Balnacra Arts & Pottery by Vicky Stonebridge

The Great Treehouse Challenge end of build

As previously blogged, SKY1 has a TV series in the autumn coming out, 3 programmes called the great Treehouse challenge. 1 programme is about the treehouse here that our community asked for & I did the 1st initial designs for. The project has been managed by a local community group and charity ‘ The Kirkton woodland and Heritage Group’ who are now running the Smithy Heritage Centre site ( where my previous pottery studio building is ). This group is bidding for a community buy out of a local forest which is overdue for harvest and will otherwise go to private developers. It could provide a massive boost for this area which desperately needs affordable housing, small rural business development, skills, training, amenities, recreational facilities etc.

We had suggested and hoped that this Treehouse project would galvanise the community to be in a better position to purchase and manage the forest. We also wanted to regenerate the Smithy site which has virtually been abandoned in recent years. This community has a small church hall & a village hall but needed something different, a community building that would draw people towards it and stimulate activities.

I blogged about the ideas and project process previously;
August 31st 2011
August 10th 2011
July 20th 2011
July 11th 2011

The link to the SKY1 page about it is here

So This week the treehouse got built, I was one of the people that was asked to not see the site until completion for the ‘wow’ surprise factor on camera. I did manage to do some bits and bobs up at the Smithy ‘ site office’ end of things.

Thursday night, the fire crew put up the tent for the Friday finale.
Friday. The celebration and hand over to the community was scheduled for 8pm. There were some heavy downpours during the day which put the schedule back, they were already a day and a half behind due to the late arrival of the lorry with the timber and building materials. People started to gather at the Smithy but weren’t allowed down to the site, food, drink and a piper from the local primary school were there to entertain people. Those of us who were in the ‘surprise’ party were told to meet at the Strathcarron Hotel at 9pm. Apparently at this point doors, windows and cladding were still frantically getting put on the building. The build crew and local volunteers had been working flat out from 6am to 10+pm every day. local people had been dropping by with soup, lunches and sandwiches all week. The local folks who pitched in and helped out were not the usual handful who do everything around here, yes they were there, but so were new people. People who expressed cynicism even a week ago, people who were completely disinterested, they turned up and got stuck in too. I’d imagined the lure of 15 minutes TV fame would have encouraged people to join in , but most were actually very camera shy! It was the actual treehouse itself which got people talking and participating. We heard heroic tales about the hours and effort that these local folks were putting in, the TV crew were genuinely blown away by the help they got. 
I was of course very frustrated at not being allowed to get hands on, and once i heard about the immense efforts of others i felt guilty too. It seemed rather prima dona-ish to be ushered in at the last minute, however that was the deal this time around, so that was that. 10pm and we were still chatting at the pub waiting for our call, it was a good chance to speak to people and discover common connections, we usually just rush past, nod and wave at people and don’t take the time to get better acquainted- even in a small village like this. 10.30pm we piled into cars to meet up with all the other people waiting patiently in the cold, damp night. 
The crowd were ushered off to the treehouse, the now muddy wooded site floodlit.They were got in position the camera and lights set up. Our ‘surprise’ group was then given our instructions, we were walked down to the site with a black sheet in front of us eyes down, we waited a while behind the sheet getting warmed up by one of the researchers “are you excited?” “what do you hope this will do for the community?” etc . bats flew overhead, the trees lit up took on a magical quality, the clouds broke revealing bright constellations. We were then taken down to the front of the crowd behind the sheet, eyes covered and or shut to wait out cue. I have spent a lot of time at that space by the river over the years, I know the site well, perhaps it was the accoustics but I sensed that there was something pretty big in front of me, could feel the excitement of the crowd behind me, the hope and expectation in the tv crew’s voices.
Presenter Charlie Luxton did his introduction speech,

 ” lochcarron, here is your treehouse, now open your eyes !”

and now you dear reader will also have to wait until the programme is aired in november. A lot of people used the word ‘magical’, imagine the noise of the river, the lit up trees and nestled in the branches there above and in front of us a big timber building, forget treehouses from cartoons and childhood. There have been a few changes since my last concept sketch. it is set further back behind the trees, it is round, has a balcony over the river, is on stilts. It is beautiful, it is peaceful, warm, inviting and quite astounding!  Gasps and Applause. ( luckily no embarrassing tears but nearly, being the big softie that I am ) . Then of course TV being TV we had to repeat the surprise twice more to get the different camera angles, but it didn’t require too much acting as it was all too much to take in the first time anyway.

