Thursday, 23 December 2010

Festive Chestnuts

Our last visit before the holiday season - when we're not going to be able to do anything, as the Slough Council Nursery will be completely shut up and locked until after New Year.

But mission accomplished - to get rid of some more snow, to get the wood burning stove in there and warm the place up.

And, as a pre-Christmas treat, we managed to rustle up chestnuts to roast and some mince pies...

Happy New Year!


Monday, 20 December 2010

Safe at last...

  Here it is, this morning (Monday 20 Dec):

Lots of work from the Monday TC group today:
We brushed it all down and dried it, got the canvas sides and roof on, and shovelled out most of the snow from the floor.

 And we got the canvas (weatherproofing) layer on

And the nursery IS completely closed from 2pm on Friday until Tues 4 January - so there will not be any chance to do anything then. But at least we don't need to worry about the bad weather damaging the wooden frame any more, nor the canvas going mouldy - and all the other parts are safely stored in the dry.

On Thursday afternoon we're going to shovel out the rest of the snow, get the fire in there, light it, and warm it all through (1pm if anybody wants to come).

After the holidays, the canvas will need taking off, and the whole lot (cotton liner, felt walls and roof, then canvas walls and roof) putting back on in their final place - but we're getting the hang of it now, so it shouldn't take too long!

Happy Christmas, all

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A worrying exchange of emails


From: "Rex Haigh"
Date: Dec 18 2010, 10:09 am
Subject: Hello - from the snow
To: Exclusion Link

Hi Rob

Sadly, we didn't get the covers on before the bad weather came back with a vengeance - we had the cotton lining on, but had to take that off as there was going to be no time to do the felt & canvas. All the covers are dry and safe indoors now.

But I have a feeling the council garden centre will be shut over the holiday period (which is a shame, as I think we could get together and do it then).

So my quick question is: will the wood frame be OK in the cold and wet for another two weeks or so?  (I'd hate to have to take it down - but will just have to, if it is going to get damaged)


From: Rob Matthews []
Sent: 18 December 2010 20:20
To: 'Rex Haigh'
Cc: 'Ratna Matthews'
Subject: RE: Hello - from the snow
Importance: High

Dear Rex...just to stress this again the frame MUST NOT get wet.
The wood is not designed to get wet this is the very last thing that you must allow.
It's vital it is taken down, dried with a towel and left in an airy place to complete drying. If not there is no end of possible problems for you.
Do it tonight please!!!
Rob Matthews

Yurt Workshop
Yurts as beautiful and functional as a yurt should be

From: "Rex Haigh"
Date: Dec 19 2010, 6:21 pm
Subject: Hello - from the snow
To: Exclusion Link

Thanks Rob
I'm on the case. Too late and dark for tonight (and no rain or snow forecast).
But we're there tomorrow, and can probably get it down then.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Major snow

 No Yurting today, sadly weather too bad and possibly worse to come all day.
Sheena and David took the liner off on Monday, as it was getting very wed and quite muddy.
Which leaves me wondering when we might get it done at all...

But I will send emails round if there is 'a window'.
David - I very much doubt the group will want to come over on Monday in this  cold.
But as the covers may well not get put on till after the holiday, can we get the canvas covers into the metal container, along with the felt?
I'll keep the cotton liner at home till we're ready to go again. And I hope the wooden frame (and sticky door) don't suffer from another week or two without their covers.

Also, could you find out from Paul if they are open at all between Christmas and New Year - I might be able to persuade the family troops to go over there for a day if they are open. But I expect they'll be shut till the 4th - when I'm so bogglingly busy, for weeks, I doubt it'll be finished till NEXT Christmas!


Monday, 13 December 2010

Squatting in a polytunnel

With the weather interrupting progress, our hopes to be comfortably established in the yurt before Christmas were looking a bit forlorn.

And with increasing bad feeling about being ejected from the (temporary) hospital room we use for our community meetings and therapy groups, our members decided that the Monday lunch and afternoon activity groups would be much nicer over at the Slough Council Nursery - even though we were in the worst December weather for decades, Heathrow airport was shut, and the roof fell in:

Our group therapy circle

The cooker, sat on top of a propane cylinder

The hot drinks counter

Washing up area

Our 'dining room table'

But boy, was it cold! Here's the snow on the roof, the roof falling in, and why the washing-up wasn't done for a couple of weeks:

Our temporary polytunnel home fails to take the strain

Rips and icicles galore

Difficult to wash up...

