Archive for April, 2009

April 28, 2009

et voila: The Bike Shed/ReCycle Stage


This is a shot of Sanford co-op’s self-built bike shed, or more correctly ‘The ReCycle Stage’. Thanks to on-off Sanford resident Sally for the photo.

April 23, 2009

Commission on Co-op and Mutual Housing

“The Commission for Co-operative & Mutual Housing is researching co-operative and mutual housing with an intention to produce a report that will be promoted to all political parties in Autumn 2009. As part of CCMH’s work, it has launched a call for evidence so that individuals and organisations can feed in views and evidence about co-operative & mutual housing.”

CCMH call for evidence

April 23, 2009

Edinburgh ate my carbon footprint

After a 10-hour drive with a van full of my stuff – much more than I thought I owned actually – I’m now living in my third co-op, in Edinburgh. The new place is great. Center of town with a view of the castle and the sunset behind it every evening.

The thing is, my carbon footprint has probably doubled since moving into this place. There’s gas heating and cooking, and no shower – had my first bath for about a year. Apparently some of the block has solar tubing for the hot water and some have underfloor heating (only ground-level flats I presume) but not the entire co-op yet. Not sure how well the solar’s working but I hope to speak to some more co-op members about that soon. There’s no composting as far as I can see, at least not in these flats.

Lister is a big co-op in two blocks. My new place is on the corner of the bigger block, hidden from the main road, it’s very quiet here – in fact complete silence at night! Almost missing the London Town Lullaby of police sirens every half hour. There are families here, there are flats of different sizes – 1, 2, 3, 4-bedroom places. We have a huge communal garden with kids’ playground in it, very neat and tidy it is too.

April 23, 2009

Hot water from the solar tubes

April 17th

Typical. Now I’m leaving this place the bloody bike shed is about ready to use at last, and the other day I had my first shower using hot water from the solar! Unbelievable.
I’ve been waiting all those years to be able to leave my bike secure outside. We’ve had a houseful of bikes as there’s 7 of us with them. Mostly they were stashed under the stairs but often just left in the hallway or even in the blooming kitchen.

As for the solar, it’s the thing I’ve been most excited about. Having the water heated directly from the sun. Completely free, clean and carbon neutral. I didn’t think it was working but a couple of days ago no-one else was home all day and so the immersion (electric, obviously) wasn’t turned on…but there was enough hot – and I mean genuinely hot – water to have a shower. My first Sanford solar shower!

April 8, 2009

Solid fuel burner problems

We’ve (still!) got a problem with a small pump in the hot water system so we’ve been getting our hot water using the immersion for quite a while now. Not good. It kind of defeats the point of the C60 project in a way. We’re waiting for a plumber AND an electrician to turn up at the same time so they can do the job in one go. Sounds straight forward, right? Well it’s been a couple of months already. Did I mention that the co-op tends to run in slow-mo?

Sanford has solid fuel burners for the heating and hot water, burning recycled waste wood compressed into little pellets. We apparently reduced the co-ops co2 emissions by 60%, originally. But there’s been a good few teething problems with some houses having to resort to the electric immersion for hot water. At one point – actually quite a few points – I’ve had to go to other houses to have a shower because neither the boiler nor the immersion were working. The immersion isn’t really designed to be used so much, it’s more of a back-up, I think, so it can’t take the punishment for very long.
One christmas/new year we spent a couple of weeks with no heating or hot water. I liked it, actually.

The pellets are delivered a few tons at a time and sit piled up in the car park in 10kg bags – yes, there’s a lot of waste plastic bags and they’re not recyclable! A couple of weeks ago police came asking about the stuff, saying they’d ‘spotted it from the main road and thought it might be a huge stash of fertiliser. Terrorists use it for explosives, you know.’ Well, the G20 were in town so I suppose the plod were a little more paranoid than usual.

And then there’s the solar tubes on our roof. Nobody seems to know if they work or not, or ever have since we had it all fitted. That was what I was really looking forward to, getting my hot water from a genuinely free and clean source. Am still waiting. Not sure if it’s because there’s not been enough sunshine –  could be, hardly had much summer – or it’s just not up and running. Shame.

