Barbara Jones will be speaking at the Big Straw Bale Gathering

Barbara Jones speaking at he Big Straw Bale Gathering

Very excited to announce that Barbara Jones of Straw Works and The School of Natural Building will be sharing her wealth of knowledge with you all at the Big Straw Bale Gathering.

Speaker Name: Barbara Jones.

OrganisationStraw Works and The School of Natural Building.

Talk TitleStraw Trek – The Next Generation.

Talk description: A journey through time and spaces

Speaker Bio: 

Barbara pioneered the idea and inspiration of strawbale natural building in the UK in 1994
and has led the growing movement to improve our built environment and speak out about
the problems and health risks of certain manufactured products and practices that are
widely used today. She is internationally recognised for her work in developing the design of
strawbale buildings using only natural materials, speaks at International conferences, and
has a wide network of colleagues and contacts within her field.

She designed and built the UK’s first Council houses out of straw, the first 2 storey loadbearing strawbale houses, the first terrace of strawbale houses and the first strawbale Hotel. She works closely with self-builders to design affordable homes and mentor them through the build process, and has been involved in over 500 builds. She has also designed several options for cement-free foundations, all of which are approved by UK Building regulations, and are increasingly being used by other architects and engineers. Currently she is designing pre-fabricated straw panel houses for housing developers.

Alongside her passion for building, Barbara is also internationally acclaimed for developing a
unique and empowering way of teaching practical skills on building sites. This method has
resulted in an unheard of number of women learning practical construction skills, proving it
is not the job that puts women off, but the way it’s taught and carried out (in construction
there are at present less than 1% women working ‘on the tools’, but in the School of Natural
Building there are over 60%).

All this has been achieved in novel ways through collaboration, skill sharing and community participation. Most recently she is part of the team that successfully secured the Asset Transfer of a Community College in Todmorden, that she will help to run as a Centre of Natural Building, agro-ecology, and community ventures.
She is the author of Building with Straw Bales, a manual for architects and self-builders, that has been continuously in print since 2002, last revised and updated in 2015.

Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.

Judith Thornton from Aberystwyth University is giving a talk at the BSBG

How into bales is Judith? Well, she just bought her own baling machine to play with!

Name: Judith Thornton

CompanyAberystwyth University

Talk title: What’s in a bale and why it matters

Talk description: General discussion on what affects straw bale degradability, alternative straws, potential for bale redesign.

Judith’s BioJudith is Low Carbon Manager in the BEACON project at Aberystwyth University. She works with companies on innovations relating to plant-based building materials. In 2017 she was part of the team building the world’s first straw bale house built out of Miscanthus. She is interested in the relative merits of different straw types, and in optimising bale production for the straw bale building industry.  

Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.

Craig White is giving a talk at The Big Straw Bale Gathering

We are delighted to add Craig White to the lineup for The Big Straw Bale Gathering.

Name: Craig White

Company: White Design, ModCell

Talk Title: We Can Make – Affordable Homes Renewable Materials

Talk description: In a world where an affordable home is the oxymoron of our time and the
property ladder has no rungs, we need new forms of housing models. We Can Make is a new housing initiative that supports communities to create the homes they want and need. Knowle West Media Centre, White Design and ModCell have brought together Knowle West residents, artists, academics,
designers, architects, lawyers and policy makers to develop a sustainable, affordable housing platform that will deliver 350, 1 and 2 bedroom homes using a unique disaggregated community land trust model.

Speakers Bio

Developer, architect and renewable material entrepreneur, Craig synthesises a number of roles to help deliver sustainable outcomes in the built environment. Craig is currently leading work on a new model of prefabricated, community-led and financed affordable housing to meet the housing crisis challenge using carbon-banking renewable materials. A core focus of Craig’s work is how research-led innovation delivers commercial impact and sustainable outcomes in practice. Craig has a proven passion and pragmatism for delivering innovative, affordable and sustainable design for a better-built environment as well as a thorough understanding of the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental measures that must be considered to effect change. Expertise in low carbon design that spans embodied and operational emissions, prefabricated systems design and engineering as well as the individual, community and societal behaviours that can drive change for a better designed and more sustainable built environment.

