Sunday, September 8, 2013

An elephant in the street

Many strange and wonderful things happen in our pedestrian street: last week saw one of the strangest. An elephant gliding along the street and around our common house, carrying our children on his back.

Rajah the mechanical elephant was guest of honour for the opening of Halton Mill, the low carbon workspace we have created out of the semi-derelict industrial building we acquired, unintentionally,
when we bought our site.

A decade ago, Halton Mill housed Luneside Engineering, a family run engineering works started by Colonel Bernirski, an eccentric Pole, just after the second world war. As one of the group of Luneside Engineering workers who turned up for the opening told me: “It was a brilliant place to work. We could turn our hands to anything.”

One of the things they turned their hands to was these 7ft high mechanical elephants, made to carry children along the seaside promenades of Britain. Chris, who oversaw the refurbishment of Halton Mill, tracked one down to the Crosby Lions In Liverpool, who kindly agreed to bring “Rajah” back home for our opening.

We somehow magically got the Mill fit for the opening - we didn’t have a budget to pay for most of the decorating, so it was a cohousing all hands to the pump job (with help from some soon to be Mill tenants as well). 

It was also a chance to showcase the talents of the people who will be working out of the Mill. Stuart, our resident magician, exhibited The Strange Thing, and made a bowling ball appear out of nowhere.  Mike, Myette and their children from Whirlwind Theatre showed off their hand crafted costumes.  Kate helped people make five minute books while Lucy did five minute massage. Miles played keyboard, Fiona the accordion. Canoe England brought kayak simulators for dry land races and Frances filmed the whole thing.

More than 250 people turned up: villages, former Luneside workers, future tenants, friends and even the son of the man who designed the mechanical elephants. It was wonderful.

Halton Mill is aiming to translate our cohousing philosophy into the workplace: mixing private with communal space, reducing the environmental impact of our activities, and sharing resources, ideas and facilities. We hope it will be as brilliant a place to work as Luneside Engineering was, full of ingenuity and camaraderie. If the energy, enthusiasm and talent displayed at the opening is anything to go by, we are on our way.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lancaster Cohousing Project In The Final Of Passivhaus Trust National Awards 2013

Terrace A and the Common House patio - photo by Luke
Exciting news this week - we heard from Andrew Yeats of Eco Arc, our architects, that we've reached the final of this year's Passivhaus Trust National Awards! We're in the last three in our category, which is social housing.

Our entry says:

Lancaster Cohousing is currently the largest completed Passivhaus housing development in the UK, and also meets Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 and Lifetime Homes, with site-wide renewable energy systems, all at affordable costs.
This owner-occupied project evolved through a participatory design process with the individual householders and Eco Arc Architects. It follows the cohousing model with 41 private houses in a car-free site, alongside shared community facilities including a common house, laundry, orchard, gardens, children’s room and play areas, and on-site work spaces for rent. The result is a neighbourhood based upon ecological values, where, as interviews with the residents have shown, it is very easy to live a low carbon, sustainable lifestyle in comfort.

For more about the awards and to see the other shortlisted projects, see the Passivhaus Trust website.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stories from Forgebank: Dawn on the bonuses of cohousing life

Hard to believe yet I’ve been living the cohousing life for 6 months now. I’m loving it. I wouldn’t ever go back to the more conventional way of living as I had in the Peak District. Already this seems the norm. There are rewards every single day.

Like watching one of our youngest neighbours hurtling down the street in her pyjamas at 7.30am having just mastered bike riding without stabilizers.

Like the magical way there is a tasty hot meal when I get home from a day’s work at Dacrelands Clinic where I work as a homeopath.

Like the way a charity shop system just seems to organize itself. This is great because we are all downsizing, decluttering, rearranging and making our homes beautiful. One person’s discarded item becomes another’s prized object.

I’m trying not to take these bonuses for granted. Every morning I admire the view from my balcony and get a warm glow not just from the well insulated, triple glazedness of my house but from the fact that we are having minimal impact on the environment and wildlife that I am looking out on.

My cats are loving it too and now they have had more new mates move in just down the block. Great! Bulk buys of cat litter from an ethical, sustainable source. Not that they care.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Stories from Forgebank: Gill on cooking for 40

“Yikes!” was my first thought about the prospect of cooking for forty, it is a daunting prospect. But I’ve done it six or seven times now and it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done since moving in last September.

Sharing food and our meals are an important time when both children and adults eat together in the Common House; it’s a great time to talk to and get to know one another. I also love taking the time at the end of a meal to sometimes read or tell stories to some of the children (it lets mums and dads off the hook for just a few minutes too).

