Permaculture Introductory weekend Course design - Ashburton Futures phase

After all the preparation and marketing, only one person came forward to book onto the course, and she got in touch just after i had decided to cancel! However she was very keen, and thought she knew lots of other people who would be interested in coming on the course too. She was involved in a peak oil/climate change group called Ashburton Futures, which had about 50 members. I went to meet her, and we decided to run a course in the middle of May - she would advertise it in Ashburton, and get an Ashburton hall for the Saturday, and i would organise everything else. The Ashburton phase had begun.


I ran through my personal wants again -

I want to get experience teaching.

i want to get some income.

I want to share Permaculture.

I want to help people network their peak oil/climate change groups.

I want to help energise and empower local people to change their lives and surroundings for the better.

I want to create a network of people to spread sustainable living in South Devon.

I want Lionel (who was interested in Moreton course but unable to make the date) to learn about Pc.


I also debriefed the Moreton phase using the Plus Minus Interesting tool:




Done differently's

Got three names of people who'd like to do the course.

Made links with Ashburton Futures.

Got the idea and definition of Pc out into Moretonhampstead.

Got idea of level of interest in Moretonhampstead

Got myself and SCW known as an educational facility.

People will assume it actually happened!

Didnt run, so no cash for me or Aranya.

May lose deposit and come out £14 and lots of hours down.

'Local' word put off people not from Moreton?

Lionel wasn't sure if it would be relevant to him wanting to improve his house.

More marketing.

Not call it local

Say where we are going on site visits.

Do a taster not full weekend?


No aranya for co-teaching in May - My Diploma write up needs lots of my time in May - I need enough time to advertise it before it happens.


Other Pc teachers i know, local peak oil groups, my diploma accreditation event, ToT handouts, Tuckman group flow process, my contact in Ashburton - her keenness and local knowledge and contacts. I also have plants, planters, calendars and cds for sale,and all the stuff i had before for the first weekend:

Aranya, Proper Job and Steward Wood as venues/tour examples, Moreton Community Club as a venue, Transition Town Moreton, friends with houses in Moreton, past teaching sessions, SCW dwellers, ToT apprentices, convenors guide, PAB Teacher's guide, timetable from Aranya's weekend course, ToT learnings, diploma (write up the course as a non land based design).

Training Needs Assessment

As people book places on the course, i ask them what experience they have in permaculture and what they hope to get out of the course. Most of the people equate Permaculture with sustainable and clever gardening, and say they want to learn about that, most people have heard of Permaculture but do not know much about it and want to learn more.


Course content

Master patterns - using the principle of designing from patterns to details, i looked at the Tuckman group dynamics flow, and analysed the structure of Aranya's timetable. I condensed Aranya's structure to: Welcomes-what/why is PC-ethics- principles-design tools-PC in practice-PC in our lives-design course-site tour-practical-close. I then put Tuckman onto a mind map and fitted in my wild ideas and Aranyas course onto the flow skeleton. There were good parallels between Aranya's structure and Tuckman, and it also occurs to me that the SADI macro is also similar to Tuckman (Survey-Forming, Assess-Storming, Design-Norming, Implement-Performing)...

This process has given me a warning to leave time for discussions/arguments at the storming phase (ethics, principles, tours, videos) on both Saturday and Sunday, and to prepare my information for those sessions more thoroughly. (To get a more readable mindmap, click on the image). It has also given me more focus on the performing and adjourning elements, creating space for people to contribute, create and work out their support systems/next steps. It has given me an idea of the overall timetable, which will be similar to Aranya's, but with additions on the Sunday (local networking sessions and 2 site tours), and slightly different focuses thanks to the TNA i carried out.


One of the areas i will diverge from Aranya's timetable is in the area of Permaculture principles. This part of the course seems to me quite fundamental - it is the ethics and principles that set the context for what permaculture is - without them the techniques are actions which may or may not be appropriate. I see the ethics as the core of Permaculture, then the principles are next, followed by the techniques. Design flows from the ethics, through the principles and into the techniques, in another parallel to SADIM (Survey-Ethics, Assess-Principles, Design-Techniques).

As mentioned earlier I have personally been a bit confused about which principles come from where, and what they all are. I am most familiar with David Holmgren's recent, quite heady and academic set, but i am also aware of many other principles that float around, some derived from ecosystems, some attitudinal, some crystallized common sense. Aranya's principles section had seemed a bit theoretical and abstract, and the principles need to be ones i am comfortable with, that are easy to get across to people, and are immediately useful to the participants. They also need to be a limited number, to avoid overwhelming people.

From a bit of research on the Internet it seemed that the originators of Permaculture were similarly vague about the principles, and different versions seem to appear each time a new book is written. Oh well, diversity is one of the principles... I divided the wealth of principles into 2 categories - principles derived from ecosystems and attitudinal principles. I pulled out a shortlist of ones that met my criteria:

Attitudinal principles: Designs are information /imagination intensive, not labour intensive - The problem is the solution - Make the least change for greatest effect - Yield is theoretically unlimited - Start small and work out from well-managed areas.

