The Skinners' School in Tunbridge Wells has become the first secondary school to work with the High Weald Partnership to build a solar kiln for drying locally sourced timber.
The solar kiln, a wooden construction the size of a garden shed, will give Skinners' School the means to dry high quality wood sourced from sustainably managed woodlands across the High Weald. After being dried in the kiln the planked wood will be used in Design and Technology (D&T) classes and the kiln itself will be a constant source of education for the pupils on sustainable energy and construction.
Matt Pitts, Cultural Landscape Advisor for the High Weald Partnership, spearheaded the project as a part of the 'Living Woods' initiative which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission. "The High Weald's woodlands have been managed to produce timber for centuries but many woodlands are now underutilised. This project was set up to make it easier and less costly for schools to use some of that timber".
Mark Moody, Director of Sustainability and STEM, coordinated the project within the school. He is enthusiastic about the value of a solar kiln "Schools tend to buy wood from mass suppliers and often it is not seasoned properly and tends to warp and split so isn't great to work with". He adds "With the new kiln we can produce sustainably sourced, sustainably dried, high quality oak or beech planks which can be made into something else for only a bit more money."
Pupils from Year 7 to 12 were involved at all stages in the kiln's construction. Ben, Christian and John, current year 8s who carried out some of the drilling said that "We learnt a lot. The project offered opportunities to use skills we'd learnt in D&T. Even though it's a long process it means we can use local wood and make really good products like stools".
Mr Moody hopes that some enterprising students will be able to sell products made from the wood at Christmas markets or parents evenings "They can have a little sign on it saying 'High Weald oak, sustainably sourced and dried' aswell as other things about the product."