Clophill Eco Lodges
Written by: Clophill Heritage Trust
The Strategic Gateway project encompasses both leisure and skilled engagement with the local landscape. We have restored the greensand stone wall in the scheduled ancient monument churchyard and incorporated an interpretative geological wall within it. Our partners, Bedford Geology Group, delivered the geology interpretation wall and the interpretative board. We have built a new reception, classroom studio and shower room from recycled classrooms (seen in the background of the firepit photo above). We have enhanced footpaths around the churchyard to improve visitor’s abilities to enjoy the whole of the site and the many views it offers. We have also constructed a peace poetry path out of dilapidated headstones which were dangerous and had lost their inscriptions, so that school children can each year have a poetry competition where the winner has their poem inscribed into the path. We have had community days giving people a go at stone inscription so that even more people have a connection with this beautiful site. Finally, we have had 18 months with an apprentice in conservation management where they have learnt a wide variety of countryside skills.
Our new building, the Hive, was constructed out of 85% recycled materials. The Hive has been tested before and after construction to ensure that it is suitable for motorised wheelchairs so that we can ensure that pushchairs and wheelchairs can enjoy the space equally.
Our stone for the reconstruction of the wall was sourced from the villagers and the sandstone quarry at the bottom of the hill upon which we are sited. Our apprentice designed and created an invertebrate habitat out of the greensand stone which could not be used for the wall reconstruction. It is in the shape of a sand lizard and looks excellent from the top of the tower.
Our apprentice progressed significantly over the 18 months with us and his experience has enabled him to transition into a role at Ampthill Great Park. This is an enormous achievement for him and we wish him all the best for the future.
Benefits to People
The project has benefited the local community in terms of providing accommodation for their wider families and friends to stay; providing a venue for their parties and celebrations; creating learning opportunities about the landscape and heritage; availability of training and fun events for all the family from wreath making to foraging, stone carving and apple
pressing. The interpretation created around the Old Church site has enhanced the local and wider community’s knowledge of the geological and historical landscape.
A real sense of community has developed through the wide range of volunteers (from executives wanting to ‘give back’ as
part of their charity leave to young Duke of Edinburgh students wanting to spend time learning about beekeeping) to the
usage of the wellbeing and ecology classes at the site. During the Covid 19 pandemic the community have been particularly grateful for our outdoor café and pizza deliveries enabled by the creation of the Gateway.
Many groups who would have previously simply passed the site and thought it looked interesting now can engage with the wardens and the activities going on and use many of our trail and information leaflets about the area.
I feel personally that the site has now started to reach its potential and can reach out to a much wider audience. Once the pandemic regulations have eased we will have the ability to combine our learning and outreach work (with organisations like Develop, helping the most vulnerable into work) with our accommodation and venue hire, providing guests with a
beautiful setting to relax and feel closer to nature. I also feel that the ability to have a separate reception, enabling the wardens to greet people and work, regardless of what activities are going on, has made a big difference to the ability to engage people with their landscape. This impact can only increase as the effects of the pandemic lessen.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
The greensand stone wall is now fully visible to all visitors to the site and many passing walkers and cyclists. It provides interesting geological interpretation at its end and seating at the centre. Many visitors read the interpretation and many appreciate the improvement to the site overall which this work has facilitated. The restored wall helps frame the beautiful scheduled monument itself and adds to the overall value of the heritage site.
The Old Church site is now interpreted really well and the whole site is more accessible …with the sandy lizard creating another habitat; the restored wall creating a focal point and framing the view to the Chilterns across Greensand Country; the poetry path leading to the geology interpretation within the wall creating interest across the southern section of the site and the poems along the path creating interest about our landscape for adults and children. There are native trees like the wild service tree which was grown locally and planted on site as part of a tree trail which all add to the site’s educational value.
The site looks appropriately rural but well looked after thereby encouraging more people to use it and volunteers to look after it whilst discouraging vandals from damaging it. The community have a widespread pride for the site and use it regularly for walks and picnics as well as classes and the activities at the Eco Lodges.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
Supporting our apprentice was the biggest challenge. He was our first apprentice and came with an incredible backstory which unfurled over the months with us. Building trust and a work ethic was very challenging but the consistently gentle and supportive nature of all our staff and volunteers whilst maintaining open and honest communications combined with the rural setting enabled us to ride the waves and create a long term stability which has led to permanent work in the landscape sector in Greensand Country…a real achievement.
The supply of stone for the wall was difficult but was achieved through the support of locals with stone in their gardens and the local quarry allowing us to handpick suitable stones with the stonemason.
The series of projects have run very smoothly. The apprenticeship was definitely the most challenging element but I’m not sure that we would have changed our approach if we did things again. Engaging an additional volunteer for a day a week with hands on skills would have been helpful to counteract the personnel changes at the college but this would have been very difficult to find.
‘Thank you for giving me a chance’ – Apprentice
‘It’s amazing what you can achieve with things that people no longer want’ – Warden about the hive.