A group of ecologically-minded people gathered in Forres to visit a collection of inspiring sustainable enterprises, hear some stimulating talks and exchange green ideas. Having spent the previous couple of months organising SEDA’s (Scottish Ecological Design Association) annual conference, it was underway at last.
For me the highlight was the trip to Makar Ltd. – architect Neil Sutherland’s factory that prefabricates timber-framed buildings using local materials. Neil employs nearly 50 people including joiners and architects. They work on a series of ‘stages’ assembling a whole panel on each platform following the Toyota fabrication method, of which Neil is an admirer. All the timber is local, the insulation is made from recycled newspaper and the panels from wood fibre. I believe that their main workshop has the largest span of any timber building in the UK.
We also visited Logie Sawmill which supplies timber to Makar, as well as to furniture makers and others. We all gasped when we entered their newly built shed – a beautiful construction of hardwood timber sourced from the Logie estate.
We took over Newbold House – a large Victorian house – run by the Newbolds Trust charity, where we were served home-made food fresh from the garden. We heard from a range of stimulating speakers about, amongst other things, small community hydroelectric schemes and sustainable food production. You can see the full programme below.
John Gilbert Associates, SEDA members, have been heavily involved in the Findhorn Foundation from the start. They showed us around their latest development there:- East Whins – an innovative eco-village of 25 homes which is a mixture of flats and houses, all with co-housing facilities including common rooms, a laundry and workshops. This is a model example of cooperative housing with a communal garden. Two residents joined us, telling us about the joys of living there. They also told us that one of the few disadvantages was the time taken for decisions to be made by committee. It reminded me of one of my favourite things about Norway, my father’s homeland – that there are very few fences and it is difficult to know where one Garden ends and another starts, ensuring more social interaction. People lead less isolated lives in co-housing.
On the way home, following a long and winding road, we visited Allt Mor – a 350kW high head, run-of-river, hydro scheme at Kinloch Rannoch. Our initial disappointment that it had shut down due to lack of water was quashed when we had a heavy shower and I watched as the turbines started to spin. It was pretty impressive. This scheme produces enough energy to power 250 homes and an electric vehicle charger.