Making Gibson Mill self-sufficient

A family crossing stepping stones at Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire

What it is

Gibson Mill, built in around 1800, is situated within Hardcastle Crags woodland beside Hebden Water. It was one of the first mills of the Industrial Revolution.
The mill was driven by a water wheel and produced cotton cloth up until 1890. In 1833, twenty one workers were employed, each working around seventy two hours per week and living in the adjacent mill workers’ cottages.
In the early 1900s, Gibson Mill began to be used as an ‘entertainment emporium’ for the local people. It offered dining saloons, a dance hall, a roller-skating rink, refreshment kiosks and boating on the mill pond. After the Second World War, the mill slipped into disuse, and was acquired by the National Trust in 1950.

What we did and why we did it

We wanted to create a building that would be totally self-sufficient without bringing in mains services. A building that would rely solely on the natural resources found on the site, including water and daylight for heating/lighting, spring water for washing/drinking, with all waste treated on site.
At the same time, we needed to preserve the historic quality of this nineteenth-century mill and former entertainment emporium, whilst respecting its unique spirit of the place.
Our Conservation Plan for the project set out the necessary repairs and restoration which would enable new visitor facilities to be incorporated entirely within the historic fabric of the existing buildings.
In this project we have brought life back into the mill by providing lavatory and catering facilities for visitors, and spaces for educational and community use.
We have also created high quality information and interpretation that explains all of the green technology used on site.
We have achieved a building that demonstrates our Sustainability Principles. We have used local labour and recycled materials and sought to obtain all materials from sustainable, local, sources.

What else did we do?

We have restored the mill’s 1926 turbine and added a smaller turbine for use during periods of low water levels.
This hydro system is used to provide electricity. Solar thermal panels and solar photovoltaic panels installed along the ridgeline of the mill, combine to provide hot water and electricity.
We have also introduced a log-burning stove and boiler to provide cooking, hot water and space heating. The fuel for this is easily met with wood from the estate.
The mill uses the natural spring water from Hardcastle Crags as its water supply. The quality is monitored and, using a simple filtering system, provides water for drinking, washing up and the toilets.
These are dry composting lavatories; these treat human waste so that it can be recycled as fertiliser for use on the property. A series of other measures have been incorporated into the mill to help conserve energy.

Why it was a success

The mill is 100% self-sufficient in energy, water and waste treatment, and the only ‘mains’ connection with the outside world is the phone line. The combination of technologies used, the size of the building and the fact that it does not link up to the National Grid, make the mill unique in Great Britain.
It was the first heritage building, used as a visitor centre with the prerequisite facilities, open all year round, to operate solely in a sustainable way.
The mill has become a source of inspiration for others considering sustainable developments, with visits from individuals looking to apply the principles to their homes, through to councils interested in more commercial operations.
The mill has become a national focus for green living, winning numerous sustainability awards.