The Gatehouse Project
Education, Training &
Practice in Low-Impact Living Skills
The Gatehouse Project is a leader in the field of sustainability. It is an innovative working example of aesthetically attractive ecological housing, garden (in development) and
workshop space sited in a landscape typical of the upland rural environment of Scotland. It demonstrates sound low-impact design and first class workmanship, incorporating many aspects of sustainability into one site: permaculture design throughout the building and grounds; rain water harvesting; passive solar gain; living roof; eco-construction materials including straw bale, local timber, aggregate and lime; on-site renewable energy generation and much more. It has to be experienced to be appreciated and that is why East Ayrshire needs this as an exemplar project which people can visit, be inspired by and learn from.
As an educational centre this project aims to:
- Enable people of all ages to experience a modern low impact dwelling made primarily from local resources, using techniques which they can learn for themselves.
- Demonstrate the possibility of leading a modern, comfortable life in a sustainable, low-impact style
- Train people in the various skills used to create and maintain their own homes and gardens.
- Learn about/how to build infrastructure for sustainable off-grid energy, water, food and fuel supplies, waste treatment etc.
- Be connected to a wider movement to facilitate the improved take-up of opportunities such as created by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (2003) 1 and as defined in SPP15 2, by a wider public (many of whom are currently barred through a combined lack of finance, resources and skills). Encouraging practical, thriving examples of sustainable development, affordable housing, zero carbon buildings, responsible citizenship and community and economic regeneration. Thus helping to stabilize population levels in rural areas, and preserving or increasing provision of services therein.
Concern and care for the environment goes hand in hand with the respect born of need. Wherever people recognize the benefits to themselves of a resource, they tend to preserve and protect it. Modern lifestyles have largely broken this connection with the natural environment, resulting in a myriad of problems ranging from vandalism to climate change. Education, although essential, is not as profound as experiencing first hand the direct connection between the land one walks through and the warmth and walls that enclose you as the storm howls outside. Pride in the provision of one’s own most basic needs, food, warmth, shelter, is fundamental to all cultures, with many positive benefits spreading far beyond the immediate confines of one’s own home, especially if that home is part of a community of others who also share that pride, and that same landscape.
The potential knock on effects in economic diversity, environmental stewardship, pride of place and quality of life, not to mention the guardianship of a future our children can thrive in are incalculable. It is a vision, but one that will be embraced by many once it can be seen to work, and work well. The Gatehouse alone cannot achieve this, but it can help both point the way and speed its creation.
There exists a widespread lack of confidence in the general population, most particularly the younger generation with regard to their own practical and construction skills, due in part to the downgrading of practical facilities and teaching in the mainstream education curriculum. This in turn has both hampered the take up of the opportunities outlined above and increased the sense of hopelessness and alienation in those for whom orthodox routes to home ownership, better living conditions and sustainable lifestyles have effectively been closed by exorbitant housing costs. This project seeks to address that shortfall.
Innovative construction techniques and new energy sources being developed worldwide are opening up unprecedented opportunities for sustainable development, especially suited to local-scale, community based approaches. Such low-cost but effective techniques offer new possibilities for affordable housing and community regeneration, without many of the associated infrastructure costs or the need for centralized provision of same, and are well within the reach of everybody willing to learn.
The Gatehouse Buildings
The workshop/polytunnel is a roundwood and rope tensegrity framework. The Gatehouse itself is a loadbearing strawbale structure with a living roof.There is some debate as to whether strawbale construction is viable in the damp climate in the West of Scotland. Amongst other functions, the Gatehouse is an exemplar project to monitor how strawbale stands the local climate, in a typical upland location 780 feet above sea level, exposed to gales of up to 85 mph, frequent rainfall, and a water table often remaining at the surface in Winter. Early results are very encouraging. Despite the ground often being too saturated to drain away, the walls and the interior remain bone dry. Even if left unheated for several weeks in such conditions, clothes in cupboards are completely dry, no sign of mildew, bedding remains fresh throughout. In use, a comfortable interior temperature of 18 degrees Celsius is easily maintained with minimal input of 100% renewable fuel (wood) in a thermal mass stove.
Once completed, the workshop will further demonstrate the range of machinery and fabrication possible in an off-grid situation, without recourse to fossil fuels. Machinery will include wood and metal lathes, drill press, circular and band-saws, potters wheel, wood-fired kiln, charcoal fired blacksmiths forge and smelting furnace. Fabrication embraces traditional craft skills from joinery to sand casting of alloys, the appropriate use of machinery, the selection and sensitive extraction of materials from the local environment, low-impact design concepts for buildings and infrastructure, planning and legal requirements and permaculture considerations. It will also incorporate a self-watering greenhouse area for organic food production in addition to the garden area.
