There has been a little lull in the UK Glamping industry this year, coming on the back of it’s crazy drive to milk clients out of every penny, peaking with the insane adventures of covid era, and some bad decisions. This has seen a lot of our clients suffering, because of the actions of a few, and even though they believe that those will fall by the way side, leaving people that actually have a passion for outdoor hospitality to rebuild, some damage has been done, in fact it still is being made not only by hospitality providers but by many retailers and structure providers.
We work with up to half of the UK tented campsites, some on regular basis. Our clients are reporting occupancy rates going down from 85% to 40%. This I am afraid to say was predictable with some of the low quality rush to make as much money as possible during covid. But this is another subject.
So although this meant some of our livelihood was affected, I do love those lulls in the industry. Because they push us to innovate, to rethink. In a sense I think there has been too much money thrown at this industry over the years, with some yurts being sold for 20 thousand, and remembering that when it all started over 25 years ago the very same yurts cost fifteen hundred pounds. So the industry has gotten a little drunk on money. Having a moment away from cover making allows us to raise our heads from the machine, and focus on some of the ideas that have been spiralling in our heads between all the seams.
We have started a campaign against the endless stream of retailers and structures that are currently flooding the market, aiming to bring those back into the hands of the makers. Our dream is to see people steaming hard wood again, sewing canvas, working with felt and stainless steel, forging elements, and bringing high quality hand made products back into creation. Above all we are dreaming new venues for giving people a little more freedom and imagination in hospitality, because the rustic, the love of nature, or more so falling in love under canvas, lying by a fire is what this is all about.
Our current project is focused on the Alachigh tent form, it is an Iranian tent, rumoured to have been created because of the ban on trellis tents, resulting in a rib (or rafter if you like) only tent. Peter Alford Andrews who is a good friend and the world’s authority on nomadic tent architecture, a person we feel is the unsung hero of the rise of nomadic tents doing such a comeback, has been an invaluable source of information over the years, has helped us a lot to think about this tent form. We have an aversion of people copying each other, or worse still stealing each other designs, which is another reason we focus on this tent, because it has seen only little attention in the UK and no where else otherwise, except of course in Iran.
It is one of the most elegant tent forms ever created, but it also always had issues. Its main problem was that the long rafters that it uses require long lengths of wood, which are not always available, this is truer the bigger it gets, with lengths over 4.5m. Steam bending such lengths though we have found out is actually fairly easy, in fact where we would usually use a dedicated jig, we found out we can easily form a couple of ribs, and after those have been bent to the right shape, using the traditional method of a wooden beam with two strong pegs to slowly shape the rafters.
Then we could easily use those initial rafters as a jig. Meaning that any given size of Alachigh could be made without needing to resort to making a new jig with a different diameter every time. Why does this matter? Because not only we are trying to bring this tent back into more focus, we are aiming to create a new business for making this tent form so it would not go extinct.
The next issue with this tent form, is that the long rafters tend to “spiral collapse” as we call it, a problem that traditionally was resolved by applying tension by pegging the wheel to the ground, a little like tipis are anchored.
The traditional method of stabilising the rafters was by using two bands that wrap around each rafter going from one rafter to the next, those are then lowered down and so tensioned to pull the rafters in at the bottom, keeping the curvature of the tent and maintain the rafters straight, so in a sense this whole tent functions under tension, where a yurt only has tension at the meeting of the roof rafters and the trellis.
The few examples that have been made of this tent in the country have at times missed that last part, resulting in the rafters not being held straight, or the tent itself being a little unhinged. There have been a couple of attempts to stabilise those with ground sheet sleeves, but those have not been sufficient.
From a design point of view we have looked into two modes of resolving this issue, in fact to deal with it we have had to make two structures, one which we tested on a smaller (7m) tent with long rafters to test the tension band approach, this was traditionally the biggest size used, with a 32 rafter being reported as the biggest size ever made.
