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Feature: Never too young to learn

Getting people into the habit of recycling is most effective when started early in life. At the Mill on the Brue Outdoor Activity Centre in Bruton, Somerset, nearly 7,000 children in the 8-14 age range come here. Most of them, for the first time, realise that their sweet wrappers can be re-used again and again.

"Our policy is to have one big skip per week for recycling. We save glass, plastic, tin - everything we can - it's a matter of policy," says Matt Rawlingson Plant, the centre's director.

Mill on the Brue was the brainchild of Rawlingson Plant's parents 23 years ago. It used to be a nine-hole golf course, converted by a farmer who was attempting to diversify. Unfortunately, it turned into a "green desert", as Rawlingson Plant's father called it. Over the years, around 3,500 trees were planted, hedgerows reinstated, and today there are more than 100 species of tree in 20 acres.

The aim of the centre is to educate children about the environment. It is just putting the finishing touches to a multi-purpose hall, called the Longhouse, which will be used as an extra venue for the local community and also as a dining room for 120 people.

"The Longhouse is a practical and commercial example of how one can use recycled materials in a beautiful building," explains Rawlingson Plant. "We wanted to create a space which was also environmentally friendly and to use locally sourced materials wherever possible."

An important aspect of The Longhouse is the roof, covered with 4,000 recycled rubber-tyre tiles. "People don't know they are not slates," reveals Rawlingson Plant. "The great thing about them is they are slightly malleable so we didn't have to pay extra for breakages."

Insulation is provided by Warmcell, made from recycled newsprint, and a sheep's wool product called Thermafleece, made by a Cumbrian company.

"It has amazingly good properties," says Rawlingson Plant. "It is treated with anti-rodent spray and then made fire retardant. It's much better than horrible fibreglass."

Of course, all this comes at a price.Thermafleece costs four times as much as fibreglass. But Rawlingson Plant thinks it's worth it: "It's a sustainable building. You can't compromise in these things."

However, the tiles were something of a bargain. A slate tile costs around £2.50, but each recycled tyre slate cost 64p.

To pay for the costs, the centre benefited from Rural Enterprise funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which stumped up 50% of building costs for The Longhouse. As Rawlingson Plant admits: "It wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't got the grant."

To be eligible for the money, it was necessary to meet three criteria: to be financially viable, to involve the local community and to have an environmentally friendly design. These were easily met as the architect and the construction company live literally down the road from the centre, the wood was from trees planted six miles away and even the lighting consultants are based in Bruton.

Steve Marston, Rural Development Service South West project-based scheme co-ordinator, says of the Mill on the Brue: "It demonstrates in a practical way sustainable development principles, such as economic benefit, through increased visitors and job creation; social benefit in that the local community would get somet

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