2020 04 22 Network News

How do communities respond to change?

The coronavirus has required all of us to re-evaluate how we do things, and to institute new practices so we can live our daily lives and work safely.

In this issue are three stories showing different perspectives of Narara Ecovillage’s response to the pandemic. 

I believe the village shows us what can happen when a group of ordinary people, aligned in certain values but otherwise quite diverse, use deliberate and inclusive methods to work together. In the village, that method is sociocracy. What we’ve found is that creative ideas and offers come up from every direction, and the community as a whole is quick and innovative in its response to change; in a word, the community has resilience in hard times.

This kind of community resilience will be more and more important in future as climate change impacts our world. So the question is: where else can we find such resilience beyond the boundaries of this one tiny village, and how can we nurture it? 

  • I invite readers to contact the Network News with your own stories of community resilience, and we will publish what we can.
  • And if you are interested to find out more about how the village works, check out the online tour and the Q&A session, where you can meet others and get a sense of how we work together (See below).
Discussing speed humps, 2018

Liz Bassett. Convener, Narara Eco Living Networ k

Village News and Views

Village life in the pandemic 

An experimental growing area

-Various Village members

The pandemic has radically changed life (on the surface) at Narara Ecovillage. With the help of guidance from our COVID-19 Working Group, we are physically distancing, meeting via Zoom, and some of our plans are on hold.  

However, we are also experiencing deep care, connection and commitment, as well as creative community-building.  As from last week, we even have coffee on offer once again (Tuesday to Saturday 9-11am) served with the highest of hygiene standards, thanks to Candy!

With a vision to build our capacity to grow food for the village, a group has commenced planting out established gardens around the Village, which will be managed by members. Initially, the produce from these gardens will be sold by donation to raise money for improving our infrastructure as we grow. 

Bulk buying food is now up and running social-distance-style; yoga, pilates and meditation are beaming out; seeds are sprouting; and we have WhatsApp groups sharing local needs and information, light-hearted distractions and lockdown recipes. 

We have also found that Zoom is an excellent way to keep in contact and to even deepen our friendship and connection with each other.  In Zoom meetings, we are finding that participants are wanting to talk about what is real for them at a deep heart level and that this talking and sharing is enormously rewarding.

Reflections – Narara Ecovillage in the time of coronavirus

-Lyndall Parris (who founded the ecovillage)

I went outside on Easter Sunday and there were two little eggs on the seat at my front door. The warmth, camaraderie, thoughtfulness and love communicated in that small gesture was huge, even more so in the time of coronavirus.

The Narara Ecovillage community has also been tested, revealing a broad spectrum of ways of seeing the world.

At the village, we are all still deeply immersed in the unfolding of the extraordinary events surrounding this particular virus, and it is hard to garner solid perspective and knowing right now, but for me it has been another catalyst for review and reflection.

We tell people that we embrace diversity, and for many of us this is the first time we have seen such different perspectives arise. At home, we may shake our heads and ask: how could she interpret things like that, how could he voice that opinion? Yet deep down, because of our history together, we respect each other’s different perspectives, and do what we can to meet everyone’s needs and wishes.

Nararians are up for this task, and common ground has been met through getting the gardens growing, zoom meetings and chats with physical distancing. 

Narara Ecovillage is not utopia, yet I would not want to live anywhere else.

There have been uncomfortable situations where it is often easier to attend our elusive internal projections, and to dispense criticism and censure, than to take personal responsibility. I ponder from where in my own personal growth my part in any disagreement might arise. Because if we want to improve all our lives, we each have to heal our own, and if we want to cure and ‘fix’ other people and world situations, we start by working on ourselves. This gives me a very tangible place to start.

I am one of the luckier ones, having already moved into our new home on lot 9. Another 28 homes in Stage 1 are under construction, and these future residents enjoy visiting the ecovillage and their building site, having a coffee at our Coffee Cart and garnering the latest site news.

Life at the “Hive for Five” straw panel and cob residence

“The burden I feel during this time of pandemic is a burden of love; the weight of suddenly realising how much your neighbours mean to you, and how far you are prepared to go to protect them.”

