Living sustainably is central to the ethos of Monkton Wyld Court and has been so ever since it became a Centre for Sustainability Education in 1982. Even during its days as an alternative boarding school from the 1940s onwards, the emphasis was on teaching skills for self-sufficiency and countryside living – pupils learned woodworking, gardening, farming and so on.
However, if we look back to the very beginning of Monkton Wyld Court’s story, sustainability was not at the heart of its founding. The Court was built by a very rich lady in a period when there was little consideration (at least among the wealthy) for the time, energy and resources needed to heat or maintain such extravagant though beautiful buildings. A house of its size would be self-sufficient only if supported by considerably more land than it has, but was built as a Rectory with the expectation that local parishioners would pay for its upkeep as part of their tithes. Indeed, many large country houses were built, furnished and maintained from riches gained through the slave-trade or other such inequitable business, and run by servants who might have been better treated than slaves, but would have been constantly reminded of their ‘place’ in society (contrast the grand marble staircase at Monkton Wyld Court with the dark and narrow back staircase for servants).
Understanding the environmental and social consequences of extravagant living for the few (in the many forms this has taken and continues to take) has motivated the more recent generations of Monkton residents to think about how to use this building and its grounds for purposes which promote an equitable and sustainable future and is accessible to as many people as possible. The raw materials with which we start – a beautiful house and grounds which costs mind-boggling amounts to maintain and heat – represent both the burden and the bounty of the past; it has taken the creativity and hard work of several generations of community members to bring the Court slowly from an unsustainable past into a more sustainable future, and there is plenty of room for improvement – this is the ongoing challenge of our age!
The efforts made so far include fitting solar panels to the roof, installing wood-fuelled boilers and stoves, collecting rainwater for flushing toilets and adding a reed-bed system for filtering sewage, building, maintaining and popularising compost toilets (our palatial ones have won prizes!), using food waste for compost, growing our own fruits and vegetables, running our own micro-dairy, farming the land organically, using scythes to manage the grassland, recycling and reusing as much as possible, bulk-buying from ethical suppliers and cooking and eating communally, car-sharing, and lots and lots of people power and hand tools!
For more information on these efforts, please read the leaflet we have produced about our efforts to live sustainably at Monkton Wyld Court: Sustainability at Monkton Wyld Court (PDF).