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Eco-friendly church builds straw hall

11 November 2016

Baled out: an aerial view of the proposed Tulse Hill community hall

Baled out: an aerial view of the proposed Tulse Hill community hall

A PROJECT to construct what is thought to be Europe’s first church building made from straw bales has been boosted by a £12,500 grant from a community energy-fund run by Marks and Spencer.

The cash will go towards fitting solar panels to a new community hall, which will be built to the rear of Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill, in south London. The Vicar, the Revd Richard Dormandy, said that they had raised £330,000 towards the total bill of about £550,000, but hoped to start work on the foundations around Christmas. He said: “With this sort of build, we can stage it; we think we have enough to give us a watertight hall, and then we can go on to complete it.”

The project’s patron is the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, who was a parish priest in Tulse Hill for 13 years.

The unusual building method of stacking bales was chosen to create a community project. “Churches are all about DIY,” Mr Dormandy said. “That’s why we have cake sales and bring-and-share lunches, but when it comes to big things like building, we suddenly say: ‘Oh no, we are not DIY.’ But if we can do it, then it fits with the ethos of being church.

“I find those films of Amish barn-raising incredibly inspiring. They act out what a church is all about: a community coming together to help itself. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do something so significant together. It has had a fantastic response from the community: people love the idea that we can all be involved.

“Straw-bale construction is the kind of building that can be done by volunteers. We want to do as much of the building ourselves as possible.”

They will be trained and overseen by the designers and main contractors, Straw Works, who have made more than 300 straw buildings across Europe. The new hall will accommodate 120 people, and three meeting-rooms on an upper floor.

The original 1911 brick building was declared unsafe and demolished in 1984, when other work was done on the Grade-II listed Victorian church. “Replacing it was phase four, which became ‘phase somewhere in eternity’, because it was always the least important or too impossible to fund,” Mr Dormandy said.

“Then we came across this other idea, which made it work. It’s also partly being responsible ecologically: it’s a zero-carbon building. Some aspects are more expensive, but others are cheaper. The bottom line is you get a better result for less money.”

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