Working in practice for clients in the private and public sectors across commercial, education, housing and community sectors Craig’s work is informed by award winning practice and innovative research to ensure that client’s needs are met with leading edge thinking and its practical application. Systems Thinking underpins Craig’s approach to his work and how its application optimises benefits in reducing environmental impact while maximising societal, economic and environmental outcomes in an interdependent and interconnected world. An experienced leader and company director in the private sector with non-executive director roles and board level experience for organisations in the design, construction, charity, research and arts sectors. An excellent communicator and public speaker able to present complex issues simply, eloquently and relevantly to a wide variety of stakeholder audiences. Experience of delivering sustainable, community-led prefabricated housing developments through effective stakeholder engagement and clear outcome focussed processes.


Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.


Peter Schubert [RIBA] is giving a talk at the Big Straw Bale Gathering

Next up we have Peter Schubert who will be joining us from Vienna.

Buy your tickets here

Name: Peter Schubert

Company: Capital [ A ] architects, Vienna

Talk Title: Straw and other regrowing building materials for multi storey
housing constructions.

Talk description: Structural possibilities, thermal insulation potential & fire
safety of different construction methods using timber, straw, clay – & lime
plaster, hemp, wood-fibre and cellulose.

Speakers Bio:

Growing up in the region of Northern Hessen / Germany was an essential formative impression to my further professional
In the nineteen-70s and -80s the beauty and value of the characteristic regional building stock of studwork houses alongside the
German Fairy Tale Route were rediscovered. Historic timber frame constructions with straw-clay infill were restored and the building technics of wood, straw and clay were further researched and developed at the recently founded and growing local Comprehensive University of Kassel.
Simultaneously the international avant-garde art fair “Documenta” emerged and gave me inspiration to experiment and encouraged my search for own ground-braking “do-gooder” projects.


After my academic training of architecture at the Technical Universities of Braunschweig, Vienna and also the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, my first professional engagement was in real estate development, realising own small scale projects implementing newly available sustainable building materials and emission free energy supply in an urban
context in Vienna.


Later my architectural practice “capital [ A ] architects” was founded with its professional focus on sustainable residential urban
architecture and was lately enhanced by the organisation of “field8 organic house development”.
“Field8” understands itself as an assembly of various professionals from diverse occupational fields aiming to combine sustainable architectural design with sustainable social community design.
Our ambition is to commonly realise “low impact – high efficiency” urban co-housing projects in the near future as an alternative offer for the standardised real estate market.


Currently I am engaged in developing innovative building technics applying naturally chemistry-free, re-growing buildingmaterials such as timber, straw and clay the greatest extend for prefabricated, economic multi storey residential projects in the city of Vienna with its specific building codes and fire safety regulations.

Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.

Dr Chris Vernon is giving a talk at the Big Straw Bale Gathering!

And we are off! We are very excited to announce Dr Chris Vernon will be giving a talk at The Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018.

Chris and his wife Erica have recently built a two story, roundwood timber frame, straw bale house on their One Planet Development smallholding in Carmarthenshire. This project was motivated by a desire to design and build a ‘zero-carbon in construction and use’ house and have a lot of fun along the way. Chris is also a beekeeper and orchardist. He is a chartered engineer, holds a Ph.D. in glaciology and previously worked as climate scientist with the Met Office.

Lecture title:

One Planet Development: an opportunity for straw

A presentation in two parts. Firstly the One Planet
Development planning policy in Wales, the requirements and opportunities it
presents for natural building. Secondly I will describe the process we went
through designing and building our two story, straw bale house with
roundwood timber frame within this policy framework in Carmarthenshire.

Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.


photo credit Huff & Puff

Next week for @inspiredAUB one of our founding members, Phil Christopher, will be presenting a talk for ‘AUB Human’, in Bournemouth, Tuesday 6th March 2018. And if that isn’t enough ‘Huff and Puff Construction‘ are building a straw venue for the ‘Pop up Cinema’ too!

