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A public inconvience

My dad challenged me the other day. He asked, "What are you doing about climate change?" He wasn't accusing me exactly, just honestly asking. As an 83-year-old, he is really worried about the environment, and I mean, really worried. Even though he won't experience the problems we are creating, he is concerned for his grandchildren and frankly the rest of humanity.

As a Christian, he is also angry about the laisse-faire approach to the climate of many in the church. He feels the concern is for people's souls and where they will go; rather than their bodies or where they live; the beyond rather than the now. How did these get separated? Surely heaven is now and not yet. We need to live in the present with an eye on the future. I know I'm preaching to the converted; to be honest, I'm preaching to myself. Why am I still not that bothered to make changes and sacrifices? I still want to drive to my local town, because it takes 2 hours less than public transport. My dad's local church can't decide if it wants solar panels on its huge roof, because it would cost money and take time to research and organise, and who on the team could do that? It's all so inconvenient.

Our current guest in the Hermitage, a Sister from London who prayed outside COP26 in Glasgow last year with Christian Climate Action, reminded me that it is not just about climate change, but climate justice. Let's face it, we are not the ones who will be suffering soon, other than a few hotter summers and some flooding of carpets. But it is those in Bangladesh, Madagascar, East Africa right now who are struggling to eat. The Poor, the ones the bible continually challenges us to look after. We know this. So why do we not know it?

Though my dad makes me feel uncomfortable, he's right to ask the question. What am I doing?

So I thought I would write about what we do at Treargel Retreat to make it a low-impact and environmentally sustainable place to stay. Here is the beginning of our journey;

  • Where possible we buy products that are; environmentally friendly, fair trade, organic and locally made. For example, our free coffee, tea and sugar are from Traidcraft and the chocolate in our 'shop' is Divine.

  • Our cleaning products are mostly Ecover or Bio-d, bought in large 5 litre bottles and siphoned into reusable bottles.

  • All our toilet paper comes from Who Gives a Crap, using less water in their production and no plastic in delivery. Plus, 50% of profits are donated to help build toilets.

  • Our electricity is provided by Ecotricity, currently Britain's greenest energy company.

  • Our bread is homemade and plastic free.

  • Our milk is in glass bottles, delivered by a local milkman, and from a dairy in Devon.

  • Most of our furniture is 'pre-loved' and not new.

Double bed in the Piggery, with yellow bed linen.
Mustard yellow linen

Most of our bedding is made out of linen, using flax for the fabric. This is responsibly sourced and uses less water in production. With the added advantage that Naomi doesn't need to iron, using less electricity and leaving more time for her to sit and eat Divine chocolate in the garden;)

  • Being 'off-grid' the Hermitage and Shepherd's Hut are our most sustainable places to stay. Admittedly we do provide gas bottles for cooking and rechargeable lamps, but there is no mains electricity in either.

  • We now boast two compost toilets. One state-of-the-art Biolan model and one homemade wheelie bin version in the same style. Both are waterless, (fairly) odourless and provide fertiliser for trees or decorative plants in our garden. A recent article in the Guardian newspaper said 'In the UK, flushing the loo accounts for nearly a third of household water consumption. We use drinking-quality water in our toilets, and spend energy and resources on cleaning it afterwards. Water treatment is responsible for about 1% of UK greenhouse gases.'

  • Carrying water from the mains tap in the garden means that Shepherd's Hut and Hermitage guests are generally more conservative with their water use.

  • Most of our guests come by car, but a few brave the Cornish public transport. If you can get the right connections, the Looe Valley line is reported to be one of the prettiest in the country. It has 'glorious estuary views ... teeming with wildlife'. Not coming by car will also save on innumerable parking fees.

  • We encourage all our guests to recycle by providing bags and boxes.

  • We have a large compost area in the garden, where guests can take their leftovers.

Path through a field with a background of trees.
Treargel woods
  • We have a lot of trees in the garden and woods, producing wonderful 'carbon sinks' filtering our air. A recent guest counted at least 12 different species. Some of these trees have come of age and when branches fall off in high winds they are either harvested for the wood stoves or left to decompose for the various invertebrates we encourage to increase our biodiversity.

  • We also have a lot of earthworms, though I haven't managed to count them. Due to their amazing regenerative cleaning abilities, they are known as 'Champions of healthy soil'. (From the book Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm).

A long way to go

Having said all this, we are far from having a zero carbon footprint. I use the washing machine once or twice a day. All our buildings are either old farm outhouses made for livestock or made from wood; so insulation is minimal. This makes our electric-fire bills high.

A wood burning stove in the Byre cottage
Byre stove

We use oil fuel in the Barn, and all the venues have wood stoves, which are known for their high carbon dioxide emissions. Although stoves are better than open fires, we have trees nearby to catch the small particle CO2 pollution sent into the air and we only use logs with under 20% moisture; they are still not very efficient. Keeping warm in the winter here in Cornwall is difficult.

Since our guests are self-catering, I wonder if people use more single-use plastic on holiday, as they don't have the energy or ingredients to cook from scratch.

Furthermore, we are at the top of a hill and not very near shops or eateries, making it difficult for those with no car. However, food deliveries can be made, the walking is spectacular on the Coastal Path, and money saved can be used on the occasional taxi.

So, what is next for Treargel? I would like to research solar panels. Will invest in more blankets and thick woolly socks for guests, show people how to use the compost better and think about how to encourage them to use less plastic. Plus, add more details about staying here without a car on the front of the website. I will also pledge to write to my local MP as a resident and business owner, and let her know of my concerns rather than assuming she will represent me. I will also join some local protests through Christian Climate Action or Extinction Rebellion to show those in power and big industry that I want to 'turn over a few tables'.

We would love to continue our journey to lowering our environmental footprint. Let us know in the comment box below or on Facebook if you have any suggestions. We'd also love to know what you, your church, or your organisation are doing. Let's celebrate what we are doing and encourage ourselves to do more. For example as individuals, churches, retreat centres, Foodbanks, charities, etc; we all have a lot of rooves. What if they all had solar panels? I know it's an investment, and a lot of committees to persuade, but wouldn't it say a lot? A Rocha has resources to help turn your church green.

These are only drops in the ocean, but perhaps together we can all make many drops.


Peace and quiet

We would love to encourage more people to come on retreat whatever their financial circumstances, especially those under 30. So we are pleased to announce that our bursary allocation from the Association for Promoting Retreats has been increased from 3 per year, to 5. If you know anyone that would like to come, but finds the cost too high, please let them know. The bursary can pay for 50% of the cost up to £200. Plus, no questions are asked as to why it is needed.

There is currently lots of availability from the middle of September onwards. So come and join us for time to breathe deeply, rest quietly and think clearly.

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