Crushing hard on Crane 29, we get some tips on how to make our own spaces a little more sustainable

All images by Iris Thorsteinsdottir

How long have you spent ogling images of Bristol’s crane-based accommodation lately, instead of tackling the to-do list on your desk at work? Not as long as us (sorry, boss) – we couldn’t get enough of Crane 29’s interior; tropical foliage, teal drapes, corrugated iron shower cubicle, living painting by local artist Anthony Garrett, forest-green tiles and all. We marvelled at the quality and attention to detail, considering how compact the place is, and – impressed with its eco credentials – demanded to know more about the little harbourside hang-out. Enter, sustainability expert Rachel Bradley, of B&Q:

Crane 29

The beautiful ‘garden path’ in Crane 29

TBM: How did B&Q come to be involved with the project?

Rachel: Canopy and Stars wanted a partner with good sustainability credentials. We’ve been working on our One Planet Home project for 10 years and sustainable timber for more than 25 years. Small spaces can be a real challenge for people – this was a chance to showcase what you can do; that space doesn’t need to be a limitation. This project really is the pinnacle of unusual space – I mean if you can do it on the side of a crane, you can do it anywhere!

What were the kind of challenges you faced?

We were particularly involved in bringing nature in – Canopy and Stars are really keen on connecting with the outdoors. Some of the things we designed were the planters inside and on the roof. When you go up the garden pathway, you really get that sense of walking through a forest – partly due to the mulches on the floor and the path, partly because of the canopy feeling created by the planters. You need to make sure, if you’re planting up a wall, there is maximum space for people and maximum chance for the plant to live and thrive.

It’s about thinking outside the box isn’t it – at home you wouldn’t think to plant things up the wall…

There’s nothing stopping you! It’s the first time I’ve come across it in such a small space. You often see it in offices, but actually the feeling it gives is extraordinary. I love the hanging herbs in the crane’s kitchen as well – often a kitchen feels short on space but it brings so much freshness and life.

Crane 29Hanging herbs and emerald green tiling in the kitchen

So much has been crammed in yet it doesn’t feel cramped…

They’ve been very smart in their choices of furniture, the colours, the big windows… I love the copper pipe curtain rails, I’m tempted to try that at home. The bathroom is really tiny yet feels luxurious – the watering can showerhead is awesome. It’s funny and reminds you of water conservation!

Crane 29The small but perfectly formed bathroom 

Why was sustainability such an important part of the build?

You look at what’s happening with climate change agreements, the targets we need to hit – we all need to do more. We’ve been looking at the barriers to bringing nature into the home, and the same reasons come up: not enough space or time, too expensive. Crane 29 addresses those issues. Some of the wood is from Bristol’s community wood recycling programme, which we partner with. It shows eco living doesn’t need to be the compromise people think it will be. LEDs mean lighting is better and cheaper. Sustainably sourced materials don’t need to be dull – they absolutely can be beautiful.

Crane 29 successfully attracts urban bees with roof planters. How can people help the cause at home?

Wildlife is in decline, and a lot of the conversations revolve around agriculture and climate change – not something you might feel you can help with directly. Our first tip for anyone, whether you’ve got a garden or window box, is to get involved in science projects like the butterfly survey or bee count. There are hundreds of counts around – they open your eyes to what’s out there and help scientists to work out what attracts wildlife. If you can have a window box or doorstep pot with pollinating plants, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to see butterflies coming to visit. Further afield, you can make sure you buy peat-free compost to help protect habitats in peat bogs, or if you’re buying timber you can use recycled or sustainably sourced wood. It’s about choosing your materials wisely, ensuring you’re not wasting – minimising food waste is something we can all do.

Crane 29Planters on the roof, walls and steps outside Crane 29 help attract urban bees and butterflies

Bristol is a great place for community projects…

Absolutely, there are many projects like Incredible Edibles, which showcase what can be done. They grow planters at the railway station near me; you don’t need a garden.

It’s really important to get children involved as well, isn’t it?

Absolutely, my children were involved in the RSPB bird count last year and couldn’t identify any species, whereas this year they could spot a good 10 or 12. Through the course of the year, they’re the ones who say; “Turn the light off Mummy, it’s important for the animals!” It’s essential for children to make those links. Connecting with nature is good for mental health and it’s great for children’s education.

Crane 29It’s essential to get children involved in the great outdoors, says Rachel

How did you come to be interested in sustainable living?

I used to work in the paper industry, and my job was product development. We were constantly assessed in terms of environmental regulations, so I learned about climate change and how to convince people to make environmentally friendly choices. Eventually I did a master’s in environmental decision-making, and B&Q approached me to work on their programme, which was hugely flattering – they are a company leading the way in sustainability. In the UK, a quarter of carbon emissions come from homes, so you’ve got to help people adjust their homes – invisible things like insulation and becoming more energy-efficient, factoring sustainability into everyday choices, which the crane does nicely. You’re less likely to turn the lights on because you’ll want to look at the view, and if you’ve got a rug or a throw you’re less likely to reach for the thermostat.

How do you feel when people denounce climate change?

The whole thing with Trump…people who deny it are starting to be known as dinosaurs. We’re past the point where denying has much to do with what’s really going to happen. It’s going to take Trump a long time to get out of those agreements, and all over the States, people are asking why they’re doing it. In the UK last week, 50% of energy was made by renewables – we’re on the right track. We’d prefer if everyone believed, but let’s just keep the conversation going! 

To find out more about B&Q’s sustainability projects, visit diy.com/one-planet-home; to find out more about Crane 29, visit canopyandstars.co.uk/crane29