Then our group were filmed going into the building, and out onto the balcony, a couple of takes, then everyone else were taken in in groups, It was wonderful to see the children & teenagers faces and enthusiasm.   That’s what its all about, building something for them, the young folks, preventing this area turning into even more of a retirement village.
Now there was time for some individual interviews with a couple of us, and a chance to speak to the build crew and volunteers who had done all that incredible work. Some real heroes there!
I am pretty cynical about TV, in fact we don’t have one. But I can say in this instance that the ‘reality tv’ drama was all genuine ( apart from having to do 2 or 3 takes of course ), nothing was scripted, the presenter Charlie, and fellow architect Alex, were alongside everyone else working flat out. You could see how exhausted everyone was. Impressive!

Peter and Michelle from the Carron Restaurant had made a treehouse cake – as well as keeping the crews well fed all week so i heard!

I can’t show you the tree house, but i can show you the cake !

Then we partied while the camera crew worked on and wrapped it up.

Note as many cans of red bull as beer… if you want stomach ulcers and a stressful life, work in TV.

Kristine presents the crew with local gifts as a wee thankyou.

James the ‘runner’ kindly drove us home at late o’clock.
These guys were so nice! they were enthusiastic and really behind the project and wanted to help this community and build a great treehouse, it wasn’t just about making good TV like we feared it might be. They also loved the welcome they got here. Maybe highland hospitality isn’t quite dead yet?

Saturday morning. 
Back on site, the crew were back at 8am, clearing up & doing some finishing. There are a few fixtures and fittings, more cladding and such things to finish on the treehouse before it can be used properly. This will be good for us as it keeps up the volunteering momentum, The more folks work on a thing, the more a sense of ownership and pride. I’m so pleased that it has worked out so well, it is a stunning example to hold up to those who moan and complain ” whats the point?”, ” its too difficult “, “no-one will bother”. Negativity, complaining and cynicism can just burn out community minded people, this tree house just shows what can be achieved with the right support and momentum.

 Liberty gets a helping hand during the clean up.

One of the Tree Chaps removing a strop

a helper doggie …erm.. eating a stone

Rich looking down from the treehouse to muddy me.

Watch this space to hear when it is going to be shown on Television, I think we will be having another community get together to watch it which will be a lot of fun.  I think i’m still in a state of shock that a seed of an idea can become an actual building in such a short space of time!  Brilliant!

4 comments on “The Great Treehouse Challenge end of build

  1. moving arts
    September 3, 2011

    well done Vicky and all involved in what is obviously a fabulace project x

  2. Vicky
    September 3, 2011


  3. Lunar Hine
    September 5, 2011

    We don't have a tele either, but I'll watch it online. Remind us nearer the time. It's so good to hear of communities working together, and I agree that if there's little for the younger people, soon there will be little for everyone else. Congratulations on your part. (I more mean the original concept sketching than the repeated surprises!)

  4. drow
    January 15, 2012

    Just watched the episode the other day, here on the other side of the pond. Brilliant! I hope the treehouse continues to be a benefit to your community. I'd certainly like to visit it someday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on September 3, 2011 by in Blog and tagged , , , , .

Twitter Updates

  • RT @PotteryPopUp: First batch of fundraising hearts for Ukraine sold out in one day. Next ones drying out now, hopefully twice fired by mid… 1 year ago

Pop Up Pottery on Twitter

my Redbubble shop, for prints, cards, t-shirts etc

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 30 other subscribers


No Instagram images were found.

%d bloggers like this: