Tuesday 5 July 2011

Gatherings - The Treehouse Festival

Once upon a time, a group of university students who were fed up of just going to the pub or clubbing when they got together decided that they would meet up in a parent’s field and camp. They also thought that one of the hedgerow trees, a lovely mature oak, would make the perfect home for a treehouse. So they gathered waste wood from local neighbours and started to build a structure. There was a lovely cradle about 30 feet up in the tree, and they were determined to build the treehouse without the need to bang nails into the tree, so they supported it only directly on the branches, and where they needed more support, a post all the way from the ground below.

Needless to say, when their friends heard about this, they wanted to get involved. What a wicked project, right?! So over the course of several years, various groups of friends headed over to the field to help build this treehouse, but there was one week each summer when everyone would come at the same time to camp for a week and help build it. That’s the great thing about treehouses – everyone loves them! You can’t help being drawn to the community that builds it, a bit like the Korowai tribe of West Papua, where all the local tribes come and help in the building of a new treehouse.
We only ever used waste materials, even the double-glazed windows, which had been rejected from a local window company because… I don’t know, the wrong size or something? They looked fine to me.
As this summer building week got bigger and attracted more friends, it became The Treehouse Festival. The festival spurned such a fantastic sense of community among the participants that this started to become more important than the actual task of building it. It started to become an experiment in community living for a week each year. Everyone needed to eat, and rather than everyone making their own food on the campfire, it made sense to go in on the food together and cook big vats of stew or curry for everyone. So this we did. And the variety of activities grew too. Rather than just building: we’d play wide games (a bit like Lions, Hide and Seek or British Bulldog, all combined, in a large field); we’d have seminars and workshops; we’d play music round the campfire; we’d do archery. Altogether, it became a complete mini-festival!

After a few years, disaster struck. The local council decided that the treehouse required planning permission. So we filed an application (by far the largest cost the entire project faced). It was rejected. We appealed. It was again rejected. And we were ordered to have it removed. So, one bleak day, the friends dejectedly took the structure down.

But that wasn’t the end. Oh no, The Treehouse Festival lives on, despite the lack of actual treehouse. And we continue to build, but now it’s a roundhouse instead of a treehouse. We continue to party. We continue to camp and have fun. In fact, the party is getting bigger than ever. We have more and more varied seminars and workshops. We have more local bands at the final day party. We have a solar hot-water heater which we made using some of those double-glazed windows from the treehouse, a wooden frame and some hose-pipe (painted black), for hot showers on site. We’re thatching the roundhouse and cobbing its walls.
You might be able to tell that I’m very much looking forward to it!
If you want to know more about The Treehouse Festival or book one of the few remaining tickets to this year's event (18th to 24th July), go to www.treehousefestival.co.uk. Donations of useful materials, tools, equipment and expertise for workshops and seminars are also appreciated. Contact details are on the website. If you'd just like to come to the party at the end, details are here.
Images: The treehouse, before it was taken down; Freshly chopped firewood for the campfire; Table of (clean!!) crockery for the communal meals; Thatching the roundhouse.

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