design development events technology

A weekend at the Small Is… festival

I spent this weekend at the Small Is… festival with my two brothers. Hosted by Practical Action and Engineers Without Borders, the festival was billed as an exploration of E F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and its relevance for today. It took place in the grounds of Practical Action’s headquarters outside Rugby, a beautiful location with fields and woodlands, an orchard and plenty of space to spread out.

The programme was a real mix of the practical and the theoretical. Andrew Simms was there to talk about economics without growth, Architects Sans Frontieres talked about ‘spatial democracy’ and there were sessions on trade and food sovereignty, and Molly Scott Cato, Shaun Chamberlin and Mark Lynas spoke about strategies for reducing climate change. Scattered across the site were a whole range of sites for hands-on experience of appropriate technology – micro-hydro and wind power, organic growing, bamboo and mud brick construction, and composting toilets.

At the centre of the site was ‘tin town’, a temporary workshop from the Tinker’s Bubble community that tours summer festivals to teach traditional skills, including natural woodworking, candle making, pottery and cob building. Elsewhere, engineering students practiced building emergency shelters using plastic pipe, and a solar cinema built out of straw bales showed a rolling programme of relevant films.

The bicycle is still the ultimate example of appropriate technology, so I was pleased to find good use being made of bikes. Campers wishing to recharge their mobile phone had a bike generator at their disposal, and there was a pedal-powered smoothie maker. At night, three bikes were wired up to run the DJ booth, and later to run an outdoor projector showing Charlie Chaplain films by the campfire.

It was an inspiring and educational weekend, a reminder that solutions don’t need to be high tech to be empowering and effective.  I’ll share some of the relevant material in the coming weeks. Perhaps I’ll run an ‘appropriate technology of the week’ post, but for now here’s a few pictures so you can see what you missed…

Straw bale solar-powered cinema, very cosy
A disaster response shelter made out of plastic pipe
Building a clay pizza oven
Neil the forager identifies a shaggy parasol mushroom


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