Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 12:30 UK
Eco-friendly life at rural artspace
By Rachel Broome
BBC South East Wales

Coed Hills Rural Artspace
Coed Hills Rural Artspace is located just outside the village of St Hilary in the Vale of Glamorgan

City life with its constant traffic noise and hordes of people rushing from place to place can leave us all feeling a bit jaded at times.

Needing to renew my sense of inner calm I ventured deep into the rolling countryside of the Vale of Glamorgan.

There I found Coed Hills Rural Artspace, a community committed to living a simpler, sustainable life.

It's open to the public and visitors are welcome to look around and explore the on site sculpture trail.

Coed Hills is located just outside the beautiful village of St Hilary in the Vale.

The 180 acre site was established around 12 years ago as an artists community by Rawley Clay. It's run to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible.

A wind turbine and solar panels provide electricity and heat. A biomass boiler burns wood that fuels the under floor heating inside one of the barns. Solar panels heat water for the outdoor showers and there's even compost toilets.

The community is also home to a sculpture trail and visiting artists create pieces which are added to the trail.

A number of events, festivals and workshops take place during the year. They try to attract visitors from all walks of life from guide and scout groups to people who want to find out more about organic gardening.

They've recently hosted a children's festival which raised money to send clowns out to disaster stricken areas to work with the children there.

Around eight people live permanently on the site in accommodation ranging from log cabins to tipis and yurts. Numerous visitors, artists and volunteers join camp for short periods throughout the year.

The community is run very democratically, everyone has a role from cooking to gardening to tending to the animals or helping with the building work. They meet up together regularly and discuss any decisions that need to be made.

Wooden wheels
Wood is prepared to construct the ring which supports the roof of the yurt

Residents build their own yurts and the wooden wheels or roof ring which form the top of the yurt are constructed by steaming the wood to make it pliable and then clamping it around a metal wheel former until it takes on a wheel shape.

Wooden workshops built by the community provide space for crafts people to work. There's even a small foundry where metal work and sculpture is produced.

The community also grow a lot of their own organic fruit and vegetables and they keep chickens and goats to provide them with eggs and milk.

Some volunteers are part of the Willing Workers on Organic Farms scheme, known as 'woofers'. They spend time working at Coed Hills and learning about organic growing methods and low impact lifestyles.

Water treatment system
The water treatment system uses plants to purify effluent water which runs through a series of swales.

A recent and ingenious addition to the site is the new water treatment system. The system comprises of a series of large ditches each lower than the other, which culminate in a pond at the bottom. Water loving plants are placed along the bank of each ditch or swale which act as a filtration system removing pollutants from the effluent water as it passes through the system.

By the time the water reaches the pond at the bottom it's considered clean. In addition to filtering the water, the system increases the diversity of wildlife in the area and provides the community with willow for basket weaving.


My guide around Coed Hills was Matt. He's been living at the site for just over a year. He's previously looked after the site management, however he's now working as the woodsman. He's focusing on re-establishing traditional woodland work such as coppice work, woodland management and extracting timber for building.

Matt admits that outdoors survival specialist and TV presenter Ray Mears' love of living outdoors has rubbed off on him.

He says that the most wonderful thing for him about living in Coed Hills is living outdoors in his yurt and working outdoors in the woods and reconnecting with traditions of the past.

Matt acknowledges that not everyone from the local village of St Hilary is happy about their presence. Property prices in the area are amongst the highest in Wales and he feels that they may think they're 'lowering the tone'.

However he hopes that those locals who haven't been to Coed Hills will visit them one day so that they can see how hard they work on a daily basis and what they're trying to achieve.

Plans for the future include a barn conversion which will provide studio space for artists, wood workers and act as an educational space. They also hope to build an adventure playground to provide more facilities for children.

In terms of sustainable living they're investigating new technologies such as heating water from compost and producing crops for bio-gas.

Matt sums up Coed Hills saying that it's very much an experiment. They're not trying to tell people how they should live, they just want people to come and see for themselves what they do.

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