At least somebody has found a comfortable spot!

With Christmas on everybody's minds - in one way or another - the editor of the National PD website (Ann Grain) and I cooked up a biblical spin on our plight - and published it as a news item on the site: "No Room at the Inn: Ever Thought of a Yurt?".  It's a bit exaggerated, as we have got some space at the hospital - though it's not always available - and this greencare project is completely separate from the NHS programme. But it makes a heartwarming story for Christmas! Here's the link:


Friday, 10 December 2010

Felt Failure

Hello all
Here is a picture to inspire us:

Which is where we are as I write this. Currently 6ºC daytime, expected below zero (again) by early next week. Not much probability of rain currently predicted.

Unfortunately, this is only one layer of the three we need to cover the yurt with – the cotton lining. Next come the felt (for heat retention) and canvas (for weatherproofing).

We got quite a long way with the felt walls – which come in 3 sections with a clever interlocking system for stringing them to each other – before we realised we only had an hour left before we would be turfed out of the nursery, which has a strict regime of gate locking at 4pm (when it would be too dark to do anything anyway). We were also getting a bit dispirited with the fact that the slightly warmer weather today meant that all the ground round the yurt, outside our gravel drainage trench, had become as muddy as Glastonbury, and we didn't want to drop the felt (or anything else) into the 'fields of mud poo' that lie immediately outside our yurt space's gravel drainage trench.

So, with rather heavy hearts, the three of us took down the felt walls we had struggled with for an hour or so, and stored them away in a dry metal container (much drier than the polytunnel). As the weather forecast does not predict much rain, we didn't feel we also had to take the cotton liner off. If it gets wet with a bit of rain or snow – it should soon dry off (especially when we get it warmed up inside).

So the next two big jobs – putting the felt around the cotton lining, and covering the whole thing with the canvas layer – still need doing. And we are all busy people...

Then, to make it a bit more difficult still, David, Matthew and I think that amateurs like us need at least five people to do the next bit easily (though you can probably do it with less when you know the drill). The felt walls will need four people holding them up while one does all the strings, for example. It's even more critical in the middle of a winter mudbath as the felt must never sit in mud or puddles – because it will instantly
become soggy and useless, as capillary action sucks up all the water around it. And we want to avoid making all the covers muddy because there aren't enough of us to hold them up while we're tying them in place.

We don't yet know what delights might await us with the next stages, which are, in rough order:
  • Felt roof (the instructions suggest that as long as we lay it out the right way, it just rolls into place – one piece at the front and one for the back)
  • Canvas wall (we need Julia, Mary & John for this bit – but you won't get what that means till you see the instructions from Yurt Workshop)
  • Canvas roof (unrolls and unfolds into place, seems to need prodding with roof poles. Then lots of webbing to hold everything together)
  • Crown cover (and strap it down to secure the whole thing against stormy weather)
  • Chimney hole (with temporary flue borrowed from the Nursery till we get our own)
  • Installing stove (proper footings etc)

So here's our latest plan...
1.        This Saturday: day off. No action.
2.        On Monday:
  •  Clean up all the felt layer's attachment strings (some of which got a mud bath today) – as they will probably show through, or put their mud onto the cotton liner.
  • Assemble all the felt pieces 'ready to go' in the dry area of the polytunnel we are in. (But keep them in the dry metal container until we actually are ready to go).
  • Ditto for the canvas wall & roof
  • And talk through exactly what we need to do to get the felt and canvas covers finished.
 3.        Next weekend: recruit all community members, family and friends we can for the final push (as above)...
Hot soup, jacket potatoes, bread, nice cheese, interesting paté, hot and cold drinks, cake and chocolates provided.
Children welcome.
RSVP to David or Rex

4.       Start organising the long-awaited 'yurt-warming party' for Feb/Mar.

And Happy Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Today's triumphant topping out!