Workshops in various specific skills will be taught by Steve James and other specialist instructors, in small groups (6 to 8 max.) to ensure a high level of personal attention for all participants. Course durations will vary from one day to one week. Accommodation for the longer stay courses will be provided by local and temporary accommodation. Educational visits by schools and other interested bodies will consist of guided tours around the project and environs, Q&A sessions and opportunities to experience the novel reality of low-impact living in the twenty first century.
As a comprehensive example of permaculture and low-impact living in practice, the Gatehouse can also provide other related teaching disciplines with a unique venue for workshops and short stay courses, adding to the financial viability of the project.
We plan to contact local schools, youth groups and other educational establishments. In addition we have confirmed interest from the following individuals and organisations:
- Regular email enquiries for visits and training resulting from extensive media coverage
- St Joseph’s Academy Kilmarnock (up to 120 pupils per annum)
- Bodhi Eco-Project (up to 200 visitors)
- Permaculture in Glasgow Network (approx. 40 trainees per annum)
- Green Party in Glasgow (up to 20 visitors per annum)
- The Galgael (20 trainees per annum)
- The Centre for Human Ecology, who wrote this letter of support:
“A straw bale education centre would be the ideal location to take a group of students from the Centre for Human Ecology. It would enable them to take in a different perspective on sustainable living, with a rural backdrop to compliment their urban learning at Strathclyde University. Since a picture speaks a thousand words, a site visit must speak a thousand pictures, so a straw bale education centre would speak a million words.”
Benefits to East Ayrshire
This sustainable living education centre will indeed generate an income in the local area. Firstly it will be financially viable and thus give part-time employment to several people on site. As an integral aim of sustainable development it will use only local people, products and services whenever possible. It will attract green tourism – visitors who would not otherwise come to this area and who will visit the gatehouse, stay locally, eat locally, and spend locally (TOUR1). This will improve the economic diversity of the area, increasing its resilience.
The development itself is an example of a zero-carbon development and demonstrates best practice in sustainable building design far exceeding the current requirements (ENV11). It includes on site renewable energy generation (CS11,CS12), water recycling, waste minimization (in a very small way WM1,WM2), and organic food production. The knowledge and skills which can be shared from this resource are extensive (ENV11, ENV12, RES26) and the repercussions will be felt by many individuals, groups, and environments throughout East Ayrshire, the proposed Galloway Biosphere Reserve (Tourism PROP3) and beyond.
Educational opportunities on site will enable locals of all ages to visit and become engaged in something extraordinary (CS1). To understand and to respect their environment, will empower them and result in many benefits, from reduced vandalism to increased self-respect. This will have knock-on effects throughout the community, even helping to stabilise population levels and encourage local young people to stay as there is something new and exciting happening in their locality.
The Gatehouse will also support social inclusion projects, and local community regeneration.
Examples of other similar projects
Earthship Fife Visitor Centre is Scotland’s first Earthship, and indeed the first in the UK! The construction programme started in July 2002 during an intensive 8-day building programme with American Earthship builders, including Earthship pioneer Michael Reynolds, and 11 trainees from across Scotland and England. Since July 2002 more than 200 volunteers have completed the Earthship over weekends and work experience days.
Earthship Fife Visitor Centre overlooks Kinghorn Loch, at a site shared with Craigencalt Ecology Centre, where it serves as an educational and research building. Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) is running a 3-year monitoring programme to secure permanent validation for Earthship building techniques in Scotland.
The Earthship was launched and officially opened on 21st August, 2004. Earthship Fife has been granted full planning permission and a 5 year building warrant. Although the building is to be used as a demonstration centre the housing standards were applied to both applications.
Centre for Alternative Technology is a much larger, well-respected project in Wales with similar aims of showing practical solutions to environmental problems to carry us into the twenty-first century:
“We offer solutions to some of the most serious challenges facing our planet and the human race, such as climate change, pollution and the waste of precious resources. We demonstrate practical ways of addressing these problems. Leading by example, we aim to show that living more sustainably is not only easy to attain but can provide a better quality of life.”
“Averting a massive environmental disaster is not out of our reach, although if we continue to treat the early signs with apathy, it soon will be. We address every aspect of the average lifestyle - the key areas we work in are renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic growing and alternative sewage systems.”
“CAT is a great place to learn new things, for all ages. We run a range of residential courses - from weekends to a yearlong MSc. Our dedicated Education Department arranges school trips to CAT, which can be tied in with the National Curriculum.”
