Building Compost Toilets

How it all came to be.

The idea for building compost toilets in the canal field was proposed by Julie West, a member of the Warland Farm community who came to live here in December 2020. As part of living at the Farm Julie took on the responsibility to manage the Canal Field and part of that role is to facilitate greater use of this and the adjacent hay meadow. The Farm will continue with old favourites such as community picnics and the Rush Cart decorating events, as well as introducing well-being sessions and more practical and creative workshops along with a back-to-basic micro campsite. By creating these infrastructure facilities this will support the canal field’s wider use. 

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A compost toilet or earth toilet is one where human waste is collected, usually dry and wet waste separately, which allows natural processes to break down the human waste to produce compost through aerobic (presence of oxygen) decomposition. This dry process supports the introduction of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, insects and worms to break down the waste into a mixture of crumbly minerals that plants use as nutrients. 

For further information on compost toilets please see http://www.lowimpact.org/?s=compost+toilets.

The Building a Compost Toilet Course was the result of part of a successful funding application to the Community Foundation for Calderdale and is a partnership between Live Wild and Warland Farm Community. Both Julie (a therapist and well-being trainer) and Miranda (an Ecologist and nature crafts teacher) both freelance for Live Wild and have a strong connection with Warland Farm and so this made for ideal partnership working. Both organisations share some common aims. We invite individuals/groups to protect and reconnect with nature, which can help us feel alive, empowered and gives us the space to learn, play and explore. In a fast-changing world where many are disconnected from each other and nature, learning to live harmoniously is vital. All our services and activities help create healthy minds & bodies, joy, resourcefulness and confidence, as well as skilled, resilient and caring communities. Follow the link to find out more about Live Wild.

The bid covered funding for building compost toilets, pipe work for hand washing, planting of natural toilet paper plant species and running 4 well-being sessions on the site. Community cohesion and social networks have been and will continue to be strengthened as more events take place. Places on the course were prioritised for existing volunteers and people from partner organisations. The attendees who came on the course will be able to pass on their skills and knowledge to other local groups and community businesses.

Details of our well-being sessions and other events will be publicised on this blog, Warland Farm Community Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/warlandfarmcommunity/  and Instagram #

The outcomes of this course tie into Warland Farm’s vision to ensure the history of the farm is appreciated and preserved and its social value is restored by building a self-sufficient, co-operative community around the land’s shared wealth. The project will help the community to be more self-sustaining and protect the environment and educate people about environmentally friendly alternatives. Gaining this grant and the work it enabled will provide direct employment, occupation and skills development for local people in a caring and beautiful space that supports emotional health and wellbeing. 

Over three months Julie liaised with the tutor Miranda Cowan of Ecology Limited, an ecologist and adult education tutor specialising in environmental education, foraging, ecology and green woodworking. Miranda has built a number of ecological structures including compost toilets, solar showers and cob oven. Feedback from the course evidences that she is an excellent teacher, we look forward to future courses and craft sessions (Email quirkyforager@gmail.com, Mobile 07834359072)

The aims for the participants were to:

  1. Understand how compost toilets function in the decomposition of human waste and how this can support sustainable living.
  2. Develop a systematic plan of how to self-build a compost toilet, through understanding what materials are required and approaches to developing a design.
  3. Develop confidence in the use of hand tools through knowing what is required to construct a compost toilet, application of tool care ad appropriate safe use.
  4. Develop new skills is basic woodwork and engage in the creative exploration of applying a more rustic approach to working with wood.

Building the compost toilets.

The toilets were sited in the canal field; the access is easily reached from the canal path. 

The area was dug out and prepared by Darren, Dave, Dan, Susie and Julie from Warland Growing Together. 

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The base is constructed.

Although the course started out as inclusive, women snapped up the places first so it consisted of female students with a wide age range. Miranda had drawn up plans and pre-built three different aspects of the design as a visual aids so that participants could replicate this and quickly gain confidence. At the start, she and Julie checked out everyone’s confidence and skills levels, emphasised that all questions were acceptable and invited the participants to select which element of the design they wanted to start building. Throughout the course Miranda demonstrated safe handling of tools, woodworking skills and self care.  The atmosphere was steady, supportive and cooperative.