April 8, 2009

Recycle Stage aka The Bike Shed

Tuesday 7th April:

I was standing on top of the bike shed today with a friend and he came up with a crafty idea. He suggested hanging a taught cable from the fence up on the rail embankment behind and running it down to the back gate in front so we could have one of those zip wires! I think it’s also known as an aerial runway or a flying fox. Yeh, let’s turn the place into an adventure playground.

That’s right, the shed isn’t just a shed. The roof is a space to sit and hang out, soon to be a mini garden with fruit trees and bushes apparently, a stage for performances, and a potential accident-waiting-to-happen for anyone who’s downed a few too many Special Brews. It’s the ‘ReCycle Stage’. It’s built almost entirely from reclaimed railway sleepers stacked on top of each other in what looks like a huge kidney-shaped hut. Inside is enough space to secure almost a hundred bikes. It’s big.

One morning Cristo came and asked me if I could drive. When I said yes he led me to the car park and handed me the keys to a bloody great forklift! No, I’d never operated a forklift before, but I couldn’t resist. We’d hired the thing to transport the sleepers from the car park to the bike shed site half way down the garden. It takes at least 2 (fairly strong) people to carry one sleeper where the forklift could do about 8 at a time.

We had to move a whole section of the garden to build this thing. It took us weeks of digging and wheelbarrowing tons of earth to other parts of the co-op. There’s still a huge mound of earth piled up at the end of house 10 and loads of ton bags full of it stacked in the car park.

Building the bike shed seems to have been a genuinely bonding experience for the place, bringing together some of the most, shall we say, ‘difficult’ members of the co-op. Seeing them work together days on end with comparatively few upsets. And it was genuine hard graft, I had blisters to prove it. We dug most of it by hand. Some of us even really enjoyed it. Well they did get to operate a digger and I got to drive the huge forklift. In fact, Bones seemed to be on the digger for days, even into the night sometimes. Kept him occupied and out of trouble, I suppose.

The forklift was also needed to get the 100-odd sleepers off the flatbed truck they were delivered on. That was an early morning trauma in itself. Before we’d even got that many sleepers off, poor Jon fell off the trailer and did his back in. We thought he’d broken it or something, he was flat on the floor in the middle of the road obviously in pain. Thing is he’d had a bad back anyway and shouldn’t have been climbing or lifting. I thought we were going to have to call an ambulance but he insisted he would be fine…as he slowly dragged himself on his belly across the car park and back to his house. Forklifting those sleepers from the lorry was pretty scary.

The door’s been fitted to the shed recently and looks very nice indeed. It’s a heavy metal door inlaid with light wood which contrasts, not too badly, with the dark wood of the rest of the structure. Nice one, Cristo!

April 8, 2009

I love the smell of compost in the morning

Monday 6th April:

As far as I remember, when I first arrived we weren’t doing any composting. There were complaints that it attracts rats. Better the rats go for the compost rather than your house though, right? And that it stinks. Well, yes, it stinks. It’s a pile of rotting food, for feks sake!

When Mike was in the car park emptying one of the bins to give the contents a dig and a turnover I could smell it from five houses away, but when the lid’s on you can’t smell anything unless you’re up close. The thing is the flies. When you lift the lid on one of the bins to empty your unwanted veggie bits into it you get a faceful of these little Kamakazis. They swarm out in a second and they’re all over you, up your nose and in your ears and mouth. Yum.

Yesterday we made a new compost heap from a big wooden crate that had been sitting in the garden for a while by putting a ton bag in and punching a few holes in it. The other compost bins are too small and too few really. Most of the houses are doing compost now and the stuff isn’t getting turned over regularly. Hopefully this big bag-in-a-box will be easier to get at with a garden fork and might encourage more people to get stuck in. Could do with another one the same, probably best somewhere in the car park. In fact, Sanford definitely needs more composting space and probably a dedicated team to dig it over regularly.