The day comprises of symposiums, talks and workshops ‘created to celebrate social, ethical and sustainable creative practice within our community. It connects designers, architects, filmmakers and a pool of creative #AUBMAKERS who share one desire – ‘to bring positive change for global good.”

Full details of the day’s programme are here

The Big Straw Bale Gathering – Last few days of early bird tickets and lineup announcements

On Thursday the 1st of March we will start releasing our lineup of speakers for the 2018 Big Straw Bale Gathering.

Early bird ticket prices will end at 23:00 Wednesday the 28th of February.

We have also updated the event info, so please check out the Big Straw Bale Gathering event page

View from the hill – reflections on building the world’s first Miscanthus bale house.

Straw bale building in the UK has a history of artful and inspired design and has resulted in a small number of iconic buildings, and a much larger number of elegant and understated ones. However, whilst the built form and structural details vary, relatively little attention has been paid to what type of straw is used; the conventional choice in the UK is wheat and sometimes barley. Practitioners tend not to say that one straw type is better than another. It is also quite striking that discussions on choice of bale are almost always about buildability, density and moisture content, as opposed to the plant species it comes from or the implications for long term performance of the building.
But that’s all about to change.

What are the benefits of Miscanthus

In the early 2000’s, Miscanthus was flagged up as a potential bioenergy crop for Northern Europe, and Defra sent a team of Aberystwyth scientists to Asia to collect genetically distinct specimens that could be crossed with each other to create the ideal biomass crop. Effectively, the mission was to domesticate the crop by combining particular properties and produce a stable, high yielding crop that grows well in the UK and Europe. But why Miscanthus? Well to start with it has an extraordinary growth rate (some varieties grow a whopping 3-4 metres per year) and a woody hollow stem. For these reasons it is used in the EU almost entirely as a bioenergy crop, but the key property that makes it interesting for straw bale builders is that it is more resistant to biodegradation than other straw types.

Using miscanthus bales

As with wheat and barley, Miscanthus is typically baled in large square Hesston bales for ease of handling and transport. However in 2016, Aberystwyth University asked Terravesta (the UKs leading Miscanthus supply chain company) to produce some small square bales, with the specific intention of trialling their use in buildings. Following successful testing by Bee Rowan of Strawbuild on courses at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in 2016, the opportunity to use Miscanthus in a real self-build project arose in 2017, which is where the intrepid Steph Robinson takes over the story.
“There were some key considerations for my house build – I wanted a home with a small ecological footprint, I wanted to be able to build it with friends and I wanted a peaceful and healthy place to live. I saw the build tests by Bee, learnt about the research from Judith at Aberystwyth University and I enjoy spending time in straw bale buildings here at CAT which have such a relaxing quality to them due to the air and sound quality.”
The initial work on the strawbale wall element of the house was done via a CAT course. As is generally the case at the start of a straw bale building course, people are keen to get started, and there’s a certain degree of nervousness and excitement about how things will go. Added to this was some background nervousness about the use of Miscanthus itself. However, this proved unfounded; initial demonstrations by Bee Rowan and Hassan Mzali on the basic processes involved went smoothly and within an hour or so, course participants were confidently placing the first course of bales. By the end of the week, the building was beginning to take shape.

So, how well did Miscanthus bales work?

In most ways, using Miscanthus instead of wheat or barley was completely unremarkable. The bales weighed in at a fairly typical 18.3kg and had a low moisture content (10.7%). They were easy to straighten, cut down to size and dress, and notches were easily cut with an alligator saw. The general construction of the walls proceeded normally, and compression was undertaken without anything unusual happening. There were a couple of key differences compared to most straw bale builds, arising from the intrinsic properties of Miscanthus itself. The first is that it was too rigid to use to stuff gaps or make ‘rats’ for plastering; it has a stiff stem, that makes an audible snapping sound when you try and bend it, unlike wheat or barley which is easy to manipulate. This stiffness also meant that the bales were less pleasant to handle; definitely a case of long sleeves and trousers rather than shorts and T shirts. The third difference also related to stem durability; wall strimming prior to plastering needs a sharp blade operating at high speed (on this project a chainsaw worked well, with the alligator saw proving inadequate). The durability of Miscanthus is not surprising when we think about the biology; the plant has evolved to grow to a height of around 3 metres so needs to be stronger than a wheat or barley stem. The physical arrangement of cells in Miscanthus stems reflects this, and the chemical composition is also different, with Miscanthus having a higher lignin content than wheat straw.
Steph spent a further week finishing off the bale placement, compressing them, and then shaping them with an alligator saw around the openings. A long weekend followed with lots of volunteers to plaster the walls with clay which adhered well to the miscanthus.