Plans.

During the initial process of constructing the base, Leonie and Imogen are discussing measurements before sawing some wood.  In the second image, Miranda is overseeing Imogen using clamps.

Imogen and Leonie
Miranda oversees Imogen.
Miranda demonstrates how to use the nail gun.
Miranda shows which nails are the correct length for the job.
Leonie uses the nail gun.
The first panel is screwed to the base.
Imogen gets ready to do a puppet show.
The central panel is constructed.
Everyone helps to bring the central panel to the base.

Everyone helps to hold the structure in place to check measurements before the nail gun is used.
Imogen uses the nail gun.
Steeve and Leonie work together to attach the cladding.
The structure begins to take shape and the toilets are situated.
The toilets are connected to the collecting system underneath.




Sooze brings the sawdust

Miranda checks the toilet.
The toilets are nearly finished.
Inside the toilet.
Temporary handles before new ones are whittled.

The students went home and over the next few days Julie, Miranda, Sooze and others added the final touches. The roof was lined with a waterproof material so that it can planted up to be a living roof.

How did it all go?

At lunchtime on both days, participants’ experiences were recorded in one-to-one interviews; here are the main points of their feedback:

Tutor/Quality of Teaching:

Miranda’s preparation, planning, outlining of the process, breaking things down into manageable tasks, attention to participants’ skill set and competency helped volunteers to feel safe so that they could ask questions. Participants took their time to create accurate work in a supportive atmosphere. Miranda provided a supportive, inclusive group so that all the participants worked within their competency and energy levels and could find their own rhythm.  As a participant said “I wasn’t made to feel old.” (Sooze)

The fact that she had constructed three different elements of the building beforehand was helpful to two of the participants who learn visually and kinaesthetically and for whom diagrams would have not been enough.

Use of Tools:

There was a wide variation in the group regarding previous experience of using tools: some had used tools before, others never; most had not used power tools. During the course Miranda demonstrated how to use a nail gun and other tools, e.g, saw, hammers, jigsaw and generator, clamps, set square and cordless drill. One of the participants did not want to use the nail gun and this was respected. 

On completion of two days, the overall feeling was of confidence and empowerment with regard to tool usage and the possibilities to construct compost toilets and other structures elsewhere (The tutor had printed out the plans and given each volunteer with a copy). As Leonie said “It’s taken the myth out of working with wood; I’m now thinking about how to build other structures.”

Constructing the stud walls, using the nail gun and thinking in reverse were a challenge for Julie as she had to explain what needed to be done to another participant who had been on a different task the day before. This was especially hard as she had only learn what to do the previous day.  However, the level of support and team work enabled the task to be completed.  As Julie commented, “Doing this sort of work was challenging as it used a part of my brain that I do not normally use.”

Women only group

Helped the attendees to feel more comfortable in using tools and asking for help in such a supportive environment.

Culturally, women are, on the whole, not encouraged to use tools, especially power tools and so the absence of men helped participants to show their lack of knowledge without fear of criticism, or by anticipating this and standing back.

There was an emphasis on co-operation, attention to the process than being task orientated, with a gentler pace and no rushing.

Having a female facilitator gave permission to other women to try using tools. “If she can do it, so can I.” (Steeve) This helped to give the students confidence and gave an example of what was possible.

Experience of being at Warland Farm

“The place seems an exciting place to be with huge potential.” (Steeve)

Good ethics.

Welcoming and supportive. Kindness here.

Great to work in nature, has helped with me and others with our mental health.

Working with others

Great to meet and bond with other women

Lots of mutual support and learning from peers.

Sense of being part of a whole and achieving something together, “When I look at the toilets I know that I have been a part of making them”. (Sooze)

Sense of pride in the work and wanting to do the best they could to produce the best outcome.  Participants worked systematically and methodically and people self regulated, this built a sense of trust and belonging without feeling pressured.

Author: Karen Alderson

Artist, Walker, Dreamer.

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