Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Seeing how it's done at Springhill

It's a bit all work and no play for us at the moment, so to give ourselves a reminder of what it's all about, last weekend a group of us went by train (from Oxford) and car (from Lancaster) to visit Springhill Cohousing in Stroud, where 35 households have been living together since 2003. Some of our members had already seen Springhill, and David from Stroud has visited our site too (you can see him talking about Springhill and cohousing generally on one of our YouTube videos), but for the people who visited this time it was our first experience of cohousing in action. 

It's a beautiful site... we followed the most direct route from the station and this took us up through a park to a gate which led straight onto Springhill's pedestrian street. In intimacy and security it reminded me of a university campus, though it was clearly a place where people of all ages were living together. It also has a lovely 'lived in' feel - there was garden furniture out on the street, and lots of pots and planting. I was really impressed with how well the houses blended in with their surroundings, and I hope ours will do the same. 

We were very impressed with the three-storey co-house, especially the top floor where the community eats together 3-4 times a week. We talked about recipes and local sourcing and fridge organisation, how they manage signing up and paying, and what they've learnt as they've gone along. Then we went to look at various of their houses and flats, and saw the different things people have done with their space. Most of their houses are bigger than ours will be, but share an open-plan design and focus on energy-efficiency. 

Pete spent a lot of time investigating their composting facilities, and we were all impressed with their SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System). We talked about cohousing challenges too of course -- how to develop menus that work for everyone, and managing the 'four Ps' -- parking, parenting, painting and pets... 

We learnt a lot but we also really enjoyed ourselves and came away feeling inspired. Maria Angeles said that she wished we could fast-forward to when we have moved in ourselves, and I know just what she meant... Many thanks to David, Natalie, Sarah and everyone else we met who took time our of their weekend to talk to us, it was inspiring, interesting and useful, and we look forward to inviting you back one day soon! 



Easter at Halton "Beach"

I think the photos will speak for themselves, but we all enjoyed our time on site over the Easter break.
When the river is low, the river and site is really popular.

As you can see the girls played quietly and calmly.

Whilst the boys did not stop jumping, running...

and getting very, very wet!

The adults enjoyed the scenery - with crystal clear waters

and loads of gorgeous bluebells.



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Demolition begins

Work started on Monday this week on demolishing the factory buildings! They are fenced off, and a small gang are carefully removing the cement asbestos sheeting from the roofs.

The Smithy building is already roofless... It all happened very quickly, as they used a telehandler with a cage on it instead of having to scaffold anything out.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lune is rising and the periscope too!

April 1st saw the completion of the first phase of building work at Forgebank. The work, funded by a grant from the Dept of Energy & Climate Change under a local partnership called Halton Carbon Positive included re-roofing, new windows and airtightness work to the mill building that will become workshops and offices.

A small celebration was held to thank those who had pulled out all the stops to get the job done in double quick time. The building was ‘Topped out’ with two bits of spruce by Joe from the main contractors The Better Roofing Company. As well as those who had worked on the job ( Alian Energy & Out of the Woods) the event was attended by people from local Community interest company  LESS and  Halton Lune Hydro who had been involved in the Halton Carbon Positive partnership: 

Chris who had been the site manager for the Cohousing company read out a poem that had been specially commissioned for the occasion from poet, printmake, artist, theatre director and general cultural provocateur John Fox. 

Having poetry on a building site was inspired by the tradition of POETS Day  - nothing to do with national poetry day. We rounded off the celebration with a toast of champagne from commemorative builders mugs.

TOPPING OUT AT HALTON. by John Fox . 25 March 2011.
 The Lune is rising
and the periscope too.
But never fear
the roof is on (before its time)
and the ghosts are gone.
The periscope reveals
dreams made concrete.
Who would imagine that here
they engineered elephants
bigger than clock work?
Who would imagine that here
an eco village would grow
bigger than concept?
A dream of utopian commitment
made truly concrete.
Where past and future meet.
Pine boards a century old
repaired and overlaid
with foil and foam and membranes
from our technological  decade.
After a combination of graft and craft and sheer bloody nous,
our workshop’s ready.
(Well nearly )
And soon we’ll see the very first house.
A community is waiting.
Waiting like the elbow of the river
with energy to power new generations
to illuminate and forge
Forge Bank at Halton.
So never fear,
the roof is on
ghosts are teased
ivy is cut and vandals appeased.
Where a naval periscope once strangely rose
now raise your glass to metamorphose.