Although still a little thin on the ground with bad weather, we romped ahead with the building:

First the door and 5 panels expanded

Then tightly webbing the sections together 
...assemble all 72 roof poles ready to slot in

...raise the crown, and hold it there. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 poles in place
...then the other 68
  Next stage: lining, felt, then canvas.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Putting it up on Saturday

Hello all

Saturday is going to be a big day for our lottery-funded Green Care project in Slough - as long as we're not completely snowed in, we are going to put the yurt up. We need to do it soon, as it's currently being stored in
a polytunnel, which Rob (the maker of it) tells us is the most likely place for it to grow mouldy. Then we can light the fire a few times each week, and keep it in best condition. We will delay the cob floor till spring - when we
can do it properly.

So I'm hiring a van for the day because somebody on Slough Freegle is giving us a sofa, and somebody else is offering a load of logs free which we can go and pick up.

I'll also bring some soup and crusty bread for lunch.
And I'll have project money with me to reimburse any bus & train fares for people who would normally be able to claim it back (ie on benefits)

Wexham Nursery, SLOUGH SL2 4HE
All welcome!
We'll be there about 10.30 - 3pm


Saturday, 13 November 2010

Another dreary day - but action is on the way

Hello friends and colleagues, and others interested in our yurting,Here's today's report on another Saturday down in Slough.

First the bad news:
  • The covers blew off and the nursery staff had to take them all down during the week - following all the storms. I think we are probably not their flavour of the week!
  • The sand is all quite wet
  • Only two of us - David and I - turned up today
  • We didn't get as far as we would have liked (=rough cob laid)

Now the good news:
  • The yurt is on its way from Madrid and should be with us by Mon/Tues
  • The woodburning stove, ditto
  • We have 20 straw bales in a polytunnel for our circle of seating (left)
  •  And lots of tarp to cover it with - to keep it in its bales, so it stays fire-resistant 
  • I have the phone numbers of the people who supply yurt chimneys for the stove, and water urns to sit on top of them

And David and I managed to do quite a lot of useful work:
  • Sort our all the post-storm untidiness
  • Finish the sand layer with about 12 barrows of sand
  • Roughly enough for levelling the whole area to have a domed shape (below)
  • Worked out how to do the outer drainage ditch (above)
  • Made a sample of cob - and checked its consistency with the 'ball test' (right)
  • Tidied the site up 
  • Re-covered the yurt site with slightly tented tarps (to allow a bit of air, and hopefully drying), skewered and weighed down at the edges (below)

 Unfortunately, I got my jeans wet and filthy - so left them in the shed at  the nursery and drove home in my
underpants. And ran out of petrol. Enough said.

So the next jobs are in three different 'work streams', for the floor and drainage, the path and the yurt itself.
Weather, progress and item arrival will determine exactly how they fit
together with each other:

1)      Level the sand with a long wooden batten - radial from the middle.  Do it so the middle is about 2" higher than the edges - to make the dome.
2)      Tramp it down with lots of walking on it, so it's quite  solid.
3)      Make a good lot of rough cob, to be like a pancake 2 - 3" thick to go on top of the sand
4)      Spread it neatly, and smoothly
5)      Allow to dry. This might be difficult with the weather at the moment. If needed, and things come together at the right time, we could erect the yurt on top of the rough cob layer, with the fire in place, and light it for a few days to dry it out really well.
6)      Make a smaller lot of fine cob, to make the final layer of 0.5" to go across the top of the rough layer. Get it as smooth as possible, with a wet plasterer's float.
7)      Allow to dry. Method maybe as above.
8)      Mend any cracks that appear with fine cob mix, and let them dry out.
9)      4 coats of linseed oil - 100%, 75%, 50% and 25%, diluted in spirit. Allow to dry between each.
10)    Beeswax finish, and polish to perfection!

11)     Dig trench round whole floor - 6" wide, 8" deep
12)    Ensure damp-proof membrane runs downhill to take water AWAY from yurt
13)    Fill with gravel
14)    Planks over the trench outside the door

15)      Agree and mark out its course
16)      Dig it out 3-4" deep
17)      Edge with wooden sides and batons (like we have for the yurt floor, but thicker and stronger)
18)      Lay base membrane already in situ along the side of our site - will need moving
19)      Thin layer of sand
20)      Finish with thick layer of wood chips (from John Whitby's farm?)

