Cast your mind back to when you were a child…what were the very first games you played? As well as the obvious ‘doctors and nurses’, the chances are that, regardless of your gender, and without any guidance from your parents, you spent many a happy hour rearranging small items of furniture, rugs and bedding to create a ‘den’. Children everywhere spontaneously build dens because building is ‘primal’. It fulfils one of our most basic needs, the need for shelter.
Today, in the so-called ‘first world’, the joy of creating our own homes has been largely hijacked by the building industry. Building processes and products have become increasingly specialised, expensive and mystified to serve the vested interests of those involved in the industry. Yet the urge to build lurks within us all, like the distant echo of something we can’t quite recall.
My own reawakening to the joy of building occurred suddenly, and completely without warning, in 2007 when my eco-conscious partner led me onto a three day Strawbale Building workshop with Amazon Nails. (I was at the time a devoutly carnivorous eco-sceptic who was thoroughly disillusioned with the world and those who dwelled in it. So global was my depression that I was fatalistically relishing the impending fall of the human race). We camped out in the woods with a troop of dancers, ate lots of delicious vegetarian food and built a small strawbale roundhouse. It was as though I had stepped through a portal into a different universe: one where things made sense. Having previously dabbled in the dark art of plastering and found it to be a skill beyond the competent amateur, I was enraptured by my introduction to lime plaster: behold, a material I could immediately achieve respectable results with. I was hooked.
In the ensuing months I took every opportunity to volunteer my services on the roundhouse, pestering Amazon Nails for advice when needed. Lime plastering that building, alone in the woods, was the therapy I needed to restore my will to live. When I had a call from Amazon Nails a few months later, offering me a place on their Ambassador Training Programme, I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.
When Amazon Nails closed in 2011 I actually cried! But fortunately Straw Works rose from the ashes to continue this life-changing work. Straw Works now employs me as a builder and plasterer and as a trainer. Working with natural materials is a revelation. I am honoured to share the experience with others.