“We publish books on various 'green' topics, and sell eco-books and products through a shop and mail order service. The Media Department is available for all kinds of press enquiries.”
“We hope that through our positive example and promotion of effective solutions, people will be inspired to lessen their impact on the world in the same ways we have for more than 30 years.”
Business Plan Summary
As a social enterprise The Gatehouse aims to provide affordable training for affordable self-build housing, stressing the importance, and ease of implementation of the three R’s Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle to their maximum. This is incorporated both in training and our own practice, so the attached cash flow forecast for the first year of operation is a relatively low budget affair especially as much of the infrastructure and equipment is already in place. The course costs and visitor fees will also be kept to a minimum, to maximize accessibility for those most likely to benefit from the training offered at The Gatehouse. It is also calculated on a worst case scenario to avoid unrealistic income expectations. If take-up is better, then more funds will be available to expand operations.
The project will seek funding from various social enterprise sources such as UnLtd., LEADER, Plunkett Foundation etc. The Bodhi EcoVillage Educational Charity are currently considering entering into a partnership with The Gatehouse Project which will open up a whole new range of funding opportunities should it prove satisfactory to all concerned. However the enclosed cash flow forecast is for an operation based purely as a social enterprise, and not a charity structure, which would of course reduce costs considerably.
Examples of some Low Impact Concepts and Techniques offered at the Gatehouse
Hand Skills ~ training for absolute beginners and improvers in the following:
- Selection, use and maintenance of basic tools for wood, metal and stone
- Woodworking and Joinery
- Basic metal fabrication techniques (not welding)
- Simple Blacksmithing (Charcoal forge)
- Small-scale bronze, lead and aluminium casting
- Working with stone and mortar
- selection of suitable timber, hand felling techniques, safety procedures
- preparation of raw timber ~ use of barking spade, mallet and gouges to dress knots
- design concepts and shaping of strong roundwood joints ~ use of framesaws, handsaws, brace and bits, gouges, mallet and chisels.
- basic construction techniques ~ lashing, jointing and fixing.
- reciprocal roof concepts and limitations
- Sawn timber vs roundwood ~ design and technical considerations
- On site mechanical conversion equipment and techniques, safety procedures
- On site hand conversion techniques, pros and cons
- Reclaimed timber identification and preparation
- introduction to this cheap, lightweight and immensely strong system which mimics nature's cell-wall construction. Using only light poles and rope an integrated series of opposing balances between rigid struts (poles) and tensioned ropes or cables (most commonly found in tents) can create large, strong, self-supporting frameworks which can be used to enclose even large areas.
- Simple techniques for tensioning ropework without fancy fittings
- Easy ways to form postholes in rocky ground.
- Techniques for excavating in rocky soil using only hand tools ~ use of pinch bar, mattock, sledge and wedges etc. Learn how to tackle even solid granite in small doses.
- Simple pond and dam construction, principles and considerations in working with a living watercourse.
- Identification and transport of suitable sand/aggregate/rock and in a natural landscape
- Paths and roadways ~ limitations of scale, construction techniques for walkways and paved areas.
- Clarifying the process
- Determining your needs
- Assessing your abilities
- Considering your options
- Flexible development and Lateral solutions
- General introduction to all forms of lime and their appropriate uses
- Parts of the Gatehouse have used quicklime, traditional hot lime render and hot limewash, so you can see these materials in use, how they stand the weather etc.
- Use of formers and shuttering for accurate render works
- Safety considerations, scope and limitations
- We will be leading workshops on various strawbale/lime projects in the South West and possibly Glasgow too, so opportunities will arise for hands on experience in lime techniques.
- General introduction to forms of strawbale construction and their appropriate uses
- We will be leading workshops on various strawbale projects in the South West and possibly Glasgow too, so opportunities will arise for hands on experience in construction techniques.
- Introduction to 12volt systems, equipment and their many uses in the modern home
- Batteries, types and applications ~ reconditioning and recycling
- Conversion techniques for various household items such as desklamps, power tools, computer power supplies etc.
- Inverters ~ can supply mains electricity for occasional heavy use, such as washing machines.
- Build Your Own courses for wind generators, pulse battery chargers, micro-hydros. These week long courses will allow you to take away a functioning piece of equipment which you can use to power your own requirements
- Fixing and tensioning polythene and tarpaulins securely against gales and snow.
- Experience the sheer feel of natural breathing buildings with no electro-magnetic interference.
- Discover your own unsuspected capabilities, stand tall with the knowledge that you can provide your own essentials in life!
1. Particularly Community Ownership, Community Housing Trusts and Forest and Lowland Crofting provisions.
2. Scottish Planning Policy 15: Planning for Rural Development