21)     Allocate whole day for erecting it (earliest is probably Sat 25Nov), and gather the troops
22)     Obtain proper chimney and urn-boiler
23)     Put it up
24)     Get the stove in place (on the slate slabs that are loose on the site, laid flush into the earthen floor)
25)     Do the things with the floor (as above) if necessary
26)     Cover the floor with old rugs and carpet if necessary (if not able to dry enough until spring)
27)     Move all the 'furniture' in -  wrap the straw bales in tarps and rugs for the seating all round the edge, and a central table.
28)      Make it homely
29)      Use it regularly - for the TC's afternoon groups, and any other groups we can get going there during the week
30)     Organise our 'Yurt-Warming Party' - and get as much publicity and recognition as possible
31)     Think about our next projects - pond, solar electricity for lighting, partnership bids with SEEDS and others, second yurt, restoring secret garden, etc...
32)     Maybe ducks instead of geese?

So that's it for this week.
Do forward this to anybody else you think might be interested.
And Saturday volunteers will be welcome for at least a couple more weeks! (we do about 11.30 till 2.30 usually)


Sunday, 7 November 2010

Our first tent

Hello all

Today was good, but disappointing in some ways.

Mainly because my phone had turned itself off in my pocket, so I missed Andy's call from Slough station - so he went home again without quite
making it to the nursery.

The other slight disappointment was not getting as far as squelching the cob together - we now have everything we need there to do it (using the 'tarp method').

But - on the positive side - good progress was made:

- We have put the tented cover up - of 2 large tarpaulins to keep the yurt floor dry. Stretched on a rope across the plot, pinned down with skewers and weighed down with blocks and soil, we hope it will withstand the storms forecast for Monday. But the worst will happen is that it will blow off...

- We have laid the damp-proof membrane and firmly stapled it all the way round - with about 10-20cm overhang to ensure the yurt floor keeps dry.

- We have finished off our 4 bags of sand and probably need 2 more to lay the base for the cob - we did not have enough to make the 'slightly domed' foundation for it today. So I will order 2 more bags. We did do some stomping of it, though...

- Daisy and I went to meet our nearest farmer neighbour, John Whitby at Rowley Farm (about 2 miles away). He is bringing round 20 straw bales on Monday afternoon - which we will put into a circle to make the seating within the yurt. But he recommends covering it with fabric/rugs/canvas to keep the bales intact - so any old rugs etc will be welcome. He also does many interesting things at the farm, including making all the wood chip fuel for the nursery's main boiler - so he gave us a good show round. We also admired his 6 month and 18 month calves, and were invited along to his open day on the 2nd Saturday of June - which I'm sure it will be worth going to.

Today's photo is a view through our tented cover - and Jasper is the four-legged helper!


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Getting ready

Hello, green care friends and colleagues

I have just got back from Slough (yes – on a Saturday!) having done two
hours heavy digging. Unfortunately, probably because it’s half term, nobody
else I asked could make it – and our two teenage boys at home refused to get
out of bed (also because it’s half term). But they have promised to come
next week if I buy them a kebab...

But I’m putting a call out for everybody to muck in next week – and I think
we should be able to get to the penultimate stage - before putting the final
layer of the floor down. The big tent itself is meant to be arriving the
following week...

I have done quite a lot of web research about what we need for this cob floor,
Here's the soil analyses I did:

And here’s my recipe for what I think we need to do:

Because of the staff shortage today ;-) I didn't quite manage to complete the
hole before the nursery closed – but I did get at least a third (maybe a
half) of it dug out. David did the position and circle the other day, so I
started by digging a small trench all the way round – diameter exactly that
of the yurt (21’), then digging down to 4” everywhere. But as I say, I
didn’t manage everywhere – and I didn’t do any stamping down. It was still
about 30 wheelbarrows full to shift – which makes me realise that there’s
more to this Green Care than I first thought – and I expect to be a bit
stiff tomorrow. It would be good if we could get the whole hole (ie 4” deep,
21’ diamerter) dug by next weekend – so I will ask the 3-day programme on
Monday, and the Thursday group if they are willing to help. No promises,

But next weekend needs to be the ‘big floor-laying day’ – so please come if
you can. The nursery is only open on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm, so I
think we should get started as soon after 10 o’clock as people can arrive.
Again, I will invite both groups and the few other people who have come
along so far to join us – but 6 to 8 energetic people would probably get us
one stage away from being ready to erect the yurt itself. Which is where we
need to be by then... I will buy everybody who comes along lunch in the pub
nearby (and later ask the board if I can claim it back on expenses!). The
place is Wexham Nursery,, and
the address is Wexham Nursery, Wexham Road, Slough, SL2 4HE – about 200yds
from the hospital entrance going towards the town centre – but ring me if
you want more directions.

