Aug 25, 2016

Natural Building Workshop - educational and LOTS of FUN!

We hosted a second Natural Building Workshop from 16-24th June 2016. This workshop was taught in Portuguese and included 2 teenagers!!! It might be quite difficult to transmit in this blog update JUST HOW WONDERFUL the last experience was for all involved, but at least we can try!!!  Here goes.....!! Posted below are some images of the super duper people, projects, learning and fun that was had by all! 

Many thanks go to the participants, Barbara for teaching and the volunteers, Kathleen and Manuel who helped make it possible.

Click on the link to read more.....

The Participants

The participants for this course were a fantastically diverse bunch! There were 9 people taking part, including a family with a breast-feeding mum. The medium for the course was Portuguese even though 2 of the group were from Germany and Holland. We had Perdo, Mariana and Martim, Judith, Lied plus Yara, Mateus, Nahary, Lwey and one year old Kienda.

Martim and Mariana live outside Lisboa and are currently looking for land to purchase and start their own sustainable living project, based on permaculture principles. As a couple, they brought such a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the group. Their complimentary skill sets will serve them well wherever they end up!!! Our hope is that they get a place nearby and we can work in collaboration with them!!!


Pedro tends to his bees and produces yummy honey. Aside from being a bee-keeper he is a trained psychologist and astrologist with a beautifully kind and generous heart. As you might see in several of the pictures, Pedro was in his element with the difficult physical jobs on the course. Like Martim, he came to the workshop with a solid knowledge of conventional building and a keen interest in experimenting with straw and cob. He pushed hard in the day, and then relaxed with the guitar in hand in the evenings!! 

Judith came and volunteered with us in May and was a delightful addition to the group. Even though she is not fluent in Portuguese, she muddled though and seemed to enjoy every minute! She studies Architecture in Germany and is in Portugal on an exchange programme with her university. Her interest in natural building stems from her love of materials and desire for her work to be practical as well as theoretical.  She loved getting her hands dirty and learning new skills. 

 Yara and Mateus brought with them Kienda, this little one year old chap in the photo, plus Nahary and Lwey. The family of 5 taught us that we can accommodate kids and families on our workshops with relative ease. It was clear that Yara and Mateus parented in a special way. They encouraged Nahary and Lwey to try new things and practice what they were learning. Yara with her African Angolan roots was such a natural mama, breast-feeding and plastering with cob at the same time!!

 In this picture Nahary is peeling the bark from a Mimosa post for the construction of the straw bale wall. I personally enjoyed watching Nahary develop confidence over the course of the 9 days with us. She is obviously a very intelligent young lady, but at first reluctant to put herself forward to try out the building techniques - all she needed was a little encouragement and she get stuck in! 

 Lwey simply loved working with cob - any opportunity he got, he was either making mixes or plastering. In this snap it was day 2 and he is sitting on the new compost toilet. He was using cob to model the box where we will store the saw dust. As mentioned before, it was super to have 2 young people taking part - seeing them grow in confidence, learn new skills and enjoying being part of the community life for the time they were here was infectious. 

Lied was the final member of the team - as she had commitments to her business - a fantastic bespoke campsite and B&B she runs with her partner, called Quinta da Fonte. She was not present for all of the course, but her feedback after the course was so positive that it seemed that she got what she needed from the practical aspects. Lied is a fantastic cook and her vegan chocolate mousse was a welcome addition to the communal table! 

Course Content

Folks arrived the evening of the 15th June and set up their tents. We had dinner and started to get to know one another. The following morning the first introduction to the materials began at 9am. The rhythm of the days included elements of theory and practice. Barbara had prepared a manual with the necessary materials included for each participant. 

On the first day the group learned about making light earth bricks - their first opportunity to get their hands and feet dirty! 

The same day Nahary and Lwey had their first lesson with power tools - the drill and then the circular saw! They were learning how to make a frame for the light earth bricks using wood.


 In the following days the group practiced a technique called 'tabique' where you build with sticks and then plaster with cob on top - improvements were made to the compost toilet structure using this method. 


While one group was working on the compost toilet - making walls and cobbing - the other group were adding to the bathhouse structure.......


Another natural building technique that was taught and practiced was 'cordwood'. A wall/bench was constructed with the method, and the following day an entire wall complete with glass bottle decoration.......

To 'cut' the glass bottles everyone got the chance to practice a simple and effective of doing it using string, alcohol and some fire! 


As a team the participants constructed the second wall using a mixture of logs and glass - with the cob in between.

.......the end result is beautiful! 


An important component of the workshop was practicing building with straw bales - they started first with learning about drainage.....

then gravel bags to make a stem wall.....

then a layer of earth bags which needed stamping - here is Mateus in action!!

after the stem walls a frame was created for the straw bales to sit on.....

learning how to split bales to make them fit into your structure was an important lesson....

 this was no ordinary wall - it had a curve so there were many tricks to work out on the way - but nothing was too difficult for this group!! 

and the walls kept going up....

making a roof was not initially part of the course, but Barbara adapted the teaching to include a lesson on making a-frames and thatching with broom!!

wall complete - now the fun of plastering!!!!

 first layer of plaster complete....


in countless ways the participants learned so many skills - using hand tools, power tools, even turning on a generator to power the plastering with different types of cob mix.   


Along with the super feedback we received about the course content - we were delighted at how the participants enjoyed the food and fun!


we ate very well - a vegan and vegetarian diet lovingly prepared with the help of Kathleen and Manuel...

here is Manuel getting the generator started to use the 'magic stick' for a zatar hummous....yummy!

other help came in the form of our friends Steve, Beth and little Momo who brought such entertainment and joy to the community dynamic....

In the evenings we had times of sharing music and stories around the campfire, watching the full moon rise and laughing! 

 On the final day we had a celebration dinner 
- an African dish prepared by Barbara, Nahary and Lwey. Special thanks go to Pedro who respectively killed one of our cockerels. 

Also on the final day we took a trip to our local historic village of Alpedrinha - it was of special interest to Judith to visit the Palacio do Picadeiro. Coincidentally Judith has been working with a Lisbon based architect on proposed improvements for the palace. 

.....So some closing words from a participant.....

"I really admire the perfect way you set up the whole workshop, all was there, arranged for, prepared… Into details! I admire your enthusiasm Barbara in giving the workshop, every moment I saw you, you were willing to share your knowledge, explain, tell, demonstrate…. Without any moment of tiredness, really impressive!!!!! I admire Emma and the way you arranged for all the food, even having back problems. The food was amazing…. Thanks  so much for that. The group was great, the spirit among everybody was surprisingly great. I learned so much, got so much inspiration!"

For more information on the course content OR if you wish to come on future courses we run - do get in touch with us at 

In peace!  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Bem Haja Emma por um post tão bonito... Bem Haja a todos os que fizeram este workshop ser tão especial...