The edge of the bubble

 In Blog, Student Post

We were blessed this week to be joined by our former student, Kirk. It was a joy to welcome back one of our own and see how he has developed his skills since his time with us. He very kindly agreed to write us a blog post detailing this week’s progress and what it’s like to come back.

Jeffrey Hart – Hartwyn Instructor

What a week! It was wonderful to catch up with the Hartwyn team and such a treat to meet this year’s crew! The new build is an inspiring testament to their skills and hard work and I feel truly privileged to have knocked in a couple of nails alongside them! (With this year’s fancy new nail guns too!)

Arrival, same same but not same?

I arrived last Sunday evening ahead of the penultimate week of the build and as I sat down in the familiar blue and white-striped communal marquee, there seemed to be a measured calm as the team took advantage of the last few hours before the final push. Looking around me, I was struck by an odd feeing of – almost – deja vu. The freecycled sofas, the chintzy lampshades rescued from a festival, the grubby carpet littered with wood shavings from a recent spoon carving session. These things were all familiar but there were also telling changes.

Innovations suggesting lessons learned from the previous year. A row of pigeon holes lining one wall – presumably to accommodate for the students’ magpie-like tendency to collect everything they see. A new layout for the kitchen that didn’t involve negotiating a crystal maze-like assault course to gain entry. Though I rather liked the challenge of the old set up, it was fantastic to see the little evolutions and I began to wonder excitedly about the changes I might find on site! 

Home brew wine

Before I could sit long with these thoughts, however, a distinctly murky-looking demijohn was cheerfully plucked from behind a sofa and a glass of home brewed wine thrust into my hand! Always up for an adventure I willingly accepted, and I have to say the fleeting moment of internal hesitation was entirely unwarranted. The brew turned out to be decidedly drinkable and marked a wonderful welcome to the team!  

Stretching now mandatory!

The following morning, I was delighted to discover that a ten-minute stretching and warm up session had officially become part of the morning meeting. In what is an extremely physically demanding environment, standard building sites rarely seem to acknowledge the need to look after our bodies! The warm up also inadvertently doubled as an opportunity to get the usual morning chatter out of the way before turning our attention to the day ahead. I suspect we have Emma Appleton to thank for this excellent addition and if you want to read up on her thoughts about creating a feminist, non-capitalist building site, check out her website: hear our podcast with Emma here!)

Battening, cladding and the ‘to do’ list

Post meeting, I was assigned to the battening crew and with the cladding team hot on our heels we made our way systematically along the full length of the back of the building. And it is a very long building! In the following days, we moved on to painting the clay plastered walls and eventually onto laying the beautiful earth floor. This, combined with the seemingly innumerable list of little ‘finishing touches’ that mark the end of every build, made for a seriously busy week! As it progressed, I had the opportunity to work with almost everyone and I soon discovered that – as an ex-student – I was a matter of certain interest.

Questions from the current students

I was chiefly quizzed about the type and frequency of the work that they might hope to expect post build. What work had I done? What had other ex-students gone on to do? And whilst the questions were, on the face if it, about work, it struck me that with the end of the build in sight and the real world looming, there was another reassurance the team were seeking in their line of questioning. With most other jobs, we say goodbye at the end of the day and individually head off to our own homes to continue our independent lives.

But on a build like this, you work together, you eat together, you socialise together. You live together. And though it’s not always easy being so intensely in each others space, the net result (in my experience) is an amazing feeling of belonging and togetherness. In striving towards a common goal and learning along the way, you discover a huge amount about each other. Strengths and weaknesses. You cry, you laugh, you play. It’s a feeling of family and without wanting to dive down the rabbit hole and start on about the various failings of modern western society… I’ll simply say, it’s a rare chance to experience real community.  

Stepping out of the bubble

For those inside the bubble, the concept of stepping back out again might be a rather scary prospect but as they take that step, this year’s students have not only become part of a growing Hartwyn family, but also of a wonderful wider community. Not only of natural builders, but green woodworkers, heritage craftspeople, woodland caretakers, the list goes on. And as I struggle not to sound overly sentimental it would be utterly true to say that over the past two years, I have encountered more kind, generous, open hearted, enthusiastic people than I might have hoped to meet in a lifetime. The extraordinarily high proportion of excellent folk that seem to gravitate to this vocation is boggling and to be part of it is a true privilege. 

This year’s build might be almost over, but there is a wonderful world waiting for the Hartwyn students of 2019. I hope very much that that is a Hart-ening thought! 

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