Like the rusting elephant found a golden sultan,
we’ve topped out
Forge Bank at Halton.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow - but luckily it takes a while

Pete, one of our greener-fingered members, recently caused his allotment committee some alarm...
Re: Your Plot
Hoping this little note, which is just seeking clarification, finds you well. On a recent site visit to all the plots the committee noted what appears to be oak (?) hedging on your plot. Given the potential for oaks, if they are oaks, to grow to a considerable size I would be grateful if you could advise me of the following;
(i) Are they oaks? If not, what are they?
(ii) What is your long term objective in regards to the planting of the above?
Many thanks for your cooperation and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future
Fortunately, he was able to set their minds at rest pretty fast: 
Re: My Plot
No, it's not a hedge! I am a member of Lancaster Cohousing, and we have been donated these baby oaks (correct) for our plot of land at Halton. They sort of turned up out of the blue the other week and we had to do something with them. I have temporarily offered to host them on my allotment until they can be planted out in the autumn -- we have quite a lot of work out at the site and they would be at risk of being squashed by a big yellow JCB or something if we put them out there now. It takes quite a bit of organisation and forethought to get a work party together to plant 50 oaks properly with stakes and rabbit proofing etc. We just didn't think we could organise a work party to get them in this spring in time, so they are just down there for a holding area till they can go to a permanent home in the autumn. Our hope is that they all survive into standard oaks, and definitely not where they currently are! Hope that's OK.
So no damage done...


Timelapse photography project is go!

If you are in the Aberdeen Road area of Lancaster you may have noticed a house bristling with cameras – I have bought two timelapse cameras to document the demolition and building phases of our cohousing project and am doing some trials working out the maths of how often the cards will have to be changed etc. They are both very easy to use.

1. A ProjectCam, to go on the top of the telegraph pole in a fixed position, and stay there for the duration of the build. It automatically takes a still picture at fixed intervals during the working day which are later edited together to get a sped-up movie of the build. Check out details of the camera  and an example of a time lapse video of a building project made using one of these cameras.

2. Bushnell Trophy Cam (as used in Land of the Tigers. If a tiger walks by at Forge Bank we should get a picture of it.) This smaller camera works on a motion sensor and/or time lapse. It can be positioned in various places (trees, buildings etc) according to what's likely to be happening. It has an infra-red sensor so will start taking pictures when someone's doing something on site, but could also be used to get shots of foxes, otters etc and can take pictures
in the dark.

These cameras are more suitable for our project than a much more expensive kit I was considering (Canon SLR etc)- they won't get quite such professional results but I'm a lot happier with this cheaper option, not least because the expensive kit might have got nicked or damaged.

ProjectCam is due to be installed on the telegraph pole next week, in time for demolition starting...

Field testing

Left are two photos taken 30 seconds apart. In the first, there's a person quite far down the road on the right hand side, who I think is the same person in the second photo further down the street on the left side. Ideally I'd have liked five-second intervals, as would have been possible with the expensive kit I didn't buy, as it would have given a smoother motion with people's movements – clearly they can jump quite far in 30 seconds from one frame to the next! But 30 second intervals should be fine for buildings going up or coming down.

The other thing is that although the resolution is good on ProjectCam, the lens is nothing like as good as the Canon SLR would have been. However it's pretty good for what we want and a fraction of the cost.

The test also showed that the highest resolution photos have a file size of just under 1 MB. So with a 16 GB memory card, that's about 16,000 photos. If Project Cam is set up to take photos for the working day 8.00 am to 5pm every 30 seconds, that's 1080 photos per day, so it looks like someone will have to climb the telegraph pole and change the card about once a fortnight.

Luckily, Geof and Cliodhna are back in the cohousing project: Geof's telegraph pole climbing skills are second to none!