European Straw Bale Gathering 2019


Report on the European Straw Bale Gathering 2019


204 people attended ESBG in Todmorden between 15 and 18 August 2019. They came from the following countries:

UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova.

According to responses to the ESBG Feedback Form, the following professions were represented:

Architect, Builder, Therapist, Building Services Engineer, Clay Builder, Cartographer, Web Designer, Structural Engineer, Journalist, Property Developer, Carer, Civil Engineer. 60% work in the straw bale sector and 40% work in other sectors.

Age Range

17% = 18 - 30

26% = 31 - 40

37% = 41 – 50

17% = 51 – 60

3% = 60 plus


54% = male

44% = female

2% = prefer not to say


The main venue for presentations and Friday evening films was the Hippodrome Theatre, which was rated as Good to Excellent by 100% of respondents.

The venue for workshops and Saturday evening ceilidh was Todmorden Learning Centre, which was rated as Good to Excellent by 94% and Average by 6%.

Lunch time food

Lunch was provided by a local catering firm using local produce in Todmorden Town Hall, a five minute walk from the Hippodrome venue. It was rated Good to Excellent by 97% of respondents and Average by 3%. One respondent expressed disappointment that meat was on the menu: “Food was excellent, and I really liked that you chose a small local caterer, but really disappointing to have meat on the menu. I'm not vegetarian, but it was surprising that ESBG weren't pushing wider environmental messages.”

Event Organisation

100% of respondents rated the organisation Good to Excellent. Comments include:

 “Excellent organisation and this will be hard to beat.”

“Thank you for the great organisation! It was relatively cheap in my opinion. The management of the microphones, and the presentations on the screen were really fluent. You did very well, and the time management was perfect to me. I hope next ESBG will follow your path!”

“I love to be practical (personal), I always get a bit sleepy from presentations. It would be awesome if we can combine practice with lectures. But in general, it was a wonderful time at a perfect place. The event give me the energy to go on with professionalising straw bale buildings!”

 “So much love, warmth, generosity, care, knowledge. The tours were also good. The party great with lovely dancing! The private host was amazing, the local pub a hit. What’s not to like. Ready for next time.”

“It would be great if there would be an Internet Cafe open in the evening (till 10pm) so that I can continue working online. And it would have been great to have a hike on the hills nearby with women-only group :)”

“Love you guys! Thank you for your work and the time we’ve spent together. My additional observations: - There was a need for carpooling information/platform - It worked very well that we slept in one place [camping] - the dance was a perfect way to break the ice and build bonds - people need space and time to talk to each other. You organised it well, but it is an important information for the next team - more workshops! A place where people can build real things together. Even a part of a building on site – too many presentations in one day. Maybe 4 days but with more time for relationships.”

“Huge thanks to all the team for the many months of hard work in making this happen - so great to have it here in the UK!”

Straw Bale Tours: 15 August

Respondents who attended the tours made the following comments:

“Two of us attended the half day tour, which was wonderful. Rae was extraordinary and showed us that straw bale housing is surprisingly warm and a realistic option for us in the future.”

“Didn't know much about the properties of straw bale before I came, was surprised by what a great material it is on so many levels. Loved the day long coach trip around the straw buildings, which was inspirational. Thanks for putting the event on.”


Links to the Presentations can be found here:

Information about Speakers can be found here:

Day One: 16 August

The theme of this day was ‘Straw Goes Public’, which is one of the primary themes of UP Straw. Speakers explored achievements, opportunities and challenges in building public buildings with straw and other natural materials.

100% of respondents rated Day One presentations Good to Excellent:

Excellent = 46%

Very Good = 34%

Good = 20%

One respondent commented: “I would have liked to see an open call for presentations.”

The presentations were as follows:

‘Incredible Edible Todmorden’ – Mary Clear

‘Why natural materials are essential for healthy indoor air quality, and how they work with natural ventilation.’ – Professor Sandy Halliday, Gaia Group

‘How straw buildings combat climate change (recording)’ – Chris Magwood, Endeavour Centre, Canada

‘Passivhaus Design with prefabricated straw bale panels’ – Bjorn Kierulf, Ecococon 

‘Public procurement of straw bale buildings: a step up or the straw that breaks the camel’s back!’ – Murray Davidson, Hastings Borough Council

‘How Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council are revolutionising procurement for smaller businesses.’ – Deborah Gaunt, Corporate Procurement Officer, Calderdale MBC

Building schools with straw & natural materials in Rosny-sous-bois‘ – Yannig Robert

‘Cement-free Tyre Foundations for Public Buildings’ – Jakub Zucha-Wihan, Straw Works

‘Living Buildings – an introduction to the Living Building Challenge (LBC)’ – Martin Brown, Fairsnape 

‘The Health & Well-Being Benefits of Wood Fibre Insulation’ – Martin Twamley, Steico 

‘Yes, We Wood: France’s largest straw bale boarding school’ – Cecile Varache, Gauthier Claramunt & Arnaud Charles

There was also a choice of 4 workshops in Todmorden Learning Centre. 


