Malawi Training Village Phase 1 is under way!

Container library


In the last few months one of our honorary ‘Cave men’, Steve James has been out in Malawi volunteering for our clients The Landirani Trust. He has been helping them with their feeding programmes, funding proposals, maternity units, childcare centres, vegetable gardens and project managing the Cave conversion of Landirani’s shipping container into a valuable library and resource centre, starting phase 1 of the Training Village project.

The container will be converted using the simplest methods possible, to minimise costs for the charity and to be as sustainable as possible using local materials and crafts people. The container will be craned onto the site using Malawi’s only crane and then rested onto rammed car tyre foundation piers. The design consists of a simple division of the container into half storage, half library and educational resource centre. The library half of the container will have it’s side cut open to form two large doors that will double up as exhibition space and notice boards. A large platform & steps made up of gabions filled with recycled concrete, finished with a rammed earth top will form the space for out door seating/reading.

The platform will be covered by a large corrugated steel roof for shade, shelter from the rain during the rainy season and rainwater harvesting. The double layer roof allows for ventilation between the canopy and the container top to keep the container cool. There will also be sun dried adobe bricks stacked on top of the container to absorb the heat between the two roofs, as well as an adobe render and plaster to the external and internal faces of on the hot North side, again to absorb heat and keep the container cool.

Vents have also been added top and bottom of the container sides to aid cooling, especially in the storage side which is completely enclosed. On the storage end of the container a timber pergola provides shade and allows plants that are growing on the living roof  to grow up and over.

There is a demonstration crop garden running around three sides of the container that show different food crops that can be grown together to minimise the need for fertilisers and pest control, as well as explaining about methods of rainwater harvesting and irrigation.

This little building is just the start of a vast building programme to develop a training village for the wider rural community in the heart of the Landirani project area, helping isolated and vulnerable HIV Aids orphans, disabled people, women, the elderly and anyone else for that matter! The library will provide a vital source of learning and information sharing that we take for granted. Knowledge is power and when people get together in the spirit of community all things are possible!

If you’re interested in the projects that The Landirani Trust are running then please follow this link to their website:

We are still fund raising for the container project and have another £10,000 to raise! So if you would like to donate to this fantastic cause then please do so via PayPal at the Landirani website, big or small all donations will go straight to the project and every little bit helps!

Thank you!

Green Register Eco-Refurbishers

Green register eco-refurbishers

Last week Myself, Vera & Tor Needham (one of our fantastic freelance Cavers!) all headed South West to the Genesis Centre in Taunton, part of Somerset College’s campus, to learn more about Eco-Refurbishment (a subject very dear to our hearts) from the good people at The Green Register.

The Genesis Centre has been built using various sustainable construction techniques such as; Straw bale, Cob, Rammed earth and Timber framing. This is fantastic to see and a great example to local building companies and construction students of using sustainable materials and ‘low-tech’ building methods to produce an affordable, modern and comfortable building.

Although, the star of the show had to be the centres energy efficiency measures. Up on the roof they have solar PV’s and a solar thermal array for generating hot water, as well as rain water harvesting and a good example of a living brown roof. Back on the ground they have an enormous wood pellet burner and has probably one of the first examples in the UK to combine all these technologies together into one seemless energy management system. They were also on the verge of having installed a ground source heat pump to add to the mix!

All of this technology working together in one place, will make the Genesis Centre an invaluable educational resource for people looking to understand and combine sustainable energy solutions. If you’re local it’s definately worth a visit and if you’re not local it’s still worth a visit!

Japanese Water Gardens

Japanese water gardens

Last week we talked about the fantastic Japanese Water Gardens that used to be part of the Warren House estate and how if you had a Sunday afternoon free you could pop down for a rare visit. Well, myself, Vera and a couple of friends did just that!

