New Mills goes for a Royal Flush

Local environment and angling writer Andrew Griffiths talks to New Mills’ resident Charlie Copestake about novel arrangements in the ‘smallest room’.

He may be no Dustin Hoffman but New Mills has its very own ‘Rain Man’ in the form of Spring Bank’s Charlie Copestake. Charlie collects rain by the barrel-load and while money doesn’t grow on trees, it is falling out of the skies as far as Charlie is concerned.

Charlie’s house and garden looks like many others where there is a passion for gardening and DIY. But look at the house, shed and a couple of greenhouses from the sky’s point of view, add up all that roof space and it is actually a great big surface area of roof funnelling all that rain into a gutter system filling barrels strategically placed all over the property.

This water is then converted variously into fruit and vegetables from the garden and greenhouse and tops up the pond as a haven for wildlife.

But it is Charlie’s toilet which is the main event today; take a peek round the door and you’ll see that he has converted the toilets in the house to fill and flush with rainwater rather than water from the mains supply.

As Charlie’s water supply is metered, he reckons this saves him bucket-loads of cash – around one hundred and fifty quid a year off his water bills – literally free money falling from the skies.

It isn’t the obvious money-saving that is the main motivation for Charlie though – it started with a trip around a water treatment works when he had a young family.

“It was amazing how much it costs to treat this water, it just seems wrong to flush it down the toilet,” says Charlie. “It is a bonus that it is saving me money, but the primary reason is that I don’t like to flush down water which someone has paid to clean up.”

There are many other environmental benefits as well, not least that all that water collected in barrels could otherwise end up in the sewer system. By reducing the overall volume of sewage we can help prevent all that shit ending up in the river like you keep reading about in your newspapers. Well if everybody did it…

For the technically minded, Charlie’s system consists of a one cubic metre water tank kept outside at ground level which collects water from the house gutters, an electric pump which pumps that water up to a smaller 60 gallon tank in the loft, which in turn tops up the toilet cisterns in the house.

Other than family visits there is just Charlie and wife Val in the house now. Should the water run dry it can of course switch over to the mains to fill the cisterns – it isn’t a case of crossing your legs while the sun shines.

Over the last year Charlie reckons topping up was necessary for about 3 weeks out of 52 – for the remainder all necessary evacuations were dealt with courtesy of the inclement weather. Given that climate change is predicted to cause more extreme weather events and heavy rainfall, providing you have the storage you may be as free with your movements as you like. Given some of the more pessimistic climate change scenarios, you may welcome such a facility.

Charlie is a handy chap and sources a lot of his supplies second hand. The total cost of his equipment for containers, electric pump, pipes and guttering came to £360. He reckons his water bill has gone from £500 per year to £350 – a saving of £150 a year which is an excellent rate of return.

It is one for the enthusiastic DIY’ers though, as Charlie says: “You’ve got to want to do it.”

If you are interested in finding out more but want to go down the shiny new kit route, those wonderful folk down at Settvale Plumbing at Birch Vale can put you together a kit for £899 plus VAT. They also have many more great water saving ideas and devices, such as their Eco Water Saving Hydro Venturi Turbo Super Saver Hand Shower which gives 7 litres per minute, and is a good option for anyone reducing the flow of their shower. I reckon if you can remember what it is called without looking, you deserve a discount. No cheating.

Best give Ben a ring on 01663 749555 or email on and talk water – or more importantly, how to save it.

But even if you don’t go the full en-suite of a toilet flush conversion, just a humble barrel behind a bush to catch rainwater from your gutters to use in your garden rather than sending it straight down the sewerage system to end up as dilute raw sewage in the local stream has got to be a good idea, right? Think about my trout, you know it makes sense.

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