New School of Natural Building in Attainable Sustainable #Todmorden

Straw Works, the leading UK company for strawbale building and design,  has launched the School of Natural Building (SNaB) in Todmorden following an increase in demand for their training courses.

Natural materials include strawbales, timber, lime, clay, hemp, sheepswool, woodfibre board, brick, stone and other materials.  Many are plant based materials, usually low-embodied energy because they are not very processed and often available locally.

Natural Buildings are good for the environment and people’s health

The School is the first reputable training programme in the UK for Natural Building, providing high quality training to increase the numbers of skilled practitioners in the natural building sector.

The School’s Principal, Barbara Jones, said,

‘In view of climate change and other factors such as health, cost and accessibility, we need to raise awareness about how natural materials can be used effectively for construction.’

The SNaB’s next event in Tod is the one day course on Preparing to Build with Bales, at the New Oddfellows Hall November 7th. The First straw course at the same venue will be on the 15th November.

The School will provide quality training in the use of natural materials, both in design and in practice, producing a pool of natural builders who are recognised as having professional levels of skill, knowledge and experience.

The SNaB will continue the high standards that are currently associated with Straw Works’ work & courses. Trainees will take part in a rigorous programme that is taught, examined and certified by Barbara Jones.

Straw Works building in Haringey

How to become a Natural Building Trainee

To join the School, email Jane at She will ask you to fill in a form about any previous experience and to send your CV. If suitable, we will then ask you for interview.

All courses are currently self-funded, but in time bursaries will be available to those who would otherwise be excluded because they can’t pay.

The School aims to encourage 50% women & 50% men trainees, in order to redress the current situation where only 1% of the construction workforce are women.

Twelve trainees have already started on the SNaB programme which has two stages: Practical Building and Professional Development.

Previous experience is taken into account and is recorded on Individual Learning Logs. Assessment is timed to suit  individual trainees, so there are no cohorts going through the programme at the same time. But trainees who meet on different modules are tending to form support groups.

Natural Building Trainees are a diverse bunch. Barbara said,

‘You might expect me to say, they’re all young, strong, idealistic and enthusiastic, but Lynne is 63 and on one of our recent courses she tackled carpentry for the first time.
Then there’s the couple in their mid-fifties in Wales who last week took a delivery of 350 bales ready to build the walls of their dream property next year.

Some of them are young though! So, I think the best way to describe a natural building trainee is to say they are diverse in nationality (we currently have trainees from Serbia, France, and Germany as well as the UK), background and age but they occupy a common ground where pragmatism, passion and empowerment in the context of building is very important.’

Straw Works has no dedicated budget for the School, but taking inspiration from Incredible Edible, Straw Works is just going ahead regardless so that Todmorden is now also the home of Attainable Sustainable building.

Strawbale Building Pioneers

Barbara Jones pioneered strawbale building in the UK in 1994 through her previous business, Amazon Nails, and has been involved with hundreds of successful strawbale buildings in her long career.

Barbara was the first person in the UK to design and build strawbale council houses back in 2008 and currently works tirelessly to raise the profile of strawbale building.

Straw Works strawbale council house

She has designed several types of foundation that do not require cement, applicable to all buildings not just strawbale ones. She has been honoured for her work with a Woman of Outstanding Achievement award in 2009 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Find out more about Straw Works here and about the School here.

Straw Works buildings in Calderdale and elsewhere

Several straw bale buildings in Calderdale and elsewhere have been designed and/or built by members of Straw Works
Near Todmorden:

  • the library extension at Shelf, Halifax
  • the circular meeting room at the Ecology Building Society, Silsden,
  • the Outback Centre on Lightowlers Road, Halifax,
  • the Community Allotment building at Agbrigg, Wakefield.

In other places: Straw Works have been involved in hundreds of strawbale buildings but here is a selection

  • Two pairs of council houses for North Kesteven council, built in 2009
  • Sworders, Fine Art Auction rooms, Stansted Mountfitchet 1600m2
  • Passive houses in Norfolk and Suffolk
  • Elmfield Farm straw cottages, a terrace of 3 two storey holiday lets, Stelling Minnis, Kent
  • The Grand Designs Ecohome of the year 2008, St Dogmaels, Wales, a two storey house

Straw Works has produced designs for affordable self-build houses that can be built for £50,000 and written a consultation document on affordability for the Scottish Government.
For further information you can email or phone 0772 071 6589

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