The gardens were beautiful and just turning through the different shades of oranges and reds, there was also the surprise of a large ‘Japanese style’ building that housed several flats. Within the gardens was the traditional red and gold bridge over the pond with a tiny little pagoda at the bottom of the garden. Paths wound their way around through arched tree alleyways and over running streams into quiet glades. We explored, marvelled and contemplated the afternoon away. Magic!

If you look closely you may just spot the extremely rare ‘Golden crested web designer’ in amongst the foliage…

Warren House

Warren House

Last week Vera and I were lucky enough to be shown around a little known, local gem! For all of you living around the Kingston area Warren House is up on Kingston Hill and has a fascinating past, beautiful interiors and fantastic gardens. Not only that, but if you give them a ring in advance, you can pop in for tea and cake!

Originally owned by Earl Spencer the estate was then sold to the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke erected a large fence forbidding entry to anyone, and put ornamental gates across the entrance to ‘The Warren’. The result was a miniature civil war in Kingston, known nationally as ‘The Battle of Coombe Warren’ the result being the private estate we have today, with a public right of way running through it.

The house was built in 1865, along with it’s unique gardens. It is thought to be the oldest Japanese garden in existence today in the British Isles.

In 1940, Lady Paget the then owner, converted the house into a military convalescent home, supervising and financing the domestic arrangements herself. But, by 1954 Warren House had changed hands once again to become the Conference and Training Centre that it is today.

Internally there is a magnificent ballroom, now a main conference hall, built as a miniature scale “Hall of Mirrors” from the Palace of Versailles, with amazing Pargetry on the walls and ceilings. The Persian Room contains a beautiful Persian fireplace, whilst in the gardens there is a Winter Garden with grotto, and an Italian style loggia.

The Japanese gardens were sold off in the last 20 years to a private development next door to Warren House. But! The Japanese gardens will be open this weekend on Sunday 17th October between 2 – 4:30pm. Go if you can as they’re not open often!

See you there…

Green Roofs part II

Boot Strap Green Roof

This second green roofs instalment is looking at existing community green roofs, in particular the ‘The Dalston Roof Park’ in London.

This green space has been created by Bootstrap Company in Dalston on top of their offices and studio spaces. We went along with Dusty Gedge and Gary Grant of as well as the Reset team, to have a good poke about in their borders!

Founded in 1977 as a training and enterprise organisation, Bootstrap Company is a development trust, social enterprise and charity. It’s aims are to improve the environment in Dalston by developing and implementing creative and sustainable plans for the regeneration of the area. To develop local potential by providing excellent managed workspace for micro, small, medium and creative enterprises and the community and voluntary sector.

We loved this roof! It is at present in it’s Phase 1 stage of construction, so there are beds for growing, photovoltaics on the roof and habitat creation initiatives. The ‘grass’ you see in the photos is actually Astroturf, but this still creates a feeling of nature, even if it’s only through suggestion!

The community have become really involved in this project, with schools and hundreds of people signed up as ‘roof members’ helping out with watering, weeding or just relaxing in the space.

Bootstrap have run a plethora of successful events on the roof this summer from Yoga, gardening clubs, cinema nights and a bar.

Well done Bootstrap! For a creating a great roof and the good work they do in their local community. If you would like to visit or get involved with Bootstrap, Reset or do a course on green roofs then visit:

Green roofs Part I

The green roof at Eversheds HQ

This week myself and Vera had the fantastic opportunity of attending a 2 day RESET course on sustainable, environmental systems management, held at the Eversheds HQ in London. With amazing talks on Biomimicry by Michael Pawlyn, director of Exploration Architecture (Architects for the Eden Project) as well as talks by Gary Grant and Dusty Gedge of on the future of our cities and the role nature has to play in our ability to live in them comfortably and sustainably.