Ecological principles: Relative location - Multiple function from each element - Multiple supply for important functions -Use biological/renewable resources and services - Maximise edge - Maximise diversity - Accelerate succession - Stacking - Harvest only sunshine - Catch and store energy

How many to use? Aranya teaches 11, other teachers 5 and 18. I feel Aranya's were a few too many, 5 feels too limiting, so somewhere between 5 and 10... I have 14 in my list. I'd like a mix of attitude and natural ones, with an emphasis on ones that will be useful for gardeners.

Attitudinal choices: Yield unlimited - Problem is solution - Least change for greatest effect - Start small.

Ecosystem choices: Multiple function - Multiple supply - Catch and store energy - Relative location - Stacking.

This gives me 9 principles to present on the saturday, over maybe 2 sessions, and then i reinforce during the rest of the course. I can also get participants to present and describe some that they know, if time is available for that. I will present each principle with examples from land based and non-land based systems, and invite people to suggest their own examples, to help them teach the session and help them understand and own the principles, getting across the idea that there is no one set of definitive principles. I can do a handout of all the principles i have come across if they like. I will refer back to these principles all through the course once they have been introduced.

I made a mind map of all my chosen principles, linking each one to examples from the natural world, gardening, non-land based designs and system analysis. This mind map is a useful tool for the session itself, and for future teaching sessions, and i may print it and stick it up in the compost loo, in a spate of multiple functioning. I will use it as my session plan for the principles session, with the addition of some timings.

Gardening - After the TNA survey, i felt a bit insecure about my knowledge of gardening and what i can pass on, and i thought it clashed a bit with my objective of broadening PC into non-land based areas. So i looked at what i actually do know about PC gardening, and how i can bring this into the course more. There are lots of opportunities to talk about gardening at SCW and the house, and maybe in a street or garden at Ashburton on the Saturday.. I ran through a list of ways i use Permaculture in gardening myself:

Guilds, mulching, keyhole beds, no compacting, forest gardening, perennials, zoning, choosing what you grow carefully (something you will want to eat or look at, choose the easiest to grow, be kind to yourself if starting for first time), start small and well managed, mulch longer term beds, choose space and time heavy/labour light plants for those zones, low maintenance vegetables, long storing vegetables, continual harvest and high maintenance plants close to kitchen/eating areas.

After this list i felt relieved and able to pass on some useful gardening tips to the course participants. And even if they knew all the techniques already, i can remind them of the underlying principles and share my experiences with the various techniques. A fair amount of time on the tours should be devoted to the PC intricacies of the SCW growing area.


Sunday Scheduling

I used a form of the McHarg exclusion technique to work out the schedule of sessions on the Sunday. I made a list of all the sessions i wanted to run, and the time available, and looked at when i couldn't run each session, or set of sessions:

I have 6 hours to use.

Definite sessions - SCW tour (2 hours long), lunch (1 hour long), where now session (30mins), tea break (30 mins) = 4 hours

Possible sessions (2 hours left) - practical (1 hour), Proper Job tour (1 hour), house tour (30 mins), travel to house - 20mins), travel to Proper Job (40mins).

In terms of exclusion, lunch has to be sometime between 12 and 2 pm, the travel has to come before the travelled to sessions. The where now session is best at the end. Lunch shouldn't be followed by too sedentary a session, nor one that is too strenuous. I have a strong intuition to do the tour of Steward Wood first thingl. I only have enough time to do either the house visit or the Proper Job tour in the afternoon. The lunch and tea break and 'where now' session all need a warm sheltered space in case of rain, or alternate plans in case it is cold and raining. The house will not offer these things if there is a group of more than 5 of us. To keep the house a possibility, i need to have 2 alternate plans - for good and bad weather. The practical may also become impractical if its tipping it down... The practical cannot happen after leaving SCW for tours, so it must happen directly after lunch. The red words are the plans created through the exclusion technique.



must happen here

cannot happen here

can happen here


SCW tour


proper job travel and tour,

house travel and tour


SCW tour

proper job travel and tour ,

house travel and tour,




proper job travel and tour ,

house travel and tour,






practical if its raining

proper job travel and tour ,

house travel and tour






house travel and tour if its raining

proper job travel and tour,

house travel and tour


where now and closing


proper job travel and tour,

house travel and tour

So this created my timetable for sunday. I decided to let the weather and the participants decide whether they want to do either Proper Job or the practical and the house visit. This means i have to prep both sessions, but they should be relatively straight forward, and good to add to my toolkit of session preps for future courses anyway.


Saturday Scheduling

I quickly reread all the advice i had on teaching and session planning from the ToT course, the Permaculture Teachers Guide and then combined the sessions i wanted to do (from my wild ideas), with Aranya's time allocations for sessions and drew out the sessions pattern from the Tuckman flow. Amazingly, when i had all the sessions i wanted laid out in order, with approximate timings, i was only half an hour over time! So i shaved a little off some of the more generous allocations, and came in perfectIy ending at 5pm. The final timetable and mind map session guides can all be seen on the Final Design page.