This little history of The Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability comes in the shape of edited old latest news, as far back as 2003, if you’d like to read up on some of the stages of what we have been doing here:

March 2006

The past 12 months have seen big changes at The Hollies. Rob, Emma and their children have left. They are now living in Totnes, Devon, UK. Rob is doing a PhD on Energy Descent at Plymouth University. You can check out his latest activities on Good luck to all of them.

A new resident has moved in: Paul O’Flynn, organic gardener and educator. He has been involved in great educational work in Kinsale, Mallow and Cork.

We sold the farmhouse with a few acres and Thomas, Ulrike and our 3 boys are in the process of moving into our new cob house. We haven’t been able to do anything about the burnt house yet. The cob walls are still fine and it could be rebuilt. There is an opportunity for someone who would like to get involved.

Settling into the new house and managing the changes here has been and is still taking a lot of our time. Thomas has started working together with 8 local primary schools. We managed to get funding from West Cork Leader for a module on sustainability which takes two of us (Thomas Riedmuller and Louise Rooney) into the schools for two half day visits and brings the schools to The Hollies for an action packed full school day – until the end of June. We’ll be looking for more funding after completing the pilot phase of this module. It is going very well so far.

Another novelty is a gardening project which several former sustainability students have taken on at The Hollies under Paul’s guidance. It is going to be a market garden for food production as well as for demonstration and educational purposes – for running courses in the future.

February 2005

It has taken us a while to land on our feet after the fire. We decided not to rebuild the damaged house this year, but to concentrate on completing Thomas and Ulrike’s cob house, so there will be lots of opportunities for volunteers to get involved in helping to finish the house.
In 2002 we were granted planning permission for a study centre as part of our larger permission. Since the fire, our plan for this building has been evolving. We are now hoping to develop it into a centre for community based services and education focussing mainly on what is needed locally. We are hoping to find local people who would want to be part of a committee developing the Study Centre as a resource for the local community.
The sustainability aspect we have been concentrating on so far (such as natural building, permaculture, woodland management) would be one of several areas. This new orientation is based on the belief that sustainability is mainly about strengthening the local community. We are hoping to secure funding and create jobs that will benefit the people living in this rural area.

January 2005

Local poet and dear friend of The Hollies, Ian Wild, asked us after the fire
(as so many people did) what he could do to help us. We asked him if he
might write a poem about it, and he did. Here it is;

What burns the edge of night?
Flames claw darkness down
talons ladder moonlight.

Did we not circle
that cold nest of ashes yesterday?
How can it be kindled once more
sparks beaten aloft
by orange wings
coruscating upwards.

The heavens roar –
rage spits
in phosphorescent plumage,
shadows run nameless to their beds.

Night withers like a match
as the land is illumined.
A smouldering tailfeather
swingboats down.

Catch it
one of you children,
keep it as a charm.

December 2004

Prestigious award for The Hollies
On December 8th at the Firkin Crane Theatre in Cork, Rob Hopkins and The Hollies Centre for Practical Sustainability were awarded the prestigious Cork Environmental Forum Roll of Honour award. The award was presented in recognition of ‘an outstanding contribution to sustainability in Cork City and County through partnership and participation in the promotion of environmental care’. The award is a great honour for The Hollies, and is a recognition of all our work here over the last 5 years. Also receiving awards on the night were Claire Osbourne of the Mandala Gardens Project, Michael Geary, Cork Chamber of Commerce, Ian Wright of Manch Woodland Estate, Enda Kiernan, Cork County Council, Macroom, Mary O’Leary, Zero Waste & CHASE, and John O’Callaghan, Midleton CBS.
We have been deeply touched by the extent of the fundraising taking place around the country, from pub quizzes and raffles to benefit concerts and comedy nights. It has been amazing for us to see the depth of feeling towards our work, and the genuine grief felt by so many at the destruction of our home.

October 2004

Our main latest news is sad news of almost the worst kind. Rob and Emma’s cob house, which has been featured in our Building Diary section for the last year and a half, was attacked by an unknown arsonist on the evening of Monday 25th October. The house has been completely gutted (as have we) and all that remains are the walls, the chimneys and the masonry stove. All else lies around in a heartbreaking mess of charcoal, glass and other unrecognisable debris.
We had been making good progress on the house, and were about 6 months (of part-time work) away from completion. The inside was looking so beautiful, the plasterwork done recently was looking amazing. Also set alight was our storage tent full of all our 3 year old seasoned Western Red Cedar that we were using in the buildings. That appears to have been lit first at around 9pm. By the time we noticed the fire, around 11pm, the house was too far gone, and the arrival of the Bandon Fire Brigade could do nothing to save the house. All we could do was sit on the grass and watch our work, love and dreams go up in smoke. Ballineen Gardai are investigating
Thomas and Ulrike’s house wasn’t touched, thank heaven. We are all in the deepest mouring, and shock. Not only have we spent almost 2 years actually building the house, but also a great deal of time prior to that securing the planning approval and getting the project up to a stage where we could even think of actually building. What happens now is all very uncertain. We are living day to day and hoping some light will illuminate a way through this darkness. We struggle to see how the work we have done over the past 5 years at The Hollies, all done with a motivation of helping out and trying to model a sustainable way forward for us all, could have so enraged someone that they felt they had to act this way. While we feel sure that in time we will be able to see the bigger picture, for now we just grieve.
We would like to thank everyone who has sent such kind words of support and affirmation. It has meant so much to us to hear how the house touched so many people, far more than we were, and will ever, be aware of.

