Green buildings open days

Tara Greaves With the Green Buildings open days event - organised by the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England - edging closer, environment correspondent TARA GREAVES takes a look at a truly eco structure which is being thrown open to the public.

Tara Greaves

With the myriad of warm colours cascading along the smooth curved wall, it would be hard not to feel at peace.

But the fact that this cosy building is also made from a hand-sculpted mixture of earth, water, straw, clay and sand almost intensifies the experience.

And that was exactly what Julie Reynolds was looking for when she commissioned Kate Edwards to design and build her a cob round house to hold meditation, healing and drumming workshops in Old Buckenham.

It is one of 15 Green Buildings being opened to the public during an event organised by the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) as part of a nationwide heritage open days scheme.

Free guided tours will take place from Thursday to Sunday, September 11 to 14, for anyone interested in seeing how eco-technologies and energy-saving measures can be incorporated into all sorts of buildings.

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But places are running out so anyone interested needs to book quickly.

Kate gave up a well-paying career as an art therapist to take a course in Ireland teaching her how to work with cob.

“I gave up my job even before I had been on the course. I just knew it was what I wanted to do,” she said.

“I have always been very keen on environmental issues.”

Originally, she worked as an interior designer in London but then moved to Norfolk eight years ago and lives in a clay lump house from where she runs her business, Edwards Eco Building.

Cob and clay lump use the same ingredients but cob is mixed in a different way and sculpted directly onto a wall rather than being made into bricks.

“The great thing about it is it can all be recycled. I took a wall down and recycled it into another part of the house,” said Kate who also sculpts.

As well as building cob houses, Kate also teaches others to do the same.

“It's as if people have suddenly woken up to being eco-friendly. I have had solar panels on my roof for 10 years.

“A friend of mine who is really uneco-friendly recently called up and said they were thinking of getting a green car because of the cost of petrol.”

Kate believes people can create a three-bedroom cob home for about half the amount of a normal build if they do the work themselves.

“Most of the materials are from the earth,” she said.

The single room cob house for Julie, who runs Blue Moon in Diss, is one of eight she has built but Kate has been involved in many other projects.

With everything, including a stained glass window, it cost between £25,000 and £30,000.

James Frost, director of CPRE Norfolk, is delighted the cob house is one of the buildings signed up to the open days.

“CPRE is indebted to the owners and occupiers of the buildings taking part in the Open Days tours. They would probably not call themselves pioneers, but they are working with building styles, energy-saving techniques and renewable energy technologies that are not mainstream, so in this way, they have a lot to teach others with similar aspirations.

“These tours at eco-buildings around Norfolk are a fantastic opportunity to learn first-hand from others that have already gone through the process - through planning, design, construction, installation and living. It is an opportunity to meet the owner, architect or builder, ask them questions first-hand and, in many cases, see the 'nuts and bolts' of the building - pipework, boiler rooms, heat pumps etc.

“Tours are already filling up and some properties are already taking waiting lists.

“I am pleased that some of the small-scale 'ordinary' settings such as domestic homes in Eaton and Keswick are proving as popular as grander designs such as Jasmine House in Blakeney and the Ecostessey development.”

The event is supported by Energy Savings Trust, RG Carter Construction Ltd, John Jarrold Trust and Shape East.

Anyone unable to get along to the cob house during the Green Buildings event is invited to attend a party on September 21 from midday. The £2 entry fee will be donated to charity. To book call 01379 650601.