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New community orchard at Clay Park!
Due to the snow, we had to postpone our orchard planting (as we'd been advised that the trees are vulnerable to damage when temperatures are freezing) although we still popped down to Clay Park to see it in the snow! Martin Stallard has been hard at work finishing off the stone walled banks, and they looked particularly lovely with a blanket of snow on them.
We rescheduled the planting for the following weekend, and although there was a bit of drizzle the weather was much better! Liz Turner (formerly Trees for Health) and Wendy Stayte (previous coordinator for Incredible Edible Totnes) came along to offer their expertise and more than a dozen volunteers showed up to lend a hand. The most challenging bit was hauling everything up the muddy site - of course we would be planting the orchard as far from the gate as possible! - but planting the trees themselves was straightforward, although each one looks like it has a little fortress erected around it as there is a stake to support the tree and a guard to prevent the local deer from damaging them.
This brings our Postcode Local Trust funded activities to an end, although we are shortly taking delivery of our benches from Landworks, and we have a good selection of tools for ongoing maintenance! We're also looking forward to revealing our foraging map of Clay Park, put together by Myrtle Coooper of Wild & Curious Foraging (who has led 4 foraging sessions for us over the last year). You'll soon be able to pick one up from the site entrance.
It's very busy behind the scenes at Transition Homes. We're waiting to hear from Homes England (formerly the Homes & Communities Agency) on a grant bid to them for our shared ownership units - we should get a decision any day now. Other grant bids are in the pipeline too. We've tendered the build contract to four local building firms, and have a preferred contractor who we're now looking to appoint. The detailed design work with our civil and structural engineers and our architect is coming to a close, so that the fully designed scheme will be ready for the contractor to cost up. Our detailed highways plans are with Devon County Council Highways for approval. One thing we're really looking forward to arranging with the contractor is community engagement - ideas include a monthly open day where residents and other locals can come along for a tour, to see what's been happening, and hopefully get their hands dirty!
A particular challenge for us has been how to embed the use of local building materials, particularly timber, in the build contract. We need a lot of timber, and in order to get an LABC warranty on the homes, timbers for certain uses must be treated and graded in certain ways - which means some things we need aren't available locally. Thankfully we have two members of the team who have been working in the local timber trade for years so know who to talk to, and have been working with our architect to specify - for all sorts of uses from big timbers for the substructure, framing timber, kitchens, doors, cladding, etc - where the timber will be sourced. There are lots of legal negotiations going on with solicitors, neighbours, Devon County Council and South West Water (all very normal!) for the new road and sewer connection. Our M&E (mechanical and electrical) engineers are designing the private wire system and working with Argand to figure out the metering and other requirements for this innovative part of the scheme!
Recently we had a group of local permaculture students use Clay Park as a case study, for them to create their own design for the site which they presented on their final evening of their course. It was fantastic to see their enthusiasm and to hear some new ideas, and we were impressed at their ability to look at an empty 7 acre field and imagine what it may become!
Earthwrights have designed us a lovely natural play area to go next to the community building, a local architect has volunteered some time to do some artists impressions of thesite, the new website is under development, and we're shortly about to start a consultation on the ruined barn.... phew. This is just some of what's going on to get ready to start building late in 2018.
The team is made up of 6 volunteer Trustees - Tom, Mary, Erica, Laura, Zav, and Ruth - and 3 key volunteers - Jim, Ben and Sally - who all contribute their time around their jobs, and part-time coordinator Nicola. We're always open to volunteers - for example, there are things to do at the site, we're seeking a Trustee with finance experience, and if you're a wiz with WordPress you could help with the new website!
A common question is 'have we allocated the houses yet?' to which the answer is no: we won't do this until we've got finance in place and a start date and build programme, so that we know when the houses will be ready. So if you're interested or know someone in need of affordable housing, would like to lend a hand, or have any other queries, please get in touch with Nicola on email@example.com
Finally, we are seeking supporters to help us cover our modest (~£2000/yr) core costs - if you can donate a small monthly amount to help us then please please fill in this form. Your support would be hugely appreciated!
Community orchard planting at Clay Park
New date Saturday 24th at 2pm.
Learn about how to plant and care for young fruit trees, and lend a hand in establishing a new community fruit & nut tree orchard at Clay Park, the Transition Homes site in Dartington.
Come and join in the fun on Saturday from 2pm, when we'll be planting nearly 20 fruit and nut trees. We'll be led by two local knowledgeable growers, Wendy Stayte (who coordinated Incredible Edible Totnes for 10 years) and Liz Turner (who ran Trees for Health for 12 years) so it's a great opportunity to ask questions about growing your own fruit trees, but equally just a fun opportunity to get your hands dirty! Free tea and cake will be available. Do wear wellies or other appropriate footwear, warm/waterproof clothing (there's no shelter on site) and bring a camping mug, gardening gloves, and a shovel if you've got one. There's plenty of room for kids to run around, but please keep an eye on them!
We've always planned to have lots of edibles at Clay Park, and this is our first phase of planting. Funds came from our Postcode Local Trust grant, which also paid for the hedge laying and stone-faced hedge bank building workshops we've held, the results of which you can see on Sunday, and hedgerow maintenance.
What are we planting? Apples, pears, plums (including Dittisham Ploughman, below!), cherries, walnuts, and elders, sourced from Martin Crawford and Thornhayes.
