Eco-friendly Fitz maintenance team leads by example

As one of the six key areas of the College Plan, environmental values permeate the College activities, from investments to how materials are used on site.

How to use and reuse materials creatively is something that Bob Devonshire often ponders.  

A joiner, skilled trade supervisor and Curator of Clocks at Fitzwilliam College, Bob's contribution to reducing Fitz's carbon footprint includes 'upcycling' wood from across the College site, turning the wood piled in a small storage container on the north-east side of the College into a multitude of objects that are both useful and aesthetically pleasing.

Once you know where to look, his handiwork is on show throughout the campus. When it came to making frames for the vents at the back of the library, he turned to some white oak he had recovered from benches removed from outside the Library's main entrance. Like all wood in close contact with the ground, the white oak benches started to show signs of decay after 10 years.

“It had started to open up,” Bob explains. “But once you plane the edge, you’re back to fresh wood. So we’ve got American white oak everywhere in our workshop now, and we’re using it anywhere we need wood.

"It’s something I’ve always done, but we’re doing even more of it these days. Whenever we take anything apart or replace it, we keep the wood we’re taking out to use elsewhere. Some of the American oak I'll use to create a new postbox outside the Dean's room in the Grove, for example."

BC Pine

To ensure the replacement benches lasted longer in the inclement damp English climate, Bob used a sustainable wood company to bring in some iroko wood – the longest-lasting outdoor wood available.

But across the rest of the site, Bob has been upcycling wood rather than ordering - often using repurposed British Columbian Pine, the College’s feature wood.

BC pine that was left over from the making of sliding doors at the Porter’s Lodge, for example, is currently being used for doors of a Fellow’s set in I Block, and in slats of benches at Chapel Court.

The spirit bottles behind the Fitz Café Bar now rest on African hardwood taken from old flooring in the upper hall. Offcuts from old worktops were used to improve safety measures at the top of the stairs for the Auditorium - and offcuts from the Master's office went into other offices in the Grove.

Bob Devonshire beech

Fallen wood

Any wood that falls on site, meanwhile, is put aside to dry out. Bob examines two large branches of beech – including one by the Fellows’ cycles entrance.

“They will take a couple of years to dry out once I’ve split it,” he says. “It takes a year per inch to dry. So if I can get it down to two inches’ width we’ll be able to repurpose it in the next couple of years. Air-drying is considered better for stability, compared to kiln-drying.”

Some of this beech wood has already been used in the frames for noticeboards in the outside properties. He has also used leftover cherry wood from the DEF staircase refurbishment for nameplate holders.

An acacia tree that fell on site has been repurposed for hedgehog-friendly projects run by Head Gardener Steve Kidger - houses, feeding huts, and ramps to enable the hedgehogs to ascend the dry riverbed next to the Auditorium.

“I get to be creative sometimes, which I like,” he adds. “I get asked for a lot of odd things, for Winter Balls, for concerts in the Auditorium. I’ve recently been asked to make sets for an opera. It keeps me on my toes. We're doing what we can with limited resource, but obviously there's loads more we could do with more work and storage space.”

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