The other which is much bigger (9m) applies a more modern approach of creating a fixed ring of wood and connectors. This approach has been tried with some modern Glamping tents, but in a way those we felt were a little too modular. As those tents use a CNC cut plywood for the wooden parts, and a screw on connector. They tend to leave one with the impression of being inside a kit car or a model shop rather than a nomadic structure.
In our minds if modern methods are used, one should not skim on the hand made manufacture feel to such a degree that the charm of the tent looses appeal. This happens all the time unfortunately, in fact as a manufacturer of framed tents (as opposed to velum tents which use guy ropes) for commercial ends, one usually looks to having a modular repeatable process, which is easiest done with having plywood cut to round shapes on a CNC machine. This is the approach for modular Glamping structures, and even some Shepard hut makers, and whilst this make a lot of sense from a business point of view which is important as hand made manufacturing has limitations when it comes to repeated multiplication, a lot is lost in the translation. As with it goes most of the charm of the tent, and its rustic beauty.
We tried to draw a line between going too modern and sticking too much to the traditional. This is because we could be said to be too much of the traditionalist at times, and in a sense more than the tent itself we like to push ourselves as tent makers into new places, where we feel it is easier to have made things in a certain way, or have all thew right machinery, we instead focus on keeping ourselves as small as possible as a company, and doing things with as little tools as possible to make the tent making art grow rather than the size of the operation, as after all we feel that a low foot print and nomadic flexibility have always been important to us. This approach meant that we have seen most of this industry come and and go, building companies and selling them, or worse going bankrupt, whilst we always enjoyed a central place in the industry. This is another design element we try to implement and encourage others to follow, and one we aim to install into this new venture which will hopefully become a stand alone business.
For the larger tent ribs not to end up as an impossible length, more from transporting point of view, we used a split rib and connector design and laminated the wood for uniformity, even though those can easily be steam bent too, if done correctly, trying to crate a more uniform shape.
For the wheels I’ve opted for welded mild steel or stainless design mostly because I have wanted to see if replacing yurt wheels with steel could also be done elegantly. Those copy that original form but allows for outer metal sleeves to hold the ribs from collapsing sideways too, and though the normal wheel with its square holes does this to a degree it does not do it well enough, which was a design defect traditionally, so steel has also offered a benefit.
The last major issue of redesigning this tent, was that of the doors. There was a similar looking tent used by the Turkmen, traditionally being a hand-me-down yurt with the trellis which was old being discarded and the rafters only used as a very low tent for cooking, or for poorer families who could not afford to have full yurt made. This form has resulted in a higher rib tent, like the Alachigh in one place that has eventually also used a wooden door. The problem of the wooden door was that it called for a rebalancing of the Alachigh shape, calling it to be made higher with more vertical upstaged at the bottom of the rafter, which took away some of the elegance making the tent more dome-like. It also asks the door to stand outside of the structure, even if the rafters are lengthened. A dormer door always takes away form the beauty of a round structure, in our view at least. Which is what we are working on right now, to test the different approaches we would probably end up with a fixed door for the bigger structure and look to develop a canvas door that mimics the Shasevan design.
Keep your eyes peeled as we complete those two structures over the summer, the large one will be up for sale as an event space, standing at 30ft diameter, and is the only one of its kind in the country. The smaller one is made for a unique business plan we have of a pop up hotel for nomadic expeditions so we would probably keep it for that purpose. Like many of our other projects we also intend to turn these into a business that could either work directly with us or become its own stand alone operation, in which case we would look to help its owner taking the design form of this tent in at least those two approaches above, and work with them on making a bespoke canvas cover with some exciting elements we have had in mind for a while whilst sewing over a thousand yurt covers. We have created a dedicated website for this new venture here hoping to turn it into a unique business we run or sell that can focus on bringing this tent into the market and so saving the most elegant of all traditional nomadic tents from disappearing. also look at our Handmade Hand page if you have a similar passion and have your own new tent design in mind, as we can help you with a similar product design process, as long as you commit to making it by hand.