All day in TLC:

  • Exhibition of natural building materials and techniques. Exhibitors were:
    • ActivHome Constructions from France
    • EcoCocon from Slovakia
    • Straw Works from UK
    • School of Natural Building from UK
    • Vesta Eco from Poland
  • The ESBG Lego Challenge: Make a Lego model. Imagine each brick is a bale of straw and build something that would combat climate change. Be prepared to explain your model.


Film Night at the Hippodrome 8.00 to 10.00 pm

  1. Short film of North Kesteven (UK) loadbearing straw council houses
  2. Selected highlights of Houses of Straw – 10 years on – a film by Heidi Snell (Germany)


Day Two: 17 August

The theme of Day Two was ‘Straw in Communities’ which also reflects one of the main UP Straw themes.

100% of respondents rated Day Two presentations Good to Excellent:

Excellent = 48%

Very Good = 48%

Good = 4%

The presentations were as follows:

‘High School in Binche, feedback on the first public school using straw in Wallonia, Belgium‘ – Hugues Delcourt, Eco-Construction Cluster, Belgium

‘Community regeneration using straw’ – Glynis Kirkwood-Warren, Lordship Hub, London

‘Building as an Amateur’ – Richard Dormandy, Tulse Hill Neighbourhood Hub, London

‘The STEP programme’ – Herbert Gruber, Austrian Straw Bale Network 

‘Proving natural building enhances Health and Well Being’ – Mark McKenna, Down to Earth, Wales

 ‘Case study of a straw insulated 30 guestroom accommodation building together with a kindergarten for a thriving monastery in Plankstetten, Bavaria’ (recording) – Elke Kirst, Architect, Germany

Todmorden Learning Centre Workshops

There was a choice of workshops during this time: 

  • Community Land Trusts & self build – Kala Wild, Trustee Calder Valley CLT
  • Clay Plastering – Rae Parkinson, Straw Works
  • Two storey load bearing straw bale residential building in Paris – Volker Ehrlich
  • Fine finishes with clay – Martin Hutt
  • STEP – Herbert Gruber, Austrian Straw Bale Network

Hippodrome programme

 ‘How to work with community groups to deliver co-housing’ – Fredi FuchsSTROH Unlimited, Germany

 ‘Natural Building meets UK Building Regulations’ – Barbara Jones, Straw Works

 ‘Revitalisation of a sports hall in the Netherlands’ – Servie Boetzkes

‘Rooted in Clay’ (recording) – Athena Steen, Canelo Project

Panel Questions: Most speakers were available to answer questions on any subjects raised during the day.

In the evening, a buffet supper was provided, followed by a ceilidh. Buffet supper and bar at Todmorden Learning Centre featuring our very own Strawb Ale Goddess local pale ale. Ceilidh with Head over Reels at TLC.


Day Three: 18 August

A unique chance to hear what’s happening in the wonderful world of straw bale building right across Europe! This was a day for sharing techniques, providing examples of new straw bale buildings, updating and promoting the developments in straw bale building in Europe.

100% of respondents rated Day Three presentations Good to Excellent:

Excellent = 54%

Very Good = 36%

Good = 10%

The presentations about European events were as follows:

  • Portugal: Catarina Pinto
  • Belgium: Jean-Luc de Wilde
  • Estonia: Mikk Luht
  • France: Yannig Robert
  • Spain: Rikki Nitzkin
  • UP Straw: Alex Goullet
  • UK: Cypren Edmunds
  • Italy: Carlo Micheletti
  • Austria: Herbert Gruber
  • Poland: Maciej Jagielak
  • ESBA: Maciej Jagielak, ESBA Secretary
  • Denmark: Lars Keller
  • Slovakia: Zuzana Kierulfová
  • Germany: Heinz-Michael Fischer (BiWeNa)


Hippodrome Programme of Pop Up Talks & Demonstrations

‘Snapshot of disaster & community resilience with local, natural materials: Nepal & Pakistan update’ –  Bee Rowan, Strawbuild

‘Performance of a structural Straw Bale wall’ – Huixiang Peng, Bath University

‘Building with straw bales’ – Casper van der Veen, Giesen Architecturra Partners

Todmorden College Programme (Demonstrations)

Clay workshop ‘Elementerre’: Clay as a construction material – The unbelievable loadbearing properties of this natural building material’ – Simone Ruschmeier, Architect and natural builder, SNaB graduate

Finishing off Lego models: competition and judging.

ESBG ended with tea, scones, cream and jam – a traditional English treat! 


Written by the School of Natural Building: October 2019

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