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The Othona Bradwell Community builds a new eco house

December 20, 2010:

This year Othona Bradwell opened a new eco-complex with timber frame and rammed-mud wall, for housing visitors and volunteers. This is the story of how they built it.

Othona Bradwell is a Christian retreat/holiday centre in Essex, UK,just a sea wall away from the North Sea. It is particularly popular in the summer when it runs themed weeks, with 50 to 70 people at any one time, some of them staying in big family-sized tents, and others in more permanent accommodation. Each year between 1,200 people stay, split between school groups (200 children), churches, other groups such the YMCA, Youth Action for Peace etc, members of the public and community members.

The main building is a ranch-style single storey structure with large kitchen, communal dining room, lounge, offices and an accommodation wing. A few years ago the Community members were facing a crisis when they had to decommission one accommodation building because of damp. They made an application for a grant from the “Cut Your Carbon Programme” (administered by the East of England Development Fund) for a new 10-bedroom, timber framed building with a turf roof, rammed earth internal walls, straw bale external walls and with the whole of the south side wall glazed floor to ceiling in order to capture and retain the solar heat.

They received £123,000 - half the grant they had originally asked for, and so have now built half the original building, with five bedrooms and a meeting room, showers and disabled loo, with the hope (and planning permission) for another five bedrooms when they raise the next round of funding. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do believe it is a beautiful building with rounded walls inside made of rammed earth,” said Othona Trustee, Rupert Bragg.

They worked with ZEDfactory, which, among other notable projects had been responsible for Earthship in Brighton. There are solar panels on the roof and a solid fuel stove in the meeting room for supplementary heat and hot water, which also runs in a loop through the bedrooms, with the effect of being like small radiators.

In addition to the whole community’s enthusiasm, there were two key things that made the dream of an eco building come into reality, Mr Bragg said. “The grant from Cut Your Carbon is what made it happen, plus a legacy of £75,000 which came at exactly the right time. The Community made up the balance of the £300,000 costs through its own fund raising activities.”

A main contractor completed the foundations, timber frame, floor and roof decking. The Community has taken on all the other work using a small army of volunteers to help with the rammed earth and straw bale build as well as the rendering and final decorations. Training days were organised with specialists from both rammed earth and straw bale building showing the staff and volunteers the techniques so they could then carry out the work. The Community ran an open house during the spring and summer this year, with 15 to 35 people at any one time working on the project.

Wherever possible, recycled materials have been used - a notable example of this is the flooring, which is laid with granite slabs recycled from London Underground following the rennovation of the Green Park Underground Station. Most of the internal windows, doors, sinks and sanitary units are also from recycled sources.

One of the many wonderful things that came out of it was the process of having training weeks in eco-construction with the volunteers, and knowing they were going to be bringing that knowledge and passion back to their own communities, and in some cases their own countries. “We are a Christian community, and it was very moving spreading our message through the building process,” Mr Bragg said.

The official blessing was at the end of August, although the accommodation will not be completely ready until March when the first bookings are being accepted.

Othona Bradwell has a strong ecological ethos. They have never been on the grid, but last year (using a £30,000 grant) they fitted a wind turbine – particularly efficient on the coast – which together with solar panels provide 70 percent of their electricity, the remainder provided by a LPG powered generator. They have reedbeds for sewage, recycle carefully, and try and source food as locally as possible, from local butchers, farmers and greengrocers (“though we do use supermarkets as well, when we have to”). One of their members provides garden vegetables, and all eggs are free-range.


Link here for the full December 2010 eco-retreat newsletter, and other newsletters with information about other ecoretreat centres around the UK.

History of Othona Bradwell

The Othona Community is a Christian based community founded by Norman Motley, an Anglican Priest who first worked in the parish of Spitalfields in East London and then, at the beginning of the Second World War became an RAF Chaplain in a vast training centre in Blackpool. When the war ended Norman started searching for a suitable site not too far from London. He found it at Bradwell on Sea in Essex and so, in 1946, the Community in a ramshackle collection of tents and ex-army huts was started. In 1965 a second centre was opened at Burton Bradstock on the Dorset coast.

It was established in a marshy field close to the site of a Roman fort which the Romans called ‘Othona’. In AD 665 the Celtic missionary, Bishop Cedd, came from Lindisfarne in Northumberland to bring Christianity to the East Saxons. He used the brick and stone from the fort to build his church, now known as St Peter’s on the Wall.

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December 20, 2010:
The Othona Bradwell Community builds a new eco house
This year Othona Bradwell opened a new eco-complex with timber frame and rammed-mud wall, for housing visitors and volunteers. This is the story of how they built it.