Transformation comes in many shapes and forms and for the past few months the Park Maintenance team of the Findhorn Foundation have been performing miracles on the recently completed bunkhouse accommodation and learning new skills along the way.
It was a bold experiment, initiated by Paul Johnson, the Assets Manager of the Foundation, who had the idea to recycle metal portacabins into eco guest accommodation. The intention was to meet our growing need for additional guest beds in the most affordable way and also diversify our range of accommodation.
Graham Meltzer, our resident architect, was faced with the challenge of how to transform a plain box into a landmark building and incorporate an eco-spec into the experiment. “The box shape was a design challenge and so to distract from this I decided to create a tilting box, slightly different to the norm,” he explained. “This was also a response to the sloping aspect of the site… an expression of co-creation with nature. Some people will find it amusing, others confusing.”
Each day as I made my short commute (a three minute cycle ride) from home to office across The Park, I watched the project with interest. One afternoon I paused for a few minutes, to watch Graham and Rolf prepare the cladding, and contemplated the quirky design. “Are the windows slightly wonky?” I asked. “No, no it’s just an optical illusion,” joked Graham.
The design is certainly eye-catching and I find it far more attractive now the timber cladding is complete. I’m sure the neighbours do too! When I walked inside I was struck by the stylish features and loved the contrast of the dark chocolate sofas and deep red cushions against the light timber detail.
The portacabins were a low-cost investment that provided a metal framework for construction. The first challenge was how to transform the non-breathable building into a comfortable living space, achieved through extra insulation and effective ventilation to create a feeling of warmth and freshness. The use of local recycled materials and electrical power generated by the community-owned wind turbines, contribute to the zero carbon footprint without compromising on the quality of accommodation.
Jim Brown, Focaliser of the Park Maintenance team, brought years of experience to the six-month project, and both short and long term guests were involved in the transformative process. The physical aspect was visible for all to see as the project took place in full view of the community, however, something perhaps even more important took place simultaneously.
“Everyone involved developed new skills and with this came a new sense of confidence and self-assurance about what they could accomplish both individually and working together as a team,” said Jim. “The people aspect was very positive, as well as saving the Foundation considerable labour costs.”
The ‘love in action’ philosophy creates a feel good factor that hopefully the guests can sense when they stay in accommodation built by the community for the community. Even the bunk beds are handcrafted and for young people comfortable in hostel style accommodation, the four bedroom, two bathroom home with large living space is more contemporary than most.
The crew now feel proud to show the Foundation what is possible from a service department. “There is a sense of accomplishment and it was fun to help make such a visible difference,” said Tobias, a young apprentice in the team who was born here in the community and returned to live in the Foundation last year.
“What did you all learn from the project?” I asked Jim. “Sequencing is really tricky in a construction project,” he said. “Knowing what comes first and planning and scheduling outside contractors e.g. the electrician to approve the wiring, are all important skills that the team are now more familiar with. This is invaluable for future projects.”
Like many projects, the timeframe was difficult to estimate and the team overcame various organisational challenges. “When using recycled materials it’s important to buy wisely,” Jim advised. “Consider if the cost of using a piece of material and the labour involved in preparation is actually a saving. It also helps to have the people involved in installation choose the materials and to have a clear definition of roles.”
Was the experiment cost effective? That’s a tricky one to calculate. Either way, it can be seen as a win/win situation. We now have eight new beds in attractive eco accommodation, offering the capacity to provide for over 400 additional guests each year, as well as a more highly skilled maintenance team who have successfully completed their first big build.
Although we have increased our capacity, we continue to fundraise though our Spirit of the Future campaign. The aim is to provide fully accessible accommodation for all our guests that both respects and supports their independence regardless of physical mobility.
We hope that many more people will have the opportunity to experience a more conscious way of living in this unique centre of demonstration that continues to evolve and inspire in a myriad of ways.