they kill them and say a prayer for them.  

    This idea for a country life and the couple’s curiosity over where their food comes from began during a year they spent in Sudan doing research for Oxford University.   

    ‘The germ of the idea was working in Sudan. We had gone to live there for a year with two children at the time,’ Lutfi said. 

    ‘We reflected upon the whole experience,’ Ruby agreed, adding the couple had a wakeup call while visiting a Sudanese market where they were asked which sheep they wanted to kill in order to eat its meat.  

    ‘We’re both Londoners, we moved from London to Oxford where we had a young family, and we were more connected with the environment,’ Lutfi said. 

    Camilla, 21, lives on the farm with her parents but said she does not feel pressured to go into farming

    Camilla, 21, lives on the farm with her parents but said she does not feel pressured to go into farming

    ‘We moved away from the urban life to the rural life, I guess it was a natural progress.’

    The couple admitted that starting the farm while building their house and looking after their young children had been ‘exhausting.’ 

    ‘We’d come and just collapse into bed in our muddy clothes. You have to be here every single day, stuff has to be done, you can’t stop and you can’t take a break,’ Ruby said. 

    Lutfi admitted he reached a point where exhaustion took over.  

    ‘I reached one point where my body rebelled against me and I remember one morning letting the birds out and it was a snowy morning and I stumbled and I just fell on the ground, and I just didn’t have the physical strength to get up.

    ‘And I laid there in this blissful state, it was almost a spiritual coma and I just laid there thinking, “No one else is up, no one else can come and get me, I can’t move”.’

    However, both agreed they found starting the farm ‘exciting.’  

    ‘That adrenaline of selling your home for a bunch of magic beans, owning your land, having control of your destiny, not working as a paid employee but making up as you go along, I found that very exciting,’ Lutfi said. 

    The couple’s 28-year-old son Halil, which is the middle child, is raising his family on the farm, and said he hopes to take over the holding with his wife and their family. 

    The couple bought the 46 acres holding and a first flock of chickens in 2002 with no prior knowledge of farming

    The couple bought the 46 acres holding and a first flock of chickens in 2002 with no prior knowledge of farming 

    Halil explained that there is an ethnicity gap within the British farming community because the families who migrate to the UK often prefer to take on academic roles rather than farming. 

    ‘The people like us would feel out of place in the country side, there is a lot more multiculturalism going on in towns and villages,’ he said. 

    He also admitted the family have experienced racism, due to how they look. 

    ‘It’s not about our family or who we are, it’s because of how we look.’ he told Ben. 

    ‘What we’re doing and who we are as a family is not going to be a problem, the only difference is that we’re a bit brown,’ he said. 

    Ruby said she felt dialogue about the issue is important. 

    ‘Sometimes people don’t ask questions because they think they’re gonna offend you, and often, we don’t want to give information because we don’t want to feel like we’re indoctrinating or talking about things you’re not really interested in,’ she said. 

    ‘Prejudice can only be tackled with dialogue and contact,’ she added.  

    Ruby and Lutfi also discussed their sustainable business model with Ben, explaining that starting the farm has driven them to eat less meat, and that they have made a conscious choice not to expand the farm in order to keep their exploitation small.  

    ‘It is difficult, we’re not going to expand as a business model,’ Lutfi said. 

    ‘We could get more sheds, more birds. It’s the capitalist way but it’s not the way for us,’ he added. 

    Lutfi and Ruby are starting to think about their  future

    Their oldest son Adam, 31, said he is learning to fall back in love with farming after his interested waned

    Lutfi and Ruby are starting to think about the future. Their oldest son Adam, right, 31, said he is learning to fall back in love with farming after his interested waned 

    Ruby admitted the income they get from the farm is limited, but said it is enough to keep them going. 

    None of the children living on the farm are money driven, and in spite of the demands of the farm, they do not feel trapped. 

    Adam, the eldest son, 31, admitted to Ben he is learning to fall back in love with farming after his interest in the holding started to ‘wane.’ 

    Meanwhile, Camilla, who was three when the family moved to the farm, said she feels she can do what she wants in life without being pressured by money concerns, thanks to the work her parents put in.  

    However, while Lutfi and Ruby love to keep an eye on the farm – with the mother-of-five joking she’ll die looking after her vegetable patch – the couple have started to speak of their retirement. 

    ‘We hope that we will still be able to contribute on the farm, still be able to live on the farm,’ Lutfi told Ben. 

    The adventurer asked the patriarch if he is worried about putting pressure on his children to take over.  

    In Harry Builds a House, the hippo and his friends lay down the pipes and foundation for their home

    In Harry Builds a House, the hippo and his friends lay down the pipes and foundation for their home 

    ‘We try very hard for them not feel that. When you look around, the environmental thing we have and the reputation we’re developing from what we do, they have to live up to that. But I never want them to live with that pressure,’ he said. 

    He added that all his children feel ‘connected to the farm,’ but have ‘different ideas,’ and that he is not sure which way things will go.  

    Halil’s wife Lamia admitted to Ben that taking care of the farm is a huge undertaking. 

    ‘The more we’re trying to take over, the more we see, “Oh we haven’t thought of this aspect of the farm”,’ she said. 

    ‘They do a lot and it’s very overwhelming,’ she said, talking about her parents-in-law. 

    However, she said the family was trying to get to a stage where everyone could pursue their own roles on the farm and not be pressured into doing something they don’t want to do. 

    Ruby did not seem to worried about the future, as she told Ben: ‘satisfaction implies a completion’, adding: ‘It’s never finished, it’s never going to end, there is always more an new exciting things to move on to.’ 

    However, the parents-of-five said they could not be prouder of their family.   

    ‘That’s just really lovely, it is a privilege to be with all of them together like this and feel “Wow, this is my family”,’ she told Ben. 

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