When I visited Highway Farm in October, the Hobbit House immediately grabbed my attention. It is a beautiful, bespoke structure. Naturally I had to find out the story behind its existence.
At Highway Farm Activity Centre – where there is an out of school club and an outdoor nursery, children are active participants in decision-making about the place and how it develops and moves forward. The development of the Hobbit House exemplifies the approach taken. If the children really want something to happen, they have to help make it happen.
It all began with a trampoline. Several years ago, those big circular trampolines were all the fashion in everyone’s back garden and the children at the Out of School Club and Holiday Club were desperately keen to have one at Highway Farm. The staff weren’t overly enthusiastic because they knew it would bring rules and conflict, both of which are sparse at Highway Farm. So they challenged the children to dig the hole where the trampoline was to go. To their amazement, the children set to work and completed the task over the summer holidays.
The trampoline was initially extremely popular. Lots of children wanted to go on it and arguments ensued over whose turn it was. Quite a few accidents happened too. After a while the children realised it was not really working out very well. So they decided to remove the trampoline. Only the problem was the presence of the huge hole in the field. A few ideas began to spark such as creating a swimming pool, pond or swamp. In the end the Hobbit House won, inspired by the scenes in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films.
The construction was a prolonged affair. With a zero budget, it meant that every item had to be sourced by donations. The children helped Martin and Andy carry and wheel barrow every log, bit of sand (for cement), bit of turf needed for the build! And got the blisters to prove it!
Andy Byles provided advice and support to build the hobbit house so that it is structurally sound. He also helped with the design process. As you can see from the photos below, there is creative detail which makes it unique and special. Check out the glass bottles that make up part of the wall.
I could have spent hours inside, examining the patterns on the logs and the attention to detail in the design.
The glass in the door comes from a washing machine…!
The fireplace was designed to fit the gas canister perfectly that Andy recycled.
It is the perfect recycled wood stove!
During the dark or cold afternoons over winter, the hobbit house is well lit up by candles too.
Even Santa Claus now makes a visit as it is such a perfect grotto to rest for a wee while and hand out a few more presents to lighten his load. A snow machine provided the snow for the Christmas family day!
Even before it was finished, the structure was being used on Family Days for story telling and other events.
All-in-all the Hobbit House is providing a much-loved and valuable gathering space for the children and their families to share and celebrate events.
The time and effort invested by the children, parents and staff in constructing the Hobbit House has paid off. There is no doubt that external contractors creating this feature without this high level of involvement would have meant a quicker result but one that has less meaning and memories. Every glass bottle and wooden stump in the Hobbit House has its own history. Collectively all the bits have fitted together to create a wonderful collaborative jigsaw that further develops community and a sense of belong to this special child care setting. Memories have been built into the Hobbit House that will also last a lifetime for all involved.
Many thanks to Martin Besford who kindly supplied almost all the photos for this blog post.