I eased my way in to the whole ‘big cooking’ process by being second cook, effectively veg peeler and chopper and wash-up-as-you-go person for the first few meals. The most memorable being a burrito brunch on Boxing Day for neighbours and their family and friends. We’ve had Emma’s burrito brunch about three times now and it’s a firm favourite.

I’ve braved being lead cook four times now - something that includes deciding what to cook (not as scary as you’d first think), acquiring the right quantity of ingredients (work in progress), reassuring your assistant and timing. So far everything has gone according to plan with the exception of buying broccoli far too early in the week, by meal day it had gone a bit yellow... However nobody seemed to notice or they were too polite to say anything (so please don’t tell anyone).

So, ahem, moving on … My repertoire now includes veg crumble, cauliflower cheese/seed, red dragon pie (mung bean shepherd’s pie for the uninitiated) and pasta with a choice of three different sauces. (And a couple of pans of soup and prize winning vegan chocolate brownies – but that’s a different blog post).

One thing I’ve discovered: I’m an okay cook (phew!). The greatest compliments have been when folk came back for seconds (or thirds - but I won’t name names), asked for the recipe, and when the assistant cook said is was stress-free (hurrah!). All leftovers have been quickly polished off the next day for lunch (so making too much has never been an issue) and I’ve forgotten who I loaned the veggie crumble recipe book to (it’ll turn up).


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stories from Forgebank: Miles and his music

I moved here from Oxford, and in doing so left behind Oxford Improvisers, a remarkable collection of friends and musicians who have really helped me develop my skills, both as an improviser and as a performer generally. I'd done a bit of searching on the internet to see what the improvising scene was like around Lancaster, and while there looked to be thriving groups in Liverpool and Glasgow, despite an abundance of other sorts of music making in the area I could find no sign of improvising groups.

Yet Lancaster Cohousing is a unique project, and joining it was once in a lifetime opportunity that I could not allow to pass by, despite the fact that it meant leaving behind two bands and as rewarding a collection of musicians to play with as I could ever hope to find.

So at the end of last summer my piano, girlfriend and I* moved in to Forgebank, among the very first settlers. We felt like true pioneers in a Little House on the Prairie kind of way, bracing ourselves for a winter of hardships from which all our home's sophisticated passivhaus technology could not totally protect us: our social network now consisted almost entirely of our fellow cohousers, and most of them were still waiting to move in. Fine people they may be, but there is more to life than cohousing.

Then one day Chris handed me a flyer saying "This looks like your sort of thing". It was for a series of free workshops being run by Stephen Grew. I'd seen Stephen play a couple of times in Lancaster and knew he had a phenomenal talent. This was another unmissable opportunity!

And what an opportunity it has proven to be. Out of those workshops has emerged a core of players who meet each week, either here at Forgebank or in rehearsal rooms at More Music in Morecambe. Each week we surprise ourselves with how the music we make is improving. We're turning into a band.

If you too are an improvising musician thinking of moving to Forgebank I hope this gives you encouragement that you will flourish here. And if you're not an improviser, I bet you have something in your life that you're worrying you won't be able to find here. Just maybe, you're right. But I can guarantee that you will find something just as rewarding.


* Note from Miles's girlfriend: if you're wondering why the piano comes first, not long after we moved in someone asked Miles what was the most precious thing he'd brought with him. He said 'my piano'. I was asked the same question, and I said 'Miles'. When this was revealed to him, he said, 'well, Jo brought herself...'

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

View from visiting friends...

Our Common House in celebration preparation mode!
 We asked James and Gina, who know many of us and came to visit last weekend, what they thought now most of us have moved in, here's what they said...
As soon as we ducked under the "Home Sweet Home" sign at the top of the cohousing 'street' we saw that it had all worked out beautifully. It was so nice to see the houses that were plans on a page brought to life - especially the enormous co-house. Everything was so light and airy and there was a real celebratory feel. No-one seemed to mind our little boy climbing all over the sofas so after 5 minutes of worrying I just relaxed and caught the party mood. After a delicious brunch catching up wth friendly faces it was really nice of Judy and Charles to show us their place - nothing beats having a good old nose around does it! It was also great to glance around and see little touches and the processes put in place to decide on things like raising a flag to get volunteers for chores. Well done everyone and thanks again!
Thanks to them as well... and if you're interested in visiting too, to check out cohousing in action and look at the homes still available, our next open day is Sunday May 26th. Do contact us if you'd like more information!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Digging in the Rain, Like we're in a Chaingang
The day was cold, windy, wet and miserable. Only the select few turned out for the work party on 26th April.
 The task was to dig over the subsoil and mix in the mushroom compost so that we could sow a meadow before the end of April.
 The sub soil was solid, impacted clay, and as you can see, in places we had to use a pick ax or a mattock.
A great deal of banter made the task a lot more fun - recollections of famous chaingang movies - (aimed at the person behind the camera - I don't know why - I promised them a reward of moving stone at the end of the digging - did  I miss something there)?

