Shortlisted for the M&S Energy Community Energy Fund!

M&SWe’ve just heard that we’ve been shortlisted to receive £12,000 from the M&S Community Energy Fund – and it could be more if our project is chosen to be one of their flagships.

We are still to receive details on the next stage of the project, but in brief, we will be invited to set up a web page on the Energy Fund website from the beginning of August; then, from September 1st we’ll need to get as much support for it as possible.

So let’s not forget the lessons learnt in recent days:  every vote really does count!

More details to follow.

We have raised a whopping…

funding-05£348,000 so far!  Our initial fundraising aim was £380,000 so that is an incredible achievement – 92% of the target raised! Many thanks to all our supporters.

Unfortunately, costs have also risen.  A while back, we revised our fundraising aim to £460,000, which puts us back down to 75% achievement, but in fact the target will probably have to increase further.

We are currently working on firming up all the costs in more detail.  Some aspects have worked out to be less than our initial estimates.  The main things that look to be a lot more expensive are:

  • Our two main staircases will have to be custom built for around 65k – about £40k more than anticipated;
  • our ventilation system will cost about £45k – about 30k more than anticipated;
  • and our foundations will cost £60-90k which is about £30-60k more than anticipated.

These changes are partly due to the initial unknowns of a pioneering building, and partly because the building has developed beyond our initial sketches in order to be fit for purpose.


Bird’s Eye View

Aerial Visulaisation EastAerial Visulaisation West







Kuba has just sent me these two stunning visualisations of the new building.  The first, viewed from the South-East, shows the solar panels along the south roof, and the wonderful entrance staircase.  The second, viewed from the North-West, shows the link to the church, with the kitchen nearest.  Meanwhile Sally Redway is working on some 3D animations of the inside which we shall post when they are ready.

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.

Church & Community Building with Straw Bales in Tulse Hill