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Volunteer Weekend: Bees, Hempcrete and Pizzas

The design team started June full speed ahead, hosting a volunteer construction weekend, finally breaking ground on the bunkhouse’s much-needed porch renovation. Volunteers of every background joined us on site at Hill Holt Wood for an educational experiment with natural materials. The weekend included hempcrete construction, lime rendering, a strawbale tutorial and a Worm Farm Fat Trap


The first of our guests joined us on Friday night, setting up their tents in the Roman Villa. The design team later added their own tents to the pack after seeking refuge from the angry family of bees that were found to be taking residence in the insulation of the porch ceiling during a last-minute stripping of the porch. After a short phone call with our Head of Operations, and resident beekeeper, Oliver we were able to sleep easy knowing that help was coming in the morning.

The following morning we were joined by a bus load of architecture students from Sheffield University, as well as many others both local and distant, all looking to gain some hands-on experience and learn about alternative natural materials. Following a short tour of the site and a brief demonstration on luring bees away from their hive, work began on the overdue bunkhouse renovation.

The porch of the Bunkhouse bridges the gap between the timber-framed sleeping quarters and the strawbale living unit. The current lightweight construction of the porch means that a lot of heat is lost between the living and sleeping quarters. We intend to create a thermal seal between the two spaces using hempcrete construction (reknown for its insulative and healthy building qualities) and therefore use the heat of the AGA in the living unit throughout the entire building. On the first day, the team of volunteers managed to clear the existing envelope, cut and drill rafters between the floor joists, and cast the entire floor of the porch in hempcrete. The floor will be left to dry for the next few weeks (a bonus of summer construction is being able to leave the windows open for extended periods of time!) Once the floor has set we will place timber boards on top (grown and milled on site).

The Bunkhouse kitchen was constructed during the design team's early years. Although the team faced some issues with construction, it still stands today as the design team's living quarters. The straw bale walls were given a few layers of lime render, but a finishing coat was never added. With the render cracking, this weekend seemed like a good opportunity to finally finish the job. The volunteers worked incredibly hard to smooth out all the nobbles and cracks in the exterior to create as smooth a finish as possible. Once the render dries, it will be finished with a white lime wash.

The site tour featured many of the resident straw bale buildings, which led to an impromptu demonstration on the fundamentals of straw bale construction. Using a small rectangular form, volunteers quickly assembled the walls and tested its ability to hold a reciprocal framed roof.

Something overlooked by the bunkhouse in previous years was a fat trap leading from our kitchen drainage. The pipe had recently been blocked by the fat and so was no longer reaching the soakaway a few meters from the building. With the help of the volunteers, Chris managed to assemble a composting Worm Farm Fat Trap*, to filter the fat from our drainage before it reaches the soakaway - a far more sustainable method of drainage!

*The composition of the Worm Farm Fat Trap is as follows from bottom to top: pea gravel, sand, straw, soil. The soil layer catches the fat and the water filters through the other layers before reaching the soakaway. The worms live in the soil level and work as an accelerator, eating the fat that accumulates.

Overall, the weekend was a huge success and we were pleasantly surprised by the volunteers' enthusiasm and hardwork. As always, there is plenty of work that needs completing on the bunkhouse, but we thank everyone who helped out for helping us taking that step towards completion. We look forward to welcoming enthusiastic and eco-minded individuals to come build, experiment, learn and laugh with us again soon!

#hhwgug #ourbrightfuture #hempcrete #volunteer #bunkhouse #construction #selfbuild #naturalbuilding #chipcrete #experimentalarchitecture

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