I have ordered a few things to arrive on Monday afternoon – when David and
SEEDS are there (and maybe us from the 3-day programme for an hour or so):

·         3 jumbo bags of sharp sand

·         4 jumbo bags of 20mm gravel

·         7 x 250ml boiled linseed oil

·         50 square metres of damp-proof membrane (which I bought separately
and have left at the site)

I have mentioned it to the staff at the nursery – Paul is away this week –
and I’m not sure how close the delivery lorry will get it to our own site.

Which could mean a lot of work with wheelbarrows, if we don’t get it dumped
just where we want.

As for costs, I did some calculations when I was at Wickes:

  • We have spent £330 so far on the floor. We still need to get clay,
    manure (and straw as well if it’s cow poo), and ox blood or cement
    colouring.  BUT – if we use lots of the soil that is already there, we will
    be able to keep the some of the gravel and sand for other uses (like the
    adjacent water feature we have planned with the group). See below - where I
    explain the soil analysis we need to do.
  • If we did it with (cut price) decking from Wickes, it would be
    £499 for the planks (would also need supporting structures) – and it
    wouldn’t be easily transportable anywhere else at a future date.
  • If we did it with standard floorboard planks to make a ‘tradtional
    yurt floor’, it would be £858 for the planks (though several 2”x2” struts
    would also be needed) – but it would be usable in the future if we need to
    or decide to move the yurt.
  • We could do it cheaper than earthen floor, for example with
    flagsones, but they are not an eco-friendly building material. Also, if we
    manage to use local soil (see next paragraph), we will have lots of sand and
    shingle left to do other things with.
It’s probably worth putting that lot on the record – for EcoMinds as much as
anything – to demonstrate that we are always considering the most economic
and ‘green’ ways to use the resources.

Here’s the soil analysis considerations:

The Slough soil seems pretty heavy and clay-ey to me (though I’m no expert).
SO – we can use the local soil itself for the floor, as long as we end up
with roughly the proportions in the diagram above. What I am doing at the
moment is analysing it for what percentages of clay/silt/sand it is –
following instructions I found on a website. When we know that we can work
out how much of it we can use. If we are lucky (and I think we might be,
because I think it has lots of clay in it) we will not even need to buy any
clay, because we will be able to get all we need from the local soil. But I
should know that tomorrow, when the samples on the kitchen windowsill have

So next Saturday, we will aim to do this:

1.       Stamp the ground down

2.       Cover the bottom with gravel

3.       Cover that with sand

4.       Lay the damp-proof membrane

5.       Lay sand on top of it

6.       Lay a thick layer of cob (with lower % of clay) and leave it to dry

Then, maybe the following week, we need to:

7.       Lay one or two more layers of cob (to the recipe above) – final one less than 1” thick

8.       First application of linseed oil (once dry)

Then, probably after the yurt itself is up:

9.       Second, third and final applications of linseed oil

SO... PLEASE let me know if you can come along next Saturday.

And some of you may well know lots more about these things than I do – so
please tell me if any of this could be done better!



I have been reading about geese – and the more I need, the more I think they
would be a better investment, both for AAI therapy and security, than
insurance! One Essex second hand car dealer had a regular break-ins until he
got a small flock. And none since!

They need about an eigth of an acre of grazing land each, and are best
introduced as goslings – with 2 geese and one gander. And they imprint more
than any other poultry – so who ever is there during their first few days,
are seen as parents for ever (and they usually live 20 – 25 years). Lots of
transference issues to talk about in the groups then!


Monday, 18 October 2010

When is that Yurt arriving?

