Strawbale Community Self-Build, South London

by South London Straw Build in London, England, United Kingdom

We did it
On 21st April 2020 we successfully raised £10,644 ( + est. £771.25 Gift Aid ) with 58 supporters in 154 days

This year we're going to complete the shell of our new straw-bale community centre. Your donations will pay for essential materials.

by South London Straw Build in London, England, United Kingdom

 New stretch target

The extra money from achieving our stretch will pay for I-beams, which is one of the greenest ways to construct strong floors.

Thank You!

Thank you for looking at our web page.  This year we're going to complete the final section of our straw bale community centre.  We've set our target at £10,000 and will use it to buy English Douglas Fir and other timber for the framework and to 99% recycled plastic "Iko-Slates" for the roof.  So your pledges will make an immediate and vital difference! 

Lambeth Council have already pledged £5,000 but only if we reach our target of £10k all together.  If we do reach the target, we'll extend our goal and use any extra money on timber I-beams, which is one of the greenest ways to build strong floors.  So you can see:  we've got specific targets and specific purposes.  Your pledge will hugely help us.

We've had over 500 volunteers to date, and this February we begin offering work-experience placements for young people from South Thames Colleges, who are training in various trades and other vocational courses.  Volunteering is a great way of learning, and it's very rare to be able to volunteer on a building site run to professional standards.  Volunteering is helpful to so many other people at all stages of life, whether it's just having a change of context for a day or two, or taking time out to "re-find" yourself, or just interacting with others from different backgrounds.  So in pledging your gift, you are not just helping us, but scores of others - right now, and in the future.

Please read on to find out more.

The Birth of a Vision

Tulse Hill Parish is in the 10% most deprived of English parishes so the provision of affordable community space is essential - all the more so since our original church hall was demolished in 1984. When, in 2014, we looked again at replacing it we wanted a project that would allow on-site training for local people and a building that was appropriate to the climate emergency we all face. By creating opportunities for residents to be involved in the build itself, we're increasing the sense of ownership going forward.

The result was to plan for a slow, community self-build, using straw-bale construction, innovative tractor-tyre foundations, rendered with lime on the outside and plastered with clay dug from our own site on the inside. The frame is English Douglas Fir, which has been cut and erected without cranes on site, and the roof is 95% recycled plastic Iko-Slate, independently verified as the greenest roof covering we could have opted for. Most of the South Roof is covered with solar PV.

        "I want to walk past that building with my grandchildren and say 
        "I built part of that."" (Emily, aged 13, St Martin's Academy Building Club)

Volunteer Led - Volunteer Built

The slow pace of the build makes it possible for people of all ages (6-86yrs) and abilities to be involved in the construction. We are half way through our programme and we have included over 500 volunteers in our work.  The project is volunteer-led, both on site and off, with professional supervision, health & safety, and building control.

Straw stacked and ready to be built into walls.

Carefully designed by the UK's most experienced straw-bale practitioners to maximise the possibilities for "amateur" involvement, the building will achieve air-tightness three-times better than the Building Regs minimum, is expected to be at least carbon neutral, and have an anticipated life-span of 200 years.  You can find out more at our website here or you can get the latest updates on our facebook page here.

        "Volunteering here has literally changed my life." (Tom)

Fit for Purpose - Fit for Our Times

This community facility comprises a main hall with three upper rooms, a large kitchen, toilets & storage, with a lift and full access to all areas. Although it will be joined to the church, it has its own independent main entrance. The total floor space is 643m2, making it the largest urban straw-bale self-build in Europe. 

It's also one of the few straw-bale church buildings worldwide, but we hope it won't be the last. Our aim is to show that similar projects could be undertaken by other communities concerned to take positive action in response to climate issues. Using natural, "breathable" materials enables us to achieve healthy building in which the atmosphere is self-regulating. 

Here is a 3D visualisation made by one of our volunteers.  

Building Community - Building Lives

By making this a slow build we have space to be inclusive and give on-site training sensitively tailored to individual capabilities.  Among our volunteers are primary school children, people with learning difficulties, "Young Offenders", "Community Payback" senior citizens, some with practical skills and others with none.  

A number of young people have moved from unemployability to finding jobs as a result of being nurtured on our project. Meanwhile, we also offer a "landing place" for those in mid-life pauses, until they are settled enough to move forward.  Through the building of our community building, we are building community.

        "An exciting and innovative project serving the whole community."
       (Dame Tessa Jowell, DBE, PC)

By joining part of a volunteer team effort, Young Offenders and Community Payback members find themselves much more motivated as they are part of a positive, meaningful environment. Several have offered to return in their own spare time.  And into this local mix come interested professionals and corporate volunteers from as far as Glasgow in Scotland and Truro in Cornwall - including some from Aviva.

St Martin's Girls' Building Club

The fact that over 60% of our volunteer work force are women sends a very positive message about women in construction. So we're particularly pleased to include a girls' lunchtime building club from our adjacent secondary school, St Martin's Academy.

Low Impact - Green Education

It's one thing to say you have a passivhaus or a carbon-neutral building, but when you have hundreds of people involved hands on in the construction of that building then you have embedded a green education. We are all familiar with the junk models kids make at school - they look fun and get thrown away. Would we dare to believe that a permanent Community Centre could be built using waste and upcycled products?  

