Retrofitting an accessible compost toilet and composting systems @ Abbey Gardens


Throughout 2022 we have been working alongside the staff and community at Abbey Gardens to redesign their existing composting systems and improve the toilet on site.

We started off by running a creative compost workshop, exploring each compost system in the garden and its role in the wider ecosystem and local area. Participants gathered samples to look at under the microscope, wrote letters to their favourite compost pile, measured the temperatures of the different systems and made offerings to reflect how valuable these systems are.

We learnt a lot from these conversations and subsequent chats with garden users, about what works well with the existing systems and what could be improved. We helped to clean and maintain the Separett compost toilet over a period of about 6 weeks, to get it working again, understand how people were using it, and what the issues with it were. Our shared learnings from this initial phase helped inform a design proposal which the garden team approved and are helping us to bring into being.

Below is a brief summary of our proposal, and what you can expect to see at Abbey Gardens over the coming months. Our next community build days are 18th and 19th August, email for more info, or just turn up on the day and get involved :)

Design Proposal Summary

The much loved but a little dysfunctional compost toilet will be converted into an accessible compost toilet. We'll enlarge the dimensions, add grab rails, a hand wash basin, an all-gender urinal (funding permitted) and urine soakaway to nourish plant growth along the fence line. To reduce any smell we'd like to replace the polycarbonate walls with a more breathable material (wood or cob), and build in some gaps below the eaves for air flow and views over the garden. We'll put together info about how to care for and maintain this loo for years to come, and hope to support and resource future caretakers to get involved with this important role.

We'll build a new mobile worm hive inspired by the bee hives currently being constructed on site. This will be a place where the cafe and local residents can compost their foodwaste, and get excited about the magic of worms! producing a highly nutritious compost and liquid fertiliser.

We love how big the large composting system is, but people seem to be confused about how to use it and how to access the compost underneath. We have proposed to open up this system at the front and divide it into 3 large bays, covered with a roof to help keep in moisture, prevent leaching and collect rainwater.

As people were adding lots of large woody stalks and branches to the large composting system, which are slow to break down, we've proposed to introduce a dead hedge along the back wall, which would offer a habitat & hibernation space for insects, spiders, amphibians and small mammals, whilst also, eventually breaking down into the soil, and speeding up the composting process elsewhere.

The small 3 bay system seemed to be falling apart and not providing the best conditions for composting to take place. We proposed to build a brand new 3 bay system using pallets and reclaimed wood from the local area, so it can be easily repaired over time. We also linked up with a local tree surgeon to arrange a regular delivery of woodchip. This will help ensure a good balance of greens and browns across each system.

As the site is quite large and spread out, we have proposed a series of accessible paths linking up the different composting areas and zones of the garden. We'd like to experiment with using chalk and crushed concrete to build these, and have dreams for an additional compost toilet in the future to help meet the needs of an increasing number of visitors to the garden and cafe.

Huge thanks to everyone who has inputted and volunteered so far!