-Vanessa Huang

Social distancing in an intentional community is rough. There are some days I am sure it must be easier doing this in suburbia somewhere. For a start, we have no fences to define our backyards and stop Masters 7 and 4 entering the personal space of our neighbours. In fact, they usually start their day with a 7.30am wakeup visit to their three closest friends. We’re extra friendly like that.

Miss 2 is confused why she can’t walk past the thistle patch to play on the shared equipment in our common garden. Mum and Dad seem particularly agitated when she approaches the patch, and so she enjoys experimenting with the relationship between proximity to thistle and crescendo from parents.

Meetings have been rescheduled using Zoom and other online platforms, and boy do we like meetings! Parent’s Circle, Covid-19 Response Team, Steering Circle, Communications, Women’s Circle, Busy Hands, Full-Moon Singing Circle, Food Production – you can end up with square eyes and a thumping headache from too much screen time.  While attending such meetings in a bid to further increase our resiliency, our children are, of course, attending to their school work. Or (more honestly) being kept quiet with a carrot and a box of old Lego they haven’t seen for a while.

Perhaps the hardest part of all is not being able to freely interact with village members as we take our daily walk around the village. A month ago we were working and playing alongside people of all ages in our community gardens and offices, playgrounds and meeting rooms. Our family sees many villagers as extended family – aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, surrogate parents and grandparents. Now we keep our distance and stay at home.

It has taken a concerted effort from us all to break the habits of proximity and physical affection, yet we know that right now the more we share, the greater our risk. The burden I feel during this time of pandemic is a burden of love; the weight of suddenly realising how much your neighbours mean to you, and how far you are prepared to go to protect them. It’s a humbling realisation that my life is sweeter because it is intertwined with yours.

Despite this weight, and the stress associated with keeping Miss 2 on our side of the thistle patch, I have an overwhelming sense of peace living at the Ecovillage right now. I know if we weren’t living onsite we would feel the social isolation more. Here, we have weekly Parent Circle meetings to discuss how best to support individual families, as well as creative ways for keeping our children connected. We have WhatsApp groups for sharing requests and critical info, as well as social channels. We have a system established for bulk grocery shopping and mass errand-running. We have a team of Supporters who will take a call at any time of the day or night to listen to members who need to talk.

The Covid-19 situation is changing day by day, and I know our family is well-poised to respond because of the Ecovillage community we share this journey with. They include holders of local knowledge about plants and climate, permaculturists, nimble and powerful communicators, professionals in the areas of economics, health, social welfare and a vast array of trades. We are prepared, positive and empowered by the natural and human resources inside our gate.

The “Hive” on Sustainable House Day, September 2019

Visit the Village – ONLINE! All welcome

– Friday 1 May 2020 7.30 – 9pm

-Lyndall Parris

Our usual monthly Open Days held on our lovely property have been postponed for now, but here is the link to our latest Site Tour video (10 mins) for you to enjoy at home.

If you are interested in finding out about joining the Village: Stage 2 – now available

Narara Ecovillage Stage 2 Development Application (DA) has been submitted to Central Coast Council. We have 22 on the waiting list for future residency and, as well as the usual-sized lots, we are exploring smaller footprint and more affordable housing.

We hope you can join our panel online, to ask questions and chat, Friday May 1

When: Friday 1 May 7.30 – 9pm

Where: how will it work? 

  • Email to register your interest asap: info@nararaecovillage.com
  • The week before, we will send you instructions on how to prepare for our get together and provide you with an easy link to join us.

Should be a lot of fun!

More info:

  • We can also provide documents, emails and phone calls to help you in further checking us out. It is even possible to visit us in family groups by arranging a personal tour for a small charge.
  • If you would like further information, please contact our Admin assistant at info@nararaecovillage.com  phone 4328 1588, or contact me directly: 0419 279 711, Lyndall@nararaecovillage.com
Homes underconstruction in Stage 1, March 2020

Do a Thing a Day

Say YES to a plastics ban in NSW

The NSW Government is surveying attitudes and seeking ideas about banning plastic bags, straws and cutlery.