Straw is simply a by-product of farming crops.  When baled, it provides top-performing fire-resistance and insulation. Car and tractor tyres would be consigned to landfill for hundreds of years.  Clay can be dug up from your own ground and processed by hand. Foundations do not have to be 3m deep and filled with carbon-producing concrete. Lime recaptures as much carbon as is released in its manufacture. This is some of the transformative knowledge that gets embedded in our volunteers - from the youngest to the oldest. The photo below shows our half-term "Clay & Play" club which enabled children as young as school Year 1 to help plaster our walls with clay.

Children aged 5 and up help plaster our walls at half-term.

One of our volunteers is currently buying a plot of land so that she can build her own straw-bale house.  One of our contractors who would normally use concrete in foundations, is planning to use car tyres on his next personal project.  When the building is finished the hundreds of local school children who already visit our church will also be able to see our unique low-impact centre - including the straw walls and tyre-foundations, thanks to specially created viewing points.

The Story So Far - And The Story to Come

We broke ground in April 2017 and completed the Main Hall foundations in that year. In 2018 we achieved our aim of completing the watertight frame and walls of the main hall. In 2019 we will have achieved our aim of completing the external render, the guttering, as well as the kitchen/store from foundations to roof.  At the end of 2017 we won the five-yearly Green Church Green Futures Award.

        "The Stand-Out Winner." (Green Church Awards, 2017)

In 2020 we will build the final block, which is the Apse or curved stairwell & lift shaft at the East End of the main hall.  This will complete the shell.  Also in 2020 going into 2021 we will complete the electrics and plumbing, heating & ventilation.  In 2021 we will finish all the internal fitting out and staircases.  Then the facility will be ready for local people to use. The photo below was taken in October 2019.

Tulse Hill Straw Bale Hall, October 2019

In a place like Tulse Hill, it's really important to have community facilities on neutral ground because for some people the presence of gangs makes the estates no-go areas.  We know from our work among young offenders that the church is seen as a safe place. Based on the number of inquiries we receive even though we don't currently have a hall, we expect to be in use at least 4 days per week for at least 40 weeks per year within 2 years.

        "When are we opening?   I hope it's in time for my 80th birthday!" 
          (Dell, local resident)

But the centre will also be crucial for the church's existing activities, such as a our Social Club serving over 40 isolated people or our seniors' group regularly hosting meals for 50+ members. Our Debt Advice Centre is rapidly expanding and often has to meet clients in draughty walk-ways due to lack of space.  Our 2-day-per-week Toddler Group is waiting to start up again, not to mention half-term Kids Clubs, and Sunday School, which currently have to meet off-site through lack of facilities.

The Cash We Have - The Funds We Need

An inspirational project like this requires action soon after it has been shared with the community. We therefore took the decision to start building before we had raised all the finance. Our fixed principle in this regard has been to only to start a new stage of the build if we had enough money to complete that stage and leave it watertight and safe.

The cost of the final section of the build (the "Apse" - see picture below) is going to be about £100,000.  We are asking Aviva Community Fund & Crowdfunder for £5,000 towards this plus a possible further £5,000 if we stretch the target.  This will pay towards the Douglas Fir timber frame and 99% recycled plastic "Iko-Slates" for the roof. Once the roof is on, we shall build up the straw walls!

        "You could probably do a conventional build for less, but it wouldn't be as healthy, it wouldn't be unique, and it certainly wouldn't be as green."  (Barbara Jones, FRSA, Director StrawWorks)

So Thank You Again!

Thank you for reading our story - we hope you enjoyed the videos and links.  It's all or nothing for us in this campaign.  If we reach or exceed our target of £5k in Aviva and Crowdfunding combined pledges, then we get what we raise. If we fail to reach it - even by £1,000 - then we get nothing!  Please give generously so we can secure or exceed our target.


This project offers rewards in return for your donation. Please select a reward below.

£150 or more

Aviva Reward

We're so grateful for support from the Aviva Community Fund. Every Aviva employee voting £150 or more for us will receive a personal thankyou from our Project Leaders.

£20 or more

£20 Reward - A Day On Site

Join us for a day here on site, learn about this unique build from the inside, get some training and have the satisfaction of being "hands on".

£25 or more

1 of 100 claimed

£25 Reward - Limited Edition Print

Limited Edition Postcard sized print: "Bread, Wine, and Building Materials" by celebrated local artist, Priscilla Watkins.

£50 or more

2 of 10 claimed

£50 Reward - Original Print Organic Tote Bag

Original Print "Tulse Hill Straw Build" tote bag made with organic cotton using only green energy (water, wind).

£100 or more

£100 Reward - Invitation to the Grand Opening

You will be invited to our Grand Opening, which will probably take place in 2021.

£250 or more

Your Name Hidden in the Building

Your name will be hidden in the fabric of the building with a thankyou eg "Thank you John Smith". By "hidden" we mean we will write it, for example, on a piece of timber that won't be seen, but might be unearthed in decades to come if the building needed work on it, or in a couple of hundred years when it is eventually pulled down!

£500 or more

£500 Reward - Named in the Book of Supporters

We will create a book with the names of all of our volunteers and some of the main supporters. Your name will be gratefully recorded there.

£1,000 or more

£1000 Reward - Free Venue Hire

Once the venue is up and running, you will be able to hire it free for one day or one evening by arrangement.

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