We learned about Nelson Mandela's method of breaking up stone - going as slowly as possible, but never actually stopping. It was too cold that day to emulate.

Martin gave us a little talk about when digging was necessary to improve the soil structure and when No Dig was appropriate. Not sure what the conclusions were about this plot, though it was strangely disappointing to find the plot looked exactly the same at the end as when we started. Cliodhna said, 'But we KNOW it's different.'

Ann and Jaz offered us tea halfway through and the chaingang immediately voted to stop. Voting? Chaingangs? I think I would call it a consensus to have tea and cake.
The team practised Leaning on Spades, a time-honoured builders' tradition, taught by Chris.

You can easily identify The Ham Actors in this troupe.

Eric and Jessica joined us in time for raking and trampling - evening and flattening the soil with tiny sideways steps. We did this instead of hiring a roller, which seemed over the top for such a small area, though we did hire one 2 weeks ago for sowing meadow seed on the verge between the houses and the riverside path.
Eric thought we looked like Space Invaders taking these silly sideways steps, so we did the arm movements too.

Then Geoff's alarm went off - work shift over - all downed tools - well, they condescended to put them away in the tool shed.

Diana and Kate sowed the seed, and raked and trampled again the next day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rules! We even have a 3 metre metal one

I travel a lot for work and tell everyone I live in an 'ecological cohousing project'.
They ask 'Do you like it?'
Or 'What's different about living there?' 
Apart from the fact that it's like being on holiday, with your friends, all the time!!, I also love it because:
The heating bills are very, very low.
And, unexpected but the BEST thing:
If you want anything - anything at all! - eg (taken from recent requests): 
some flaked almonds, 
help with a job application,
emergency baby sitting service,
computer trouble shooting...
a 3 meter metal rule ...  
a spare dining room chair for a visitor...
All you have to do is email a quick request, and usually two or three people come straight round with whatever it is you've asked for! 
Fiona Frank

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's nice to have some sun

Sunny weather and blue skies makes such a difference to photographs; we do have them here of course, but they have been few and far between over the last year and have tended to fall on days when I have been unable to get out. Finally the good weather has fallen on a weekend so I leapt at the opportunity.

The first outing was an early morning walk with Sparky to see the (almost) finished state of Terrace D; it is looking fantastic, and seeing Becky have a morning drink on the terrace soaking in the sun made me more than a little jealous! Our time will come..

The second was a somewhat over-ambitious run to the top of Caton Moor; some 12 miles and a long ascent of 340 metres. My muscles can testify to the climb.

The view from the top is excellent with snow capped mountains all around. I was forced to go further than I planned in order to obtain my desired view of a snow capped Ingleborough.

To me, the windmills are objects of beauty, which enhance this hillside, but I realise that not everyone shares this view.

There is a great feeling of peace up there, apart from the gentle whooshing of the blades. I tried to capture it on video, but it sounds like I am standing in a gale. There is a good reason why Frances is the film maker and not me!

Happy Easter.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

River Footpath Open At Last

Good news for all those who have missed walking along the river footpath - it is open again!
We had hoped it would be open for Easter, but could not be sure until we saw the last of the fencing being taken down today.
Let's just hope we see a little more sun over the holidays.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fancy helping us paint our bike shed this Sunday?!

Your handiwork here?
When we were trying to balance the project budget, we took a few things out that we thought, hey, we can do that ourselves later. One of them was painting the bike shed... it really ought to look like the lovely bin store just further down the street, but at the moment, well, it doesn't. It's one of the original buildings that we retained, and it's not the best view for the residents of Terrace A.

So we're going to get started on it this Sunday, March 24th, which is also a site Open Day -- all friends and interested observers are welcome to visit our Forgebank site.

We will be serving a simple brunch from 11am followed at 1.30pm by a site tour, including a tour of one of our homes to find out more about the technology that makes a Passivhaus.

You are welcome to pick a brush and join the painting team, there will be other tasks underway too, or you can retire to our common house and sample some tea and cake. We have a children's room to entertain any little people who don't want the full details of Passivhaus technology, and we have guest rooms where any of you who might be travelling some distance could book in for the night. 