The image you see above is of the green roof at the Eversheds HQ in London. Originally a laid as a Sedum blanket on a low level of substrate, producing a ‘green roof’ that did not meet the clients expectations of habitiat creation and biodiversity. So with the help of the team at, extra habitat was created using log piles and varying the depth of substrate to create mounds where herbs and wild flowers can establish themselves, producing a roof top environment attractive to many species of flora and fauna, including humans! The roof then became so popular with staff that a roof gardening group was formed and bird and bat boxes were introduced, as well as container vegetable growing and a bee hive. So, not only has Eversheds reduced it’s air conditioning bill over the summer months and reduced peak storm water run-off, but increased it’s amenity value for it’s staff and no doubt this could be number crunched into increased productivety as well!

For more info see these fab’ links:

Making Cob bricks

This July Camp Cob was all about bricks!

We made as many bricks as our little feet could muster! We dug, we dryed, we sieved, we measured, we mixed, we treaded, jumped and danced, we rolled and rolled, we jumped, danced, stamped, conga-ed and rolled some more, all the way to the perfect mix. At this point, normally some merciful soul has produced some tea and biccies!

We then give the brick forms and board a good hose down (so the Cob doesn’t stick) and then take our fab’ mix, pack it well down into the molds, being careful to pack into corners and eliminate any air bubbles. Give it a good tamping down, whether by standing on it or smacking it with lumps of wood, or anything else that comes to hand. Then lift the forms (easier said than done!) and shake carefully, from not too high until all your bricks have dropped out, magic!

Oh, and then start all over again!

The bricks are then left to dry in a shady, rain proof spot, turned every other day or so and in a months time you should have some fully dried out bricks ready for any cob repair jobs that your walls may have to offer.

July Camp Cob

As with our last months mission to Camp Cob, this month we are progressing the Lime re-pointing of the Flint plinth wall. You can see from the first image that in some cases there are some quite large holes to repair!

We had lots of volunteers helping with this task, so thanks to all those who gave a helping hand, you know who you are!

Re-pointing such large holes takes an extremely long time and much patience! It is not the type of job for you if you like doing things quickly. The lime can only be applied in layers about 10mm thick and takes a day or two to be what’s called ‘green hard’, which is where you can just make a small imprint on the lime with your thumb nail, before you can apply another layer, so it is quite slow going, but a great meditation!

In the final picture you can see part of the finished wall, which once the last layer has been applied, smoothed and angled to allow for rain run-off (be careful not to leave any areas where rain can collect!) the mortar is left for a day to carbonate and harden a bit before giving it all a good scrub with a wire brush to clear any mortar from the stones and after a light spray with the hose, Hey-presto! One fantastic, re-pointed flint wall!

We got our ready mixed lime mortar from the lovely people at Chalkdown Lime and our tools from the equally lovely people at Mike Wyes, you can find both their websites below and they are all very knowledgeable on all things lime!

Digging…and more digging!

One of the most strangely popular jobs at Camp Cob is digging, and believe me there is a lot of digging to do!

On site there is a large well stocked pond which is a result of the merger of the two original clay pits dug on site in the C18th to build the two existing Cob buildings. The hole we are digging at the moment is tiny by comparison, for now!

We are digging down past the top soil, tree roots and animal life to get to the clay beneath. The clay at Camp Cob is a silty mix, so we adjust our mix accordingly to account for this. The current sub soil we have at Camp Cob requires a 1:1:1 mix of sub soil, well graded sharp sand and straw. For us this makes the perfect mix, but it will be different wherever you are so make sure you do some tests. Some good reference points are:

and Adam and Katy’s (from clay-works) book:

Building with Cob: a step -by-step guide by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce

Solar shower anyone?

This July’s trip to Camp Cob had many visitors, two of which being Heinz and Marion a German couple who are friends of our client. Heinz was a miraculous one man site clearing machine as well as tree feller and married to a lovely lady with an eye for a good shower!

Heinz and Marion re-vamped our camp solar shower area into the splendid vision you see above. After a hard days digging or tramping on mud you can’t beat a warm shower surrounded by all the beautiful Camp Cob flora and fauna!