Dreams can come true, but they require patience and work!
In 2007 I re-mortgaged my home to buy a derelict barn/overgrown orchard.
That was just the beginning of a steep learning curve to build the dream - an off-grid environmentally sound centre to help visitors, volunteers and trainees learn old building and heritage skills that help to reduce climate change.
Below is a photo of how the barn looks in 2019! It’s involved over 3,500 people from far and wide to achieve this. What’s been learnt here so far has been phenomenal but we want to extend our season of courses into the winter months, so more can be learnt!
Making a difference
Orchard Barn facilitates the teaching of a range of environmental practices, from greenwood work to lime render. These practices are then used on live grass roots projects at the barn, putting skills into practice. We work using traditional materials sourced from the local landscape which keeps our carbon footprint low. As you can imagine, starting a restoration as a series of training courses has been both amazing and challenging financially.
Learning from the past how to build a greener future
Buckets of ancient skills have been learnt at Orchard Barn by undertaking heritage building practices such as timber framing, wattle and daub and building with coppice materials.
Like woodworkers through the centuries, we source trees from local woodland and then we run courses in how to build with them. The new roof project (photo above) used oak trees from woods less than 4 miles away. An incredible 20,000 shingles were made by over 70 people over 9 months!
Since 2007, we’ve worked with 3,500 people to provide them with practical experience and skills development in old trades that have helped restore barn and buildings. But it’s so much more than this - having a shared focus builds community, positive mental health, physical fitness and employability skills in addition to the heritage skills.
Following the East Anglian tradition of building with earth
Here's a short video of how we made clay lump blocks for a previous project.
Keeping warm and continuing to learn in winter!
It gets cold at Orchard Barn. The barn is still a barn, and we are intentionally without mains connections such as electricity, gas and water. Apart from occasional use of a Kelly kettle to boil water for tea we have no heating. We currently use the barn as a workshop and teaching space for more activity based learning. Most of the courses are currently scheduled for the warmer months.
Extending our season with a masonry stove
However, with more people wanting to learn with us, the time has come to expand our range of courses and this has meant that we’ve taken on the challenge to build our own super-efficient masonry stove with clay lump blocks. When its finished it will be a huge thermal heat sink with heated benches that will stay warm for 24 hours on a single firing (making good use of all our wood off-cuts).
The challenges of when old meets new ...
We've made a start with our home made materials - old and new clay lump block and earth mortar! However the requirements of the modern world are having to be met. This has meant we've had to purchase fire bricks for the inside, new flue, fire doors and most expensive of all (for safety reasons) professionally erected scaffolding. All of these costs have pushed our masonry stove costs way over budget, and that's where we need your help.
How you can help
Volunteers and members of our wider community have made or donated rewards that are both beautifully made or totally exclusive to this campaign. These are available to buy on our Rewards page, alternatively all donations are gratefully received too. If you are really keen to help, you can also create your own fundraising page like Gemma who is shaving her head for Orchard Barn. Please get in touch to ask how.
On behalf of future visitors, volunteers and trainees, I'd like to thank-you for your help enabling us to fire up our environmentally sounds and beautiful stove and for enabling us to keep warm and continue learning over the coming winters.
More about the materials we've used to build our stove
These are the clay lump blocks we've made. We dig the clay rich sub soil and tread straw into it. A wood mould is used to shape the block, then they are air dried for 4-6 weeks.
Suffolk has a long history of using earth in building. Local builders have donated old clay lump blocks that are over 200 years old.
We've made our own from clay slip and sand.
We make our own and are delighted when the next generation of builders want to lend a hand. Here are Abigail and Matthew. This was their first go at applying a render. Naturally they've left their mark on the wall!
The benefits of building with earth
- Dries naturally without external heat source
- Minimal travel (wheelbarrow)
- Fun to build with
- Easy to use
- Promotes creativity
- No machinery needed
- 100% recyclable
- Creates thermal mass and a 'heat sink'
- Freely available (helps upcycle clay left over from groundworks on commercial sites)
- It's FREE
Thank-you for reading this far.
Orchard Barn Volunteers and Supporters have offered amazing rewards.
To purchase a reward, please click on the relevant reward in column on the right.
The images below are of some of the rewards.
Three night mid week stay in this gypsy wagon at Alde Garden, Suffolk
Inside gypsy wagon. Both photos by Rob Marrison.
A punt on the River Cam
Overnight stay in this summerhouse in rural Suffolk near east coast