With many of us now moved in, we are proud of what we have achieved and keen to show it off to all those who have followed us on our journey but for varying reasons haven't joined us in permanent residency on the street. Come and have a nose around, a chat, and of course, there are the last couple of homes still available to tell your friends about.

Please let us know on if you are coming, to give an idea of numbers (we need to make sure we have enough cake!) or give Lucy a call on 01524 812843 if you would like to know more details.

Hope to see you on Sunday!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Working on the land

Although I moved into Lancaster Cohousing last year I work away at least half the week, which usually means setting off back to Glasgow on a Sunday. A few weeks ago, instead of our usual monthly meeting, we had a day of work-groups, and this novice gardener was very pleased to get a chance to help in a tree-planting session - the 'land group' events usually happen on Sundays so it's been months since I was able to take part in one. Here are three of us helping to prepare the orchard for our new little trees.

Catriona is in charge and showed me what I needed to do to make our beautiful big rowan tree happy in a new pot in the pedestrian street. And this is a small sample of what you get when 30 or 40 households pool their garden tools!

While we were planting trees in the rain, another group looking at the wellbeing of the community and its members was meeting in Pam's house.


 That Sunday we planted more trees in their new home on Butterfly Bank, a piece of meadow land by the river where we are encouraging a diversity of native flowers, grasses and trees. 

The Land group was out in force and with willing helpers we planted six oak and six alder saplings that we had saved and now are transplanting into this site.

We are also cutting back invasive non-native buddlleias and rooting out the masses of himalayan balsam that has invaded the meadows.

Despite the rain, we kept ouselves warm digging, planting and staking then repaired to the cosy Common house for tea and had a fabulous cake made specially for us by Pam.

Another busy weekend in the Lancaster Cohousing project. Come and join us - we still have one flat and 2 houses available to buy!


Monday, March 4, 2013

Loop O' Lune

One aspect of the Forgebank that I look forward to enjoying is the fact that we are on the edge of the countryside; from the front door there is mile after mile of uninterrupted tranquillity and beauty. Yesterday I took the opportunity to run ("gentle jog" might be a more accurate description) upstream in a loop of about six miles.

My starting point for the journey was Terrace D, which the builders are busily finishing off, even on a Saturday. Elizabeth, the kids and I are all getting excited now that we are close to moving in, given that we started planning this move in 2007!

Moving up the path we can see the weir, where the Halton community hydro is planned to be built; pending a final decision by the  Environment Agency, who seem to find an endless list of reasons for not approving the application.

We then pass through the five acres of "extra land" which a group of eight of us bought when it became available a couple of years ago. We have no plans for the land yet, but once the build is finished we will have more time and energy to think about it.

Gutterflat Wood is beautiful in spring - full of bluebells and has a delightful beck, which the kids love to play in.

The view from the Crook O'Lune is just a short walk away, and on a clear day the distinctive shape of Ingleborough can be seen in the distance. Even on a misty day, the views are still good.

There are paths on both sides of the river from this point, though we are now on a flood plain so some parts become impassable  or very muddy!  Luckily the snowdrops are at their peak at the moment and seem to be everywhere.

You can pass across the Lune using a grand Victorian(?) bridge, which looks very incongruous stuck in the middle of nowhere, but nonetheless very useful if you want a circular route.

Returning to the Crook O'Lune, Woodies is as busy as usual on weekend with various walkers and cyclists dropping in for a refreshment.

On this side of the river, there is a tarmac path running to the mouth of the Lune estuary at Glasson Dock, mainly following the route of a defunct railway line. You can see the "crook" in the river on the here, along with the real-life view. It can become very busy at the weekend with cyclists and walkers. 

Within a few minutes you reach the opposite side of the "extra land" - the panorama shot gives you a better feel for the space, and also another view of the weir.

Terrace D is looking good, the balconies are just beginning to be installed and the gabions finished. 

Unsurprisingly, one regularly bumps into other cohousers; today it was Lucy, Toby and Martha who had just cycled/walked to Woodies...with Martha enjoying her new bike.

The old station at Halton is now used by the local rowers for storage. It happens to have a car park there, so is the starting point for many walkers.

The narrow bridge at Halton is a short-cut to the motorway and Lancaster, but more importantly it provides access to the cycle path. It is easy for walkers and cyclists to get across, not so easy for cars, especially wide ones - lol. It provides a good view up the river.

Finally we return to the starting point. The six three-bed homes of Heron Bank are steadily rising, and I am guessing that the roofs will be on before long.  There is at least one home still available for anyone interested!!