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The Weetabix house - The green light trust
The Weetabix house - The green light trust

Published The Times November 10 2006

This eco-charity’s new HQ is packed with bales of natural fibre, writes Paul Shearer

WE ALL like to think of ourselvesas green but few of us actually make the effort to change our wasteful ways, asa poll for The Times showed all too clearly this week. Sixty-five percent of the 1,500 adults surveyed claimed to buy only energy-saving lightbulbs, but in truth less than 20 per cent of those sold are energy-saving.

Our record is so dire thatministers are reportedly considering plans to issue every Briton with a “carboncredit card” — a sort of green loyalty card — to persuade us to cut ouremissions. Everyone would have a set entitlement to consume energy and wouldwin cash back if they used less than their allowance.

Nigel Hughes and Ric Edelmann,however, need little inducement to save energy. They are co-founders of theGreen Light Trust, an environmental charity that is helping thousands ofchildren to become involved in community-based woodland planting schemes throughoutEast Anglia and beyond.

They have just completed a newhead office for their charity, which Nigel describes as “eco-building to themax”. Their original office was a tiny cubbyhole beneath the stairs of theirfarmhouse cottage in Lawshall, Suffolk. Later they converted the washhouse atthe back to accommodate an administrator, expanding again after a couple ofyears into the neighbouring washhouse. By 2004 the trust, now ten strong, hadgrown too big and they were forced to look for new premises. What could bebetter than a dilapidated traction engine maintenance shed at the other end oftheir village? “As an environmental charity, we wanted this scheme to have‘deep green’ principles,” says Nigel. This meant going beyond a no- carbonimpact to Suffolk’s first carbon-negative building scheme. Ralph Carpenter, ofModece Architects in Bury St Edmunds, landed the job, which required complexnegotiations with the planning authority, the overcoming of local objectionsand large-scale fundraising. But Nigel has considerable charm and the objectorswere won over to the scheme so completely that they joined the volunteers whohelped to build it.

What they ended up with was ascheme that moved the existing shed 130ft (40m) into the plot. “We re-used thetimbers of the original shed, having applied limewash to protect against beetleinfestation and fungal attack. This meant there was no need for toxic chemicaltreatment,” Ralph says.

Lime was used throughout, sothere was no need for concrete, and interestingly lime is an ideal fireretardant for timber-frame buildings. Wattle and daub made up the interiorwalls from the community’s woodland hazel and local clay. Other eco-flourishesare solar panels for water heating and linseed-oil paint, which unlike conventionalpaints has no environmental impact. Sewage treatment is carried out by theirown reedbed system.

Another intriguing locallysourced material is the hemp and lime block. The blocks, which look similar tomini straw bales, are used for insulation as well as contributing to thecarbon-negative factor because hemp absorbs carbon dioxide. Some of the blocksin the lobby walls were left exposed, which led to the project being nicknamed“the Weetabix House”.

Rainwater is recycled from thegalvanised iron roof, and the whole place is heated with a woodchip boilerrunning on coppiced timber from their own woods. Their efforts have beenrewarded with a Riba sustainability award — an architectural Oscar The GreenLight Trust has its origins in a patch of primeval forest in Papua New Guinea.Twenty years ago Nigel and Ric were living the rollercoaster ride ofself-employment as an actor and writer respectively. Based in London at thetime, they had also rented a small cottage in Lawshall. The rent was a mere £2a week, but that was in return for getting stuck in with repairs, includingfixing the leaky roof and reassembling the jigsaw puzzle of beams that had beenthrown out. Once most of the work had been done, they decided it was time foradventure and took off in search of virgin rainforest.

Trees, wildlife and nature hadalways been a passion for Ric, who was brought up near Ashdown Forest inSussex. Their tour took them via India, Australia and Indonesia to Papua NewGuinea, where they found the ancient forest they had been searching for. Theyalso discovered that it was under threat from a logging company. And so began atotally new chapter in their lives, which has continued ever since. Workingwith William Takaku, director at the time of the National Theatre company ofPapua New Guinea, they created a drama show that toured the forest by dugoutcanoe and performed its agit prop to mobilise local opposition against wantondeforestation. They succeeded and helped to conserve 2,000 square miles ofrainforest in the Hunstein range. In return, the remote Bahinemo and Berinemopeople asked them about the trees in their own country.

Returning to the UK, they foundthat the fields around their village were treeless and that hedgerows weredisappearing. They started canvassing, cajoling and campaigning, eventuallypersuading a local farmer to donate some land. Neighbours helped them to plantthis plot. Mr Takaku was the guest of honour at the inaugural planting in 1993;Golden Wood, the original two-acre planting, is now 23 acres and still growing.It is also the model for 33 community planting schemes in other villages acrossthe UK.

The building project has inspiredthem all by example. A neighbour is making his own reedbed. Ralph, thearchitect, is fitting a log boiler in his own house. And Nigel and Ric areinstalling solar panels and hemp-block insulation to the walls of their cottageas well as tending to the planting of their woodland, which will be ready fortheir own heating system in a few years.

So if they can go green, then socan we . . .

Green Light Trust, 01284830829 or www.greenlighttrust.org


www.modece.com /community-temp-2.html




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