Directions: Clay Park is on the A385 between Totnes and Dartington, after the Puddavine retirement home on the left (coming from Totnes), and nearly opposite the Jehovah's Witness hall. There's no parking on site but you can park nearby outside the Atmos hub. If you need to drop off, there is a layby opposite, and the Stagecoach Gold bus stops very close by.
Wild food adventure at Clay Park
Free family-friendly foraging session with Myrtle Cooper of Wild & Curious, during the half-term holiday. February 15th 10.30am-midday, followed by a picnic lunch around the fire! Please email Myrtle to book: only 20 places are available (adults & kids). Please wear wellies or boots!
Create and restore a traditional Devon stone-faced hedge bank
Following Transition Homes' popular hedge-laying workshop last October, we're holding more hedge related workshops. This is a very rare opportunity to build a new stone faced Devon bank, and places are limited to just 8 per workshop so do book ASAP so you don't miss out!
- February 7th & 8th - Learn about and create a section of new stone-faced traditional Devon hedge bank between using locally sourced limestone, with Martin Stallard. If there is time, you might also move on to restoration of the adjacent bank. Lunches and teas will be provided.
- February 15th - restore a section of traditional stone-faced Devon hedge bank using locally sourced limestone, with Martin Stallard. Lunches and tea will be provided.
Find out more about Devon's hedges and creating a new bank on the Devon Hedge group website
A £10 refundable deposit will be required to confirm your booking, which will be refunded on the day of your workshop. Please email Nicola to book.
All of these activities are funded by a grant from the People's Postcode Trust, supported by players of the People's Postcode Local.
We have at long last officially received planning consent for the Transition Homes scheme at Clay Park, Dartington. Some of you may be under the impression we already had it – but although we knew it had been approved by South Hams Council in February, it has taken this long to sort out the planning conditions and get all the paperwork signed off. It's a huge relief and many thanks to everyone who played a part in getting us to this stage, including the nearly 100 people who wrote letters of support for our planning application.
What's being built?
As a reminder, the consent is to build 27 houses to a very high eco standard with low running costs, using local natural materials (straw and wood) as far as possible, and providing some much needed good quality affordable housing for local people. The houses will be a much better standard than most, on a site which is quite challenging to access and service, so it is going to cost a bit more than average to build. So 8 of the houses will be sold on the open market to help cross subsidise the others, which will be a mixture of social rented and shared ownership. To reduce water consumption, all the houses will have compost loos and we'll produce our own electricity on site from the solar PV arrays. Also to save water and energy, there will be a shared laundry so people do not need their own washing machines.
Not just houses...
Living a decent life is not just about a warm comfortable house, it is also about feeling part of the place and sharing activities with neighbours. Inspired by co-housing 'common houses' Clay Park will also have a community hub – a space for meetings, parties and so on with a kitchen, office and loos. The development will occupy about two thirds of the seven acre field with the rest used for an orchard, wild flower meadow and vegetable growing. With a grant from the Postcode Lottery Trust we have already started work on improving the hedges and the biodiversity of the site.
We haven't been twiddling our thumbs waiting for the planning consent! We have been working closely with our architect Barry Jobson, project manager Oliver Del Mar and other consultants (lots of engineers!) to sort out all the fine details.
- choosing the best and most affordable foundations given we are not using concrete which releases a huge amount of carbon dioxide in manufacture
- detailing the timber frame design
- tweaking the house design to provide the best layouts
- choosing an efficient heating and ventilation system, given that the houses won't actually need much heating
- agreeing the road layout and materials used for the adopted and unadopted roads with DCC (a condition of the planning application)
- balancing the street lighting requirements of the bats foraging along the hedges with the highways department requirements (we think the bats will win)
- the detailed design for the community building having consulted on what potential users would like
What about paying for it all?
South Hams District Council have contributed £190,000 towards the costs which we are spending on the detailed design work and extra surveys before we start building (unexploded ordinance anyone?).
The Big Potential, a grant pot that is part of the National Lottery, has funded consultants from Triodos Corporate Finance to help us raise the funding to build the scheme. We need funding in two stages.
The first is development finance, i.e. a loan to cover all the costs of building the development. At the end of the development we will be able to pay back a lot of that from the sales of the open market houses and the equity we sell in the shared ownership houses.
The second stage of finance is to cover the gap between costs and sales. This will be converted into a long term loan that we will pay back from the rents that we collect. Obviously we are committed to keeping the rents as affordable as we can so the amount of long term loan we can service is limited. At the moment we have a gap between the total likely cost and what we can afford to pay back from sales and long term loan. Hence we are busy applying for grants from the Homes & Communities Agency and eyeing up the new fund the government has announced for community led housing. Demand for these pots of money always far exceeds supply so we have to keep our fingers firmly crossed.
When will the building start?
We need to have raised all the finance, met the (pre-commencement) planning conditions and selected the builders before we can actually start. The first step will be to create a new access to the site onto the main road. While we are doing that one lane of the main road will have to be closed – and that cannot happen during the summer holidays. We now know it's unlikely we can do everything we need to in time to have completed the access before June – so all being well – we will start in September. We have not selected the builders yet but we're starting to talk to local firms who are excited by the prospect of a different style of build, and with the capacity to take on what is quite a big scheme.
Have a very happy festive season and we are all looking forward to making real progress in 2018!