Stare at flowers

Hoverfly on Brachyscome by Vivien Naimo

Want to do something useful? Why not stare at flowers for a few minutes! Or if flowers aren’t your thing, there are many other ways of engaging with the natural world and contributing to scientific knowledge at the same time. 

Parsley flower visitors (fly, honey bee and ant) by Helen Bucknell

Or maybe knit a fence? 

This one speaks for itself! Click here for the full story from Return To Now.

From our Network 

Introducing the Eco Village Voice

-Michael Ney, editor; michael@ecovillagevoice.com 

Eco Village Voice is an online community, with a quarterly magazine including free preview articles, an integrated video channel, and relevant webinars, podcasts and forums for intentional communities. We also create events to spread the message of ecovillages further into mainstream society – for example, the  Eco Village Film Festival

It’s early days and we’d love to have your input and feedback please … what would you like to see?

Visit our main website 

Preview these free monthly Eco Village Voice newsletters:

Urban biodiversity in Utrecht

-Recommended by a reader

The city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, has introduced a “no roofs unused” policy to improve biodiversity and make the city a happier place to live in. Under the policy, roofs must have either plants or solar panels. The city also plans a multi-storey ‘vertical forest tower’, which will support the equivalent of 1 hectare of forest plants. 

Utrecht living bus stop 

Natural Building News

Quirky Houses of Narara Ecovillage

-Linda Scott

Houses being built at Narara Ecovillage on the Central Coast range from hempcrete, straw panels, strawbale, rammed and light earth and, shortly, the first approved earthbag structure in NSW.

Architect William Eastlake has designed two houses which are top of the quirky scale at the village.  His clients couldn’t be more different: Linda Scott (in her 70s) and Benjamin and Carly (in their 30s). They may be  from very different backgrounds and life stages, but have in common a keen appreciation of the unusual, the eccentric and the quirky, and a commitment to natural building.

Linda’s house

“They stayed for the weekend. Before leaving, Will said to me: ‘I’ll design you a better house’”

I met Will 10 years ago when introduced by founder of the ecovillage, Lyndall Parris, who asked me if a few visitors could come and stay at my Avoca Beach house for the weekend! It was before we had purchased the 63 hectare site which at that time was owned by the State Government as the Gosford Horticulture Research Station (since 1915).  Lyndall and her husband Dave invited prominent permaculturist John Champagne who brought along architect/permaculturist Will to inspect the land as the potential ecovillage, which of course it has now become.”

They stayed for the weekend. Before leaving, Will said to me: ‘I’ll design you a better house’. While I loved my Avoca Beach L-shaped house, it was freezing cold in winter and too hot in summer.  As a founder member of the ecovillage, not long after, I sold my house to help purchase the ecovillage site and then moved into the Heritage House at the newly developing ecovillage.

Over time, I developed a conceptual house plan. I had stumbled into a strawbale building workshop years before and attended several natural building workshops in Europe and Will’s earth workshops in Australia”.

Over 3 years ago I presented my raw concept of house, greenhouse and studio (looking more like a dog’s bone) to Will and he and I have been tinkering (and squabbling) with the design since then. Because I chose such a steep narrow block, this has presented many challenges for Will and if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have chosen a different lot.  However, I just can’t visualise my octagon house, with adjoining Earthship inspired greenhouse and hobbit inspired art studio, mostly covered by a green roof, anywhere else.

The 171m2 building is north facing for maximum solar gain. The octagon house is on the higher part of the 666m2 Syncarpia Crescent lot. With strawbale, non-loadbearing walls, it will have a bamboo reciprocal frame for the roof, covered over with a light coloured zincalume steel.