Hello all
Looks like ETA = 2 November then (see below)

-----Original Message-----
From: Rob Matthews []
Sent: 18 October 2010 10:08
To: Haigh Rex (Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust)
Subject: RE: invoice

Dear Rex,
We are pitching it tomorrow and a week later it will be ready for packing.
Then we will have it picked up and takes about a week to get to the UK.
The second payment is due this week, details to follow.
Many thx.

Rob Matthews
Yurt Workshop
made with passion and commitment
skype: drtwiggy
tel: 00 34 958 768 806 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              00 34 958 768 806      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
mobile: 00 34 620 568 240 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              00 34 620 568 240      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Monday, 26 April 2010

Two Green Men

HRH The Prince of Wales acknowledges work of UK’s care farmers

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales recently welcomed more than 100 care farmers and their supporters to Highgrove for a lunch reception marking the National Care Farming Initiative’s five-year anniversary.   This included Dr Rex Haigh, a Berkshire psychiatrist who is Chair of a social enterprise called Exclusion Link.   The aim of Exclusion Link is to work with people who have personality problems, and their carers, by establishing a ‘sense of belonging’ through a therapeutic connection with nature.

The NCFI was set up in 2005, inspired by a conference at Harper Adams University College that revealed the potential social and economic benefits to be gained from projects that allow people with physical and mental health problems to participate in normal farming activities.   Exclusion Link uses a farm near Pangbourne to work with people in farm or bushcraft settings.    They are also starting therapeutic horticulture in Slough, in cooperation with the Borough Council, with a long term vision of establishing a city farm - for both the local community, and for mental health treatment.

Gordon Gatward, Chief Executive of the Arthur Rank Centre and Chairman of the National Care Farming Initiative, said: “It hardly seems possible that it’s been only five years since we held the first national care farming conference when NCFI was born.  So much has happened since then. From being largely unheard of, care farming is now widely recognised across the UK as a valuable tool in the delivery of a wide range of social, health, educational and therapeutic benefits. I believe that the future of care farming in this country is exciting and challenging and that the implications in terms of helping thousands of people who can benefit from it are tremendous.”

Debbie Wilcox, National Coordinator for the NCFI, said: “The reception was a wonderful opportunity for all the hard work that care farmers do around the country to be recognised and appreciated. Acknowledgement by HRH the Prince of Wales of the inspiring work that is undertaken on care farms and his heartfelt speech to those present was a great boost for the care farmers, as was the opportunity to meet others from around the UK involved in similar work.” The third National Care Farm Conference, organised by NCFI, will take place on September 16, 2010, at Harper Adams University College in Shropshire.

Rex Haigh, from Exclusion Link, said “It was an exciting day, speaking to Prince Charles about how ‘industrialised’ and out-of-touch so much of mental health care is becoming. He clearly has a deep understanding of this work, and at Highgrove I saw how care farms really are taking off, all over the country. This has invigorated me to make our ‘greencare dream’ become a reality in the Thames Valley, as an important part of what people with longstanding emotional problems need”.

Care farming projects involve commercial farms, woodlands and market gardens working with health and social care agencies to provide normal farming activities to improve participants’ physical and mental health and well-being. Farming activities and the connection with nature in the rural environment are proven to improve the quality of life for suffers of mental health issues and depression, work-related stress, learning difficulties or those with a drug or alcohol history. Becoming involved with activities on a working farm can also be very beneficial for rehabilitation and re-education for disaffected and disruptive young people.  Exclusion Link runs activity week-ends for young carers (10-18 years old) in the woods near Pangbourne, as well as supporting local self-help ‘recovery’ groups to run horticultural days and other activities for people with personality problems there.

David Hare, who set up a smallholding experience for people with disabilities, near Winchester, said “I have seen the therapeutic value of people getting their hands dirty, learning from nature & appreciating the outside environment.  I want Exclusion Link to go on developing projects in the outside environment for people with personality problems so that they get a new perspective on life.   Taking a group of people from Slough with mental health problems, along with their families, to visit a farm & experience lambing time was an incredible occasion for the members of our group, and it gave therapists a new perspective”.   One service user said of the farm visit “I didn’t really want to go to the farm when they first mentioned it - but it was such an enjoyable, worthwhile & different time for me and my children, I want to do more greencare”.

Exclusion Link contact: David Hare  07868 596115
Photograph © Paul Burns Photography