The future for Miscanthus bales?

The main reasons straw bale builders have not used Miscanthus before are presumably unfamiliarity and unavailability. However, if it is indeed biologically superior in terms of its resistance to biodegradation, it is perhaps worth considering for future straw bale projects. It is slightly more difficult to build with, but if the performance is better, this is perhaps a small price to pay. So the last word goes to Steph

“It is comforting to know that the bales are far more resistant to composting than straw when you live somewhere as wet as Wales. The period of time it took to build with the bales was just a few weeks but hopefully the life of the building will be over 200 years.” – Judith Thornton and Steph Robinson


New year’s day fire at lammas

All of us at SBUK were devastated to hear of the fire that destroyed Simon and Jasmine Dale’s house in the Lammas Eco village on new years day.

The home was an inspirational house, being built for very little money and a lot of hard work from Simon and a whole league of volunteers. The house used exceptionally low impact materials including straw walls, sheep wool insulation, earth and lime plasters and earthen floors. Being featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, the house stood as an example to thousands of what can be achieved.


Friends of Simon and Jasmine have set up a crowd-funding page for £50,000 to help rebuild. We urge you all to give a little if you can.


Straw bale house flammability myth


We were also annoyed to see The Telegraph misreporting the event with a classic straw bale myth – “

The house, situated in Lammas eco-village in Pembrokeshire, Wales, was built entirely of reclaimed materials, including glass and timber and insulated with sheep’s wool. But it was also constructed using straw, meaning the fire on January 1 ended up destroying the entire house.”

Jasmine Dale wrote to us saying:

“You’ll be pleased to know the straw and cob walls did not burn. Some stored reclaimed plastic stuff we intended to use under the earth floors downstairs as insulation ignited from a freak electrical fault nearby. The firemen actually knocked all the straw rendered walls down and raked them into the flames, a very strange experience, as they looked so intact!”

Straw bale buildings in Californian wild fires

This ties in with a report from the California straw bale association on the resilience of straw bale buildings during their extensive wildfires. This one example shows the whole house burned down EXCEPT the straw.

Full report here:


Video of official fire testing of straw bale wall


Big Straw Bale Gathering – Early Bird Tickets Now on Sale!

We are very pleased to announce the early bird tickets for The Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018 are on sale now. Get them early to take advantage of this discount price.


Tickets - Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.


SBUK Presents: The Big Straw Bale Gathering 2018

Theme: Sowing the inspiration, growing the industry & harvesting the knowledge


Down To Earth – Swansea, UK – 10th,11th & 12th of August 2018:
SBUK are proud to present the inaugural ‘Big Straw Bale Gathering’ – a gathering to discuss and learn straw bale construction and share the latest and best thinking within the industry.

Held at Down To Earth’s beautiful strawbale roundhouse in South Wales. The weekend will feature talks, discussions and hands-on workshops, for all levels, led by the UK’s best natural builders and leading associated professionals. So come down and get excited about building with straw, learn some new techniques or get stuck into the geeky technical stuff.

When you are full of knowledge you can relax with great local organic food, music, dancing, yoga, ‘Strawbale Ale’, children’s activities and a host of extracurricular events ranging from walks to canyoneering on the beautiful Gower peninsular!


The Big Straw Bale Gathering will collect up everyone with an interest in straw bale building in the UK. No matter what level you are engaging with straw bale construction, there will be lots to learn at the BSBG.  Jeffrey Hart – Events Director – SBUK