Special features

A rammed earth wall acts as a curving spine, from the carport into the octagon house and downwards through the greenhouse.  A gap in the wall will display a green vertical garden.  Edible plants such as bananas and tomatoes will grow in the greenhouse’s wicking bed in a year-round tropical climate, venting warmth into the upper octagon and pumped down into the hobbit art studio.  From there, earthbag tubes will help create the pear-shaped art studio featuring a cob carved staircase.  A place for my artistic dabblings, weaving, gourd carving, clay sculpture, it’ll be a gathering place for local invited artist friends to embellish my house with mosaic, clay carving, bottle walls, mandala plaster wall, and more. Before those rewarding activities can commence, we have a long way to go. 

There are curves everywhere, though the octagon house has some straight walls which mean fixtures such as kitchen cupboards can be built in more easily. Curves look beautiful but present many more design and construction challenges, and much more time, and expense, so continually challenge the budget.

The green roof will extend over most of the structure, helping with temperature control and will be aesthetically pleasing.  I’m planning to plant ground cover bamboo with perhaps some golden nugget pumpkins sprawling down the walls.  Green roofs can be challenging growing spaces and some experimentation is expected.  The combination of rendered surfaces and bermed roof should create much fire resistance but of course the hope that is never tested.

Hands on architect Will is playing a major role in the build, working with consulting builder Ryan White to guide the complex earthworks. Ryan has completed a hempcrete house in the ecovillage and is in demand as a competent builder.  When excavator Sean Dibben found Will’s plans rather challenging, I asked Ryan to assist in the vital excavation phase.  He organised his surveyor to peg out my lot and there will be two more survey visits during the build.  I have been learning as I go, from others, that a survey or two or three has to be done once the construction certificate is issued, with a comprehensive check on completion that the house is built in the right spot! 

The sod has been turned, landscape tank pads excavated and services installed.  The excavation is in several stages and as we approach holiday time, we’re doing our best to get an extra survey set out and concrete strip footings completed as soon as possible. Earthworks take a significant dent out of the budget, especially for me, with three levels on a steep block. Sean has been working flat out cutting and filling and we are nowhere near completion (at time of writing). I’ve put aside a third of my budget for earthworks associated expenditure.

Some of my foundations will be built from rammed mudblocks which is an ecovillage inspired business, with Will and several ecovillage members.  Other foundations will be from earthbags through workshops run by Hayden Annable of Victorian based Curvactecture. Hayden has completed some major adobe building projects using earthbags. 

I’m installing the mud floors before the walls go up.  I was inspired to do this by attending a course in England with Athena Steen of The Canelo Project (famous for the book “The Straw Bale House”, and others, plus workshops in clay, lime plasters, sculptural wall carvings and earthen floors).. 

I learnt from Athena how it makes sense to have the earth floors laid and completed up to under the final earth coat so that the floor is well compacted over the 12 months or more it takes to finish the rest of the house.  Then the top coat is applied and left to dry and cure, finally sealed by six or seven coats of linseed oil. 

After purchasing a pallet of orange and red oxides from a cement paving company that was closing down on the Central Coast, in all probability there will be many shades of those two colours in the mud floors, walls and possibly everywhere else!

I have been very naïve about how much the project would cost.  I have renovated many properties in Sydney and London, but those projects bear no resemblance to starting from scratch and as an owner builder.

Having been to many natural building events, I deluded myself that by running workshops where participants usually pay for the privilege of attending, meant that this would be a huge saving and maybe I could chop off a couple of thousand dollars per square metre. 

But in the meantime, there was a building boom with prices rising.  And the current drought has meant that even building quality straw has gone up significantly in price and may not even be available as hungry stock take higher priority (even though straw would normally not be used as fodder). Other materials, sand, clay, road base will be cheaper to buy and I’ll need lots of it. I’m using subsoil material from neighbour Benjamin’s site, and he’ll probably take some from my excavations when he’s ready.

In my previous property dabblings in Sydney and London renovating several properties I’ve always been careful not to overcapitalize and not be self-indulgent.  I always had in the back of my mind the profile of who would buy my renovated property.  In this case, I will probably be overcapitalizing and I’ll certainly be self-indulgent in my forever home!

