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Bringing the outside in

Welcome to the May edition of Beam. In medieval times, ‘bringing in the may’ was commonplace, collecting flowering branches including white hawthorn (may blossom) at midnight and bringing it home at dawn to decorate houses on the first of May.

Since we may not be able to get out into the fresh green and sunshine as much as we’d like just now, let’s look at how we might reach out, or surround ourselves with natural forms inside our homes.

Artist Pip Hall, shown above with ransoms she painted on her bathroom wall, has always been inspired by the outdoors and the wider landscape. She originally trained at Reading in typography and graphic communication, before going on to become an incredibly talented letter carver. She moved to the slate area of Cumbria from Berkshire to connect on a deeper level with stone. 

Many commissions have seen Pip working on pieces in situ, such as the Stanza Stones project: seven poems by Simon Armitage carved into varied stone surfaces in the Pennine Watershed (at times up to her waist in flowing water), as part of Yorkshire's Cultural Olympiad in 2012.

Another of Pip’s passions is relief printing – sometimes using potatoes, sometimes linoleum which is made from linseed oil and pine resin. In recent years she has been exploring surface pattern and colour focusing on linocut printing. Learning from the best she took a course run by the remarkable Hugh Dunford Wood who has designed and handprinted wallpaper all his life. His philosophy, and that of his teacher Peggy Angus, is to make craft accessible to everyone. Pip uses household emulsion – environmentally responsibly produced as much as possible – and fabrics which she buys locally.

Linoprinting a bluebell pattern on Pip’s kitchen table
Pip gathers inspiration from the Yorkshire Dales and the flora and fauna in her garden, refining and reworking her designs as beautiful illustrations which are planned as repeat patterns in both directions. She then brings her outdoorsy energy to her kitchen table where the lino is skillfully carved. In a similar vein as Hugh, Pip is experimenting with printing to create wallpaper, but she is also working with the Lancaster-based fabric printing company Standfast and Barracks to commission patterns onto fabric.

Her fabric and wallpaper patterns adorn the interior of the former school where she lives, flooded with light from the large schoolroom windows. She has played a big hand in executing inventive space planning and adaptations to this building dating from 1866, ably assisted by local friends and builders including designer Charlie Whinney who made a bespoke bentwood balustrade. 

Pip’s work is often commissioned for the very personal connection and sensitivity she is able to bring to pieces which evoke past styles and traditions, with a contemporary iteration. Pip draws on the depths of our antecedents: during our video call we discussed William Morris, Arts and Crafts and connections to the Modern Movement. This is not mechanised production. Pip's deft hand and eye are at work, steering the unique variation that results from the interplay of surface and ink.

Currently on Pip’s kitchen table is a commission involving hoopoe birds. One of these exotic looking creatures once turned up out of the blue near Pip’s garden – which understandably made a big impression on her! Keep your eye on my social media, I will share the hoopoes when they emerge.

You can see more work by Pip or contact her at
With thanks to her for use of these photos, and for becoming a Beam subscriber.


Keeping the skies alive

Swifts: perhaps some of us take these for granted – the romantic story that they fly south for winter and come back to the northern hemisphere for summer. And over the past few weeks I’ve found myself telling the same to my young fledglings, eager to learn about what migration means. However, a quick brush up on my knowledge (to keep one step ahead of the kids...) has taught me that things have drastically changed during my adult life – and some of the responsibility can be squarely laid at construction. 

The Swift Conservation team remind us that they still breed in our eaves and gables, ‘…but not for much longer, as modern and renovated buildings exclude them’. They go on to startle with, ‘…we have lost over half of our swifts in just the past 20 years’.

Being aware there is a problem is the first hurdle, and Swift Conservation offers lots of tips to help educate architects, developers and builders to operate in a mindful and responsible manner to help urban biodiversity.

As responsible professionals and homeowners these key tips are a start:

•  Leave existing nest places undisturbed

•  If re-roofing, make new nest access holes to match the old ones exactly

•  For new build, internal nest spaces are best

•  If internal nests are not possible, fit external nest boxes

World Swift Day is 7 June 2020, and UK Swift Awareness Week 2020 runs from 27 June to 5 July.

For some of us, with the dull background drone of our roads now much reduced, bird song this spring has been more prominent than usual. If you’re looking for a fun way to listen more keenly try these birdsongs to train your ear. Among them you’ll find the distinctive screeching of soaring, playful swifts.

The swifts shown above enjoying nest boxes made by Georgy Alain are from the Swift Conservation photo gallery.


Time to embrace plants indoors

Research into the benefits of houseplants to the indoor environment is well documented, and in our current circumstances the quality of our home environment is more important than ever before. Houseplants are just one of various biophilic design measures proven to improve wellbeing: that of bringing nature into our homes.

Apart from visual comfort in softening a space, the pleasure of different shapes and forms, and the fun of seeing them grow, a key consideration is their physical impact. At the moment the health of our lungs, and their vulnerability to pollutants, is sharply in focus. Certain species are of practical use as they cleanse the air of toxins. But there is also potential for a richer experience with plants.

Bloombox Club, started by psychologist Dr Katie Cooper, posts plants to your door to help you get immersed in the power of plants. Bloombox provides a great summary of how plants can be more than air cleansers: they lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol; improve recuperation times; and restore mental wellbeing and concentration levels – and with children running around and home working prevalent who couldn’t use more of this influence at the moment?

As Dr Cooper explains,  ‘…it is when we interact with plants that we experience the greatest health benefits. This might be getting your hands dirty and repotting plants, carefully pruning leaves, or wiping away dust and dirt. If you can’t get out at the moment, or you don’t have an outdoor space you can tend, indoor plants are ideal to give a go.’


West End Cottage, Burnham Overy Staithe

This grade II listed cottage dating from 1791 is part of a former watermill beside the river Burn near Burnham Market, with views across North Norfolk’s open countryside. It has period features over three floors and is ready to move into, however the interiors would benefit from a personal touch.

I am offering a complementary remote consultation to provide a professional objective opinion on ways in which West End Cottage could be sympathetically adjusted to become your dream home. Property details available here. For further details of my View and Evaluate service, available for any heritage property, please do get in touch

Create and connect

Join me for heritage themed CPD

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has been incredibly agile with its CPD offering at this time of home learning. The Society has organised a regular Thursday afternoon webinar for its members to engage in a presentation followed by a Q and A. If you are not yet a member do consider supporting SPAB by signing up here

Join me for the following SPAB CPD sessions:
7 May Repair and maintenance case studies
14 May Identifying and dealing with buildings at risk
21 May Conversion of one of the casemates of Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth into a traditional timber workshop
Claire Truman

Beam is brought to you by me, Claire Truman. Through my business, Heritage Revival, I work with people to find, evaluate and repurpose older and listed properties in ways that are sympathetic to their past, whilst revitalising them sustainably for the future. I am passionate about ethical, simple ways of living in tune with our heritage and in harmony with the natural world. Beam is for people who share these values. If you’d like to contribute, please get in touch.

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