Adding elements for self-sufficient living

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NOT many families have a wind turbine, a ground source heat pump and solar panels.

But for Mark Woodward and his family, this semi-sufficient haven is what they call home.

Their homestead, in Stannington, is a sprawling ten acres, with two barns, outhouses and a farm house. They grow their own vegetables, keep pigs and try - where possible - to live off the land.

The family moved in eight years ago, but Mark, a former music teacher, wanted to make the sprawling property as environmentally sound as possible.

“It was such a large space we wanted to do it in a sustainable way and the fact there was all this land, two barns and two outhouses meant we could develop it both as a home and a business.”

They did just that.

Mark and his partner, Sarah Brown, live and work at their green HQ in Stannington under the banner Green Directions - an environmentally-friendly centre for corporate meetings, green weddings, green technology tours for families and even school visits.

The school visits give children the opportunity to learn about environmental sustainability.

“We all muck in. I teach children about green technology when they come up as part of a school visit and if there’s a corporate event we can tell them about what we do here as an aside to make it a bit more interesting,” said Mark.

Mark and his partner do the catering for the corporate events, using food mainly grown on-site, though they don’t do the food for weddings.

“It’s no problem for us to prepare food for 25 people but for weddings we get specialist caterers in.”

Mark and Sarah live in Stannington with their four children, though the eldest is away at university.

And while they strive to be as sustainable as possible, there are some things which, Mark confesses, he still has to pop to Morrisons for.

“We’re not completely self-sufficient and there are some things I still buy from the supermarket.”

The investment in the solar panels, wind turbine and ground-source heat pump was hefty, but Mark says it’s worth it.

“The solar panels cost about £10,000 but over a 25-year-period it pays for itself because you get 21p per kilowatt hour from the government for contributing to the National Grid.”

Electricity from Mark’s turbines and solar panels powers his ground-source heat pump.

“There are water pipes underneath the fields and the pump converts this into heat, which provides a constant temperature throughout the house of about 21º Celsius, whether it’s 3pm in the afternoon or 3am in the morning. The heat comes through an underfloor heating system.

“Although you have to power the heat pump with electricity and electricity is expensive, experts believe the payback ratio is 4:1, though I think it’s about 3:1.”

The semi self sufficient home makes for happy family living, according to Mark.

Their 16 year-old son, Fred, is ‘field manager’, though this largely involves harrowing the fields at break-neck speed.

Daughter Frankee, 14, takes care of managing five-year-old Arthur, who enjoys running around the site and mucking in with the pigs. Their eldest son, George, is at Exeter University.

“It feels very good to be living as self sufficiently as possible. We set about this from a carbon point of view, as I am very conscious of the fact that climate change is a reality and our current financial crisis will pale into insignificance compared with the effects of global warming.”

But Mark acknowledges that not all families have the resources or space to embrace sustainable green technology like his has.

“I admit that if you lived in a terrace house there wouldn’t be much room for keeping pigs,” he says.

“And a house has to be in the right setting to be able to benefit from solar panels and wind turbines. A house in Nether Edge, where mature trees line the roads, will not really benefit from a solar panel. Wind turbines and solar panels do not provide constant energy - if it’s a cold, dull, overcast day with no wind you will have to resort to the National Grid for electricity.

“We’re not completely self sufficient, no-one can do that without a completely zealous approach to it. You would have to give everything else up to achieve that, but we are about educating people as to how we can reduce our impact on the environment.

“There are simple solutions to this, such as improving our cavity wall installation. There are relatively small things we can do.”

Mark’s tip about becoming more sustainable is to take small steps at a time.

“The trick is not to think you are going to change the world and not to think you have to spend lots of money.”

Mark first created a teaching and conference centre, carved out of the old house and an adjoining barn. They wanted to use the generous spaces. Creating energy needs six or seven times the space of the average house. After six years of trying alternatives, wind repaid best, but Stannington is a windy site.

He turned his experiences into presentations which tie in with national curriculum requirements to look at global warming and possible cures. In between school parties and business conferences, he offers briefings and tours for anyone contemplating investing in alternative energy.

For details about Green Directions contact Mark Woodward at Townfield Head Farm, Stannington on 0114 230 4722 or 07527 553712