So, while I’ve got a target budget, the phrase “how long is a piece of string” comes to mind.  Every Grand Design programme I’ve watched goes over budget and I don’t expect I’ll be any different.

I don’t believe any mainstream builder would touch my project, it being quirky, using natural materials, different systems and non-standard products.  I’ll make savings and shortcuts wherever I can and try to speed up some of the labour intensive work by automation.

Benjamin and Carly’s house

“The thermal mass will warm our house through earth floors and wattle and daub internal walls.  The house will have earth tubes for cross ventilation and there will be a thermal chimney with a roof of zincalume”

Benjamin grew up in Sydney, and met Carly in a London pub. She was from Buckinghamshire and studying at the time. Together they stayed in London for 12 more years, and had two children born at home.

Most of those winters Benjamin wanted to come back to Oz, but what finally prompted them to come back was hearing about Narara Ecovillage.  Three weeks after finding out about it, they flew over, leaving eight pounds in their bank account; they visited the ecovillage, met the people, loved it and signed up.

Five months later they arrived back on the Central Coast and began conceptualising the house they wanted to build.  Benjamin said: “We liked the idea of a rounded building, having softer edges and a nice flow; a healthy home in which to bring our family up in and to grow old”. 

Their lot is also sloping and naturally presents some challenges.  “We wanted the house to fit into the landscape and be orientated with solar passive principles in mind” Carly said. 

“We had some beer coaster sketches, but we never showed them to Will! We’re glad because the design he came up with gave an artistic edge to what we wanted” added Benjamin.

Special features

The house is entirely curved with recycled and handmade doors and windows. 

It has a mud tower at the entry which is central to the main house. The tower is essentially a thermal chimney, creating a thermos syphon effect which will help to draw cool air in from the earth air tubes and lower windows, encouraging air circulation.

The mudroom/ laundry is at the base, with a spiral staircase that goes up to a bathroom at the top. Says Benjamin: “It’ll be a nice spot for a bath, though not too many, as we plan to not connect to the potable water network and aim to be sustained by rainwater only”.

Natural building was something they’d known about for a long time, especially as Carly had been living in an English village that had many ancient cob houses.  Benjamin said: “I was also influenced by the vernacular architecture of the historic Stroud Valley in The Cotswolds; in Rudolf Steiner’s building principles (organic and functional); I also visited the Brighton earthship which influenced and excited me”.

He continued: “Inspired by The Hand Sculptured House, we were initially thinking of building in cob, but since then have become convinced that the light straw method, with its insulative properties and ease of building, was the way to go.  The thermal mass will warm our house through earth floors and wattle and daub internal walls.  The house will have earth tubes for cross ventilation and there will be a thermal chimney with a roof of zincalume”.

Their 155m2 house, comprising of a main house and a granny flat, is being built in two stages. As an owner builder with a lot to learn, Ben feels well supported by people in the ecovillage and particularly by architect, Will who has spent 2 days a week helping to build foundations from compressed earthblocks made by an ecovillage startup company (Mudtec Pty Ltd) using local materials.

“Without a trade, I am ineligible for building loans. We don’t have the finance to complete the project, so I plan to build the granny flat first, then we’ll move in and I’ll complete the rest as we’ll be able to divert the rent money into our build budget. The round shaped granny flat will be available for family and friends to stay in eventually”. 

When dreaming of a natural building project, it’s not easy to find both an architect and an engineer who share the same visions and ideals on sustainable building and living. There seems to be a great divide between mainstream and natural building. 

Luckily WA engineer Bec Barton is a perfect fit for both these projects. Bec of Verdant Engineering supports and encourages beautifully designed natural buildings for healthy living and wellbeing for ourselves and the environment.   She says: “Sustainably built houses meet the needs of their occupants while being responsive to their natural surroundings.  They incorporate many design considerations such as passive design elements of solar  and cross ventilation, thermal massinsulationembodied energywater management and energy use.

Bec is also committed to the principles of community living and has visited and been involved in several intentional communities in Western Australia.  She is looking forward to visiting Narara Ecovillage to check on engineering progress of her two clients.