FEATURE: Chichester hospice helps Didling family with eco home project

Chris and Lucy Wall-Palmer and their children outside their eco woodland house
Chris and Lucy Wall-Palmer and their children outside their eco woodland house

A couple who have devoted the past four years to building an eco-friendly, cruck-frame house in an idyllic woodland setting at Didling have now set about the task of furnishing it on the same principles – everything must be recycled and made from natural materials.

Playing a major role in helping Lucy and Chris Wall-Palmer in their quest for suitable furniture is St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Chichester, which has already been able to supply several items given to its donations centre in Summersdale.

Now Jenny Moyler from the donations centre is actively looking for anything which will fit the bill, from beds, tables, desks, bedroom storage and cane furniture to soft furnishings, textiles of all kinds and rugs.

“I’m on the lookout the whole time,” says Jenny, who has almost taken on the role of ‘personal shopper’ in the search for the right things for Lucy and Chris to buy.

“Our aim is to provide as much as possible for them, and everything has to be made of natural materials and been used previously. We get some amazing furniture donated to us and I look at everything that comes in to see if it is suitable, but we are desperate for more at the moment.

“We like to promote the benefits of recycling and the fact that by buying pre-loved goodies, our supporters are helping to raise money for St Wilfrid’s.”

Lucy and Chris are both enormously grateful for the assistance from Jenny and the hospice, as they are both vehemently opposed to waste and it was this philosophy which was a major factor in their decision to give up their jobs, earn a living as charcoal burners and try to live as close to nature as possible.

Opposed to waste

“When we first got together we were both working as shopfitters and getting more and more disillusioned by all the waste we saw going on – brand-new furniture being smashed up and thrown in a skip, that kind of thing. We hated that kind of wanton waste; Chris had this piece of land at Didling and lots of things added up.

“We read a book on self-sufficiency, but realised quite quickly you have to take one thing at a time and master that – you do need to work hand-in-hand with what modern-day society has to offer, while at the same time trying to be at one with nature.

“This is our fourth year working on the house and it is still not quite finished. But we are officially moving in on April 1, ten years to the day when we sat here deciding to dig a vegetable patch. The house now stands on where that vegetable plot was, where it all started.

“The reason the house has taken so long to complete is that Chris has done it single-handedly. He is a very skilled carpenter so that was in our favour, but apart from help from Ben Law to build and erect the cruck frame, he has done everything himself.

“The plastering alone took 11 months. Chris had never done any lime plastering before and you have to do three or four coats, waiting for each coat to dry in between. It’s a very messy and abrasive process – the worst bit of the house-building. But we put a pigment into the final coat, a natural dye, so we won’t ever have to paint it in the future.

“We were also determined not to have to borrow any money to build the house, to work around the money available as we went along. We’re running a charcoal business here which is very time-consuming and doesn’t bring in a lot of money, but it provides enough to give us the lifestyle we want.”

Rather special

The couple have now moved in with their four children – ten-year-old Woody, Ember, eight, Hazel, six and Autumn, who is now 17 months old and arrived when building work was forging ahead.

“The children have been really patient,” says Lucy. “I think they know the house is rather special and different from what their friends are experiencing. We have running water, but no mains electricity. We do have a generator but run it only once a week, to charge things up.

“It’s really only lighting we need and I would rather not rely on candles quite as much as we do. But only the other day we were talking about people having romantic candle-lit dinners and one of the children pointed out that we have a candle-lit dinner every night!”

Chris feels all the hard work over the past four years has been well worthwhile.

“We are getting the reward now,” he says. “The main thing is that the children are thoroughly enjoying having a four-bedroom house they can romp around in now we have moved in.

“It really has been blood, sweat and tears – but we are very privileged to have had the opportunity to do it.”