Straw bale building – The beginnings

 In Blog

On the 15th of June a group of ten strangers came together to build a workshop under the guidance of three wise natural builders. One week later, we are a strange group of friends grafting, learning and laughing together, all day and all night, seven days of the week.

Straw Bale Introductions

Our first weekend together was full of getting to know each other activities on the local beach and a relaxing Sunday settling into our new home at the campsite next to the site. After the weekend we had an interactive day of health and safety, which included toolbox talks expressed in the form of poetry readings and comical role plays. After a fair amount of form filling, we spent the remainder of Monday afternoon reading the construction drawings and making models of the foundations and plinths to develop a better understanding of the building before stepping onto site.

Model making gets the students reading the plans

The induction day was followed by a short three day work week. Although short, it was an immense amount of work laying the foundations. We began everyday with a group stretch, relevant health and safety information and the distribution of tasks, which are divided so everyone has a chance to have a go at each part of the build. The main activities this week were shovelling hardcore into wheelbarrows and transporting it from a massive pile of reclaimed crushed concrete to the trench and pad foundations; compacting the hardcore with the whacker plate (also known as the angry baby); constructing various formwork shuttering out of plywood; wheel barrowing concrete from the mixer truck into the formwork (we managed 8 tons between 9 of us in 1 day – epic); setting out and levelling the foundations in reference to the defined finished floor level and finally mixing and pouring limecrete (the preferred alternative to concrete). 

The students stretch before starting work

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the delicious healthy vegetarian food cooked by the wonderful Esther twice a day every day of the working week.

Delicious food served 3 times a day to keep our team going!

Clayfest at the Centre For Alternative Technology

Late Thursday night Jeffrey and Mike drove us all the way across the country to West Wales to join in the festivities of Clayfest at the Centre of Alternative Technologies in Machynlleth. Friday day was full of interesting talks on earthy natural building from a fascinating group of people from a diverse range of backgrounds. After all the talking we had an evening of funky dancing lubricated by a few beverages and some truly beautiful music. 

Saturday was full of experiments: testing earth, water and compression in rammed earth mixes, building cob walls and constructing an impressive rammed earth arch, as well as my new favourite activity of making Dorodango, shiny earth balls. The earth balls are competing with another favourite extra curricular activity of spoon carving. At some point we may well end up having egg and spoon races with our hand carved wooden spoons and shiny clay balls…we will just have to wait and see.

Hartwyn apprentice Jodie and her rammed earth vault!

Finally, I will leave you with a quote from the 100 ways to make an anti capitalist feminist building site compiled by the fantastic Emma Appleton which I feel is particularly applicable to this last week:

100. Be prepared for a building site to be a transformative place for everyone involved

Check out our ‘Building Sustainability Podcast’ chat with Emma here!

Written by 2019 Hartwyn student –  Sophie

Building Sustainability Podcast

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  • Chris Field

    Hoping to be in their shoes one day so it’s great to be able to follow their progress.

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