August 2004

Since the last update we have had The Course Everyone Thinking About Building A Natural House Should Do First, which went very well.
Then, the following weekend, we hosted a four-day Masonry Stove building course, with Flemming Abrahamsson and his assistant Torben from Fornyetenergi in Denmark. We had 21 people from all over the country who came to do the course (many more who wanted to do it were unable to get on the course), and it was a fascinating 4 days. We learnt how to build mass ovens from start to finish, and in the process built one for each house here. They are beautiful and are the real focal point of each house. Flemming and Torben were amazing, working flat out to ensure that everyone got to see every stage of the construction, answering questions all day long, and not even in their first language. Flemming regaled the course participants with many hilarious stories in his unique fashion (“very fine, very fine!”..). They told us repeatedly that they would get the stoves finished in the time, by the last night we had our doubts, but we kept going until 9pm. on the last day, and finished them. It had been a real marathon but it was great, thanks to everyone who came and to Flemming and Torben for their humour and professionalism.
Work has been going well with the houses, check out the newly updated Building Diary section for more details. We have been helped by some great WWOOFERs who have been really helpful and hardworking.
Finally, our recent planning application for permission to use our office (a renovated cow shed) as an office was approved at the start of the month. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare a planning application to be allowed to use your office as an office…oh well.

July 2004

A busy couple of months have seen good progress on the houses. Rob and Emma’s is now slated with the solar panels in place, and slating is going apace on Thomas and Ulrike’s. We had a very enjoyable Natural Building course here at the end of June, we worked more on the pizza hut, as it is becoming known (hopefully no copyright issues will arise!), which is now nearly complete. Needs a small bit more cob and then we can plaster it. Course participants got to experience cob mixing and building, earth plasters and clay straw, as well as building a very attractive new cob wall, all of which they took towith great enthusiasm.
Most of our time is now spent either working on the houses or preparing for courses. The Masonry Stove course is completely full, we have been amazed by the response. We just heard that Rob’s ‘Permaculture – Designing for Sustainability’ evening class at UCC has got the go-ahead for October

May 2004

We had a fantastic week with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley during their ‘Hand Sculpted House’ course here. They are a great inspiration to us all and the work that they do around the world is amazing. They arrived here on Friday 23rd April, and on the Saturday night delivered the final lecture in the Walnut Books Spring Lecture Series at Tigh Fili in Cork, to over 50 people. We are still (3 weeks later) having people emailing to say how much they enjoyed it.
Their course at The Hollies started the following day with around 18 people from as far afield as Estonia. The project for the course was to build an outdoor social space, complete with a clay pizza oven and a Rumford fireplace (an outdoor stove, enabling many people to sit around a fire without being constantly attacked by smoke fumes) and cob benches. The roof and the foundation were already in place before the course and so the bulk of the 6 days focussed on cob wall building. Linda and Ianto’s approach to mixing cob included an hour’s silent foot mixing every morning, very meditative and a completely new experience for many.
They also taught earth plasters, a new technique they have devised called ‘bale-cob’, corbelling, stove building and how to find clay in the landscape, as well as sessions on foundations, roofs and much more. For those doing the course it was an inspirational and transformative week, many were visibly moved in the end-of-course go-round. It radically challenged peoples’ ideas about what a house can be and how the shelter-making process can empower people. For us at The Hollies it was very touching to spend time with people who have been such an inspiration to us over the years, and to find, much to our surprise, that they found what we are doing here to be an inspiration to them. After a tour of our houses, Ianto said that the tour had made the whole trip worthwhile, and he had learnt a great deal. After the course was over and the participants returned home, we were very lucky to be able to spend some time with them looking at the houses we are building, getting their advice and input. One of the course students, Philip Beck, has collected the photos he took during the course and has posted them on the web, click here to view them. There are pictures of the course, as well as of bits and bobs around The Hollies, which you might find of interest.

February 2004
We also plan to have a Tree Planting Weekend, Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd February, where we will be planting one of the fields here with a mixture of red alder, hazel and possibly ash. The plan is to plant all the trees over the two days, so please do come along and give us a hand, we’ll give you lunch and a refreshing and welcoming day in the West Cork countryside.
ut the houses visit our updated Building Diary section.

September 2003
Rob’s course in Practical Sustainability has restarted in Kinsale, this year with 35 students! The new modules in organic growing taught by Paul O’Flynn are also proving to be very successful. The site at the college is starting to look lovely now, as herbs and shrubs begin to get established.

April 2003

After 2 weeks work, the foundations for the first house at The Hollies are nearly completed. Work will now begin on the foundations of the second house, the plans of which will be added to the site soon. The next major step will be the start of the cob work, due to begin on June 7th with Kevin McCabe’s cob building course.

On April 14th we launched, which is proving to be a great success and has attracted a lot of interest. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a cutting edge e-commerce site specialising in books and videos on all aspects of practical sustainability. It also features links and reviews, as well as a selection of articles.

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