Olivia Bailey Student Blog: My Simple Summer

Olivia2This summer I was able to take the time to organise and run a 6-week camp for 24 young people from across Europe and North America. The camp took place on the outskirts of Exeter and centres around philosophies of simple living and building sustainable communities.

Whilst I was based in Exeter for the first year of the WISE CDT I spent the majority of my free time in the forest building the small eco-campsite that would be home to the summer camp. The site comprises of a few small buildings that have been made, wherever possible, from locally sourced wood and waste materials.

Our goal of the summer was to live as self-sufficiently as possible and this was aided by the large vegetable garden that has been nurtured on the site. We were able to harvest certain foods from here, which became more abundant as the summer progressed. We also kept a group of chickens that provided us with eggs and a handy way to dispose of food scraps.Olivia4

For these six weeks we were cooking on a homemade ‘rocket’ wood stove that was built to maximise the surface area available for heating. The hot fumes are fed through an insulated channel under a metal plate where the gases escape through pan-sized holes to heat the food. The stove was powered mostly by burning fallen branches/sticks from around the site.

Installing the water supply was luckily rather simple as the site is relatively close to civilisation so potable water was easily piped down from a nearby house. There was the small matter of burying the polyethylene pipe a sufficient depth to maintain an adequate water temperature during summer and winter months. Trenches filled with varying sizes of hard-core and gravel were created to supply the site with adequate drainage. Luckily we had an incredibly dry summer so saturated forest floor was never an issue. Our showers were mostly of the cold variety; unless we took the time to boil water, which in this unusually hot summer was not a problem. Partway through camp we attempted to build a solar cooker to provide hot water for the showers but the protOlivia1otype never made it to a full-scale project  – one for next year!

A community of this size produces a reasonably large amount of waste so systems were put in place to minimise this. We built composting toilets that we emptied every day into a heap that can eventually be used to fertilise the garden once the solids are stable. The food waste was by the most-part fed to the chickens that we kept onsite but anything the chickens couldn’t eat would also get composted for use in the garden. Most of our food that was not grown in the garden came from wholesalers so packaging was minimal; where possible we repurposed materials (jars/tins etc.) or used it to start the fires (cardboard/paper).  The small amount of waste that remained was recycled where possible.
It was a great experience to build this somewhat self-sufficient community in the woods. I have a particular interest in how waste streams can serve communities so this project was particularly interesting for me. My PhD work will focus on integrated sewer systems for the future and my involvement with this project has given me a deeper feeling of how we could live in a less wasteful way. Hopefully this experience will aid me in working towards a more sustainable, circular future.