All posts by Richard Dormandy

Pioneering Work

bike racks utrecht
Could we have eco-bike racks like these in Utrecht, Holland? We’ll have to convince the Police first!

When we set out on this road to build Europe’s First Straw-Bale Church building – and possibly the largest straw-bale community building – it never really occurred to me what it meant to be a pioneer.  I just thought, this is it, and we’re getting on with it.  Now I know the truth!

Hannah Jones of Green Gauge Energy is currently completing our Energy Statement, and has also been doing the “overheating calculations”.  But there’s not enough data on the thermal mass of straw bales. Kuba Wihan of our design team, based in the Czech Republic has been scouring the research and calling on colleagues in the straw build world in order to convince her to rate them more highly.

Helen Gribbon, our engineer from Renaissance, has found herself obliged to specify foundation depths of over 2m because of the clay soil and proximity of trees.  Again, our team at Straw Works are urgently trying to argue the case that because a straw building is lighter and more flexible, it can sit on shallow trenches.  Helen won’t sign off the project unless she is certain – and because the old hall became dangerous through subsidence, we can’t accept anything less than her utter confidence either.  But deeper foundations are considerably more expensive!

Pioneering even extends to bike stands.  Accord to the Secure by Design standard, they have to be steel tube filled with concrete!  We want to argue for solid wood.  Surely there aren’t that many bike thieves who come armed with chainsaws?!


It was always Truss detailour plan to build with load-bearing straw walls. Our design team at Straw Works still believe it would be possible, but our Engineer at Renaissance has said “No.” Apparently, the 10m span across the hall would be too wide to support the upper floor and roof.  Instead, Helen, our engineer has designed what we call “Super Trusses” – effectively a Timber Frame for the whole building. There will be far fewer of them than there would be normal roof trusses, but they will be much bigger and stronger, and integrally connected with pillars along the sides of the building.

The great, and unintended, spin-off from this is that they can be assembled on site and will comprise smaller parts than pre-manufactured trusses.  What this means in turn, is that it will actually be possible to deliver them – which was always going to be a practical nightmare of the previous design.  On the other hand, it will probably cost a little more.  Oh, but there again, we should be able to put the roof on before we fill in the walls!

Permission At Last!

What a process!  Getting planning permission was hard enough, but getting Faculty permission from the Diocese was tortuous!  Nevertheless, we now have both – albeit with a number of conditions to fulfill on Lambeth’s side.  These include providing a very thorough energy and heating strategy before any work is done above ground, and making sure that all aspects comply with the Police’s Secure by Design standard.

Checking the Ground Conditions

09-metres 2-6Last week GEA came and dug four boreholes to check what our ground is like.  As expected, there were traces of building rubble in the first metre, but below that was solid clay. The company are now doing a closer sample analysis back in the lab, and will also return to check the water levels in the holes. The holes ranged between 4 & 6m deep.  You can see more pictures and read the commentary here: “What Lies Beneath

Help is at Hand

drainA key aspect of our project is that it is a community self-build. So it’s great, even at this early stage to have people involved, sharing skills and time.

Thanks to Kevin, who spent an afternoon making a topographic survey, and his friend, who transferred the data into a usable format.

Thanks to Heath, who surveyed the drain runs, and to Hilary and Purnima who measured all the boundary fences.

Thanks to RIchard & Lucy who have used their experience as planning consultants to offer invaluable help in our planning application.

Funding Success

fundingfromwf01-01We are tremendously excited to announce that the Walcot Foundation has decided to award us £40,000 over two years in recognition that our project will help get young people into work by training them in both “soft” and “hard” skills.  Walcot don’t only give money – they also give on-going support.  Their application process was quite demanding, but they were extremely helpful throughout, and we look forward to continuing partnership.

We have also been awarded £7,000 by All Churches Trust which is slightly bigger than their average donation.

Many thanks to all our supporters.

Can YOUR employer help?

When Farah, a member of our church community, knew that we were raising money for such a great project, she spoke to the person in charge of her work’s charitable giving scheme. As a result, she secured £500 from her employer, Land Securities, towards our community hub. Thank you Farah!

Many firms have schemes to support good causes – why not ask someone where you work about how they could help?

£10,000 raised through Vicar’s Marathon!

2014-10-04 17.16.41An amazing £10,000 (including Gift Aid) has been raised through Richard’s marathon, thanks to generous sponsorship and commitment by all the runners.

A number of donations came in the post from people we didn’t know at all.  One of the most amazing was from an elderly lady who had read about our project in the Church Times, and remembered teaching the Vicar’s wife, Ruth, in Sunday School many decades ago!

Marathon Success For All!

The finishing Line

We were all winners last Saturday when our vicar, Richard, completed his Greater Tulse Hill Straw Bale Marathon in a time of 5 hours 20 minutes. Among those who accompanied him were Tarron, aged 8, who ran a big 2k; Jaleel, the third fastest U13 100m sprinter in the country; Ally, who signed up for 10k but just kept on running to cover more than half the course; Pete, Dave, and Anne, who live with a variety of physical disabilities.

Richard said, “I was expecting it to be a gruelling and painful experience, but the company and cameraderie actually made it easy – a word I never dreamed I’d be using of the marathon. What it really shows is the power of doing things together – which is what this project is all about.”

It was a winning formula of prayer, skill sharing (eg massage!), equipment (eg the right strapping), mutual support, vision and careful preparation.  The wet weather, which was timed to perfection after 90 minutes sunshine, also helped – though when we start building with straw, we’ll want that aspect to pan out a little differently!  You can still sponsor the marathon through this link: