Permaculture Introductory weekend Course design - Implementation



One limiting factor i had not taken enough account of was the lack of electricity at Steward Wood, and having prepared all my mind map session guides and handouts, i found i had to cycle a long way in the rain to a friend's house to get them printed. I also couldn't test the projector until an hour before the course, as that was too heavy to take on my bicycle. But i finally got all the sheets printed on the Friday evening, after a fair amount of stress and what felt like wasted time. The bike ride was a good way to get some exercise and fresh air however - things i had been increasingly foregoing while getting the course prepared and working on my diploma accreditation.


The couse assistant and i arrived at the venue in good time, and set up the room. People started arriving early on, and the assistant welcomed them, took their money and pointed them at the kettle or the table covered in Permaculture magazines and books. As people came mostly from Ashburton, a lot of them knew each other, so they were quickly bonded and chatting, while i continued to struggle with getting the projector to work... It did eventually work, although the room was bright and had no curtains so the picture was quite faint. I was amused when the last participant turned up at the predicted 10.20, and pleased that my timetable had allowed for this eventuality. The other people were talking to each other and leafing through books, so i called them over. We then sat in a circle and began the course.

The first session felt great, i had decided to tell people that it was my first course, and this vulnerability and realness seemed to bring rich rewards. We all introduced each other,and it turned out half the group had grown up in Surrey - 5 out of the 10 people, including me... There was laughter and a feeling of safety created very early on. I ran through the domestics and course overview, and then we launched into the web of life game. This went very well, except the signs we hung around our necks (indicating that we were a stream, a fox, funghi, a tree etc) were a bit awkward because the string wasn't long enough and the signs were too big, but the web of string connecting us all looked beautiful as it span out and around the circle, and then it was very striking and sad as it dropped away when we polluted or wiped out various parts of the web.

The Permculture overview session passed okay, and then we moved into the ethics session, which also went fairly smoothly. I realised that for all my talk of wanting it to be participatory and valuing their contributions, i hadn't timetabled them in! and we started to go over time as they discussed the ecological positives and negatives of computers...

After this we analysed the two different systems of tea making - industrial and permacultural. I had planned to use the projector to shine up Graham Burnett's drawings of these systems, but it was too bright and too much effort in the end, so i fell back on drawing it onto the flip chart myself and using my print out of his diagrams (i had prepared for a projectorless course too... multiple supply). This went okay as well, and people then started saying that they were actually very ready for a cup of tea themselves.

We then had the tea break. Which i spent busily prepping something to do with the next sessions rather than having a break myself.

After the break it was the first of the principles sessions - principles derived from nature. The session was good, although they rarely guessed the principles from the rather abstruse icons, apart from David Holmgren's sunshine in a bottle icon. I stressed the systems analysis implications of each principle, and how they could be used for any system, not just gardening. Then we crowded around the projector screen to watch a washed out 80's video of permaculture as applied to gardening, which i was able to stop at the point i wanted, and ensure that lunch happened on time! I hadn't seen the video myself before, as i hadn't had access to the hard drive it was on until the night before the course, so i was taking a bit of a gamble, but it went okay, and it also introduced zoning and various applications of the principles for people.

We all ate lunch outside in a zen-type peace garden, as it was warmer outside than inside (i had been warned about this and had told people to bring an extra layer). I suggested doing the next few sessions outside too, which people agreed to. The handchain game was over quickly, perhaps too quickly to fully energise people who did look a bit sleepy in the next sessions.

So I tied down the flip chart stand, taped the paper onto the stand (it was windy), dragged people away from watching baby spiders in a bush, and introduced them to 5 of the attitudinal principles of permaculture. I had planned to do 4, but there was extra time, so i threw in 'Permaculture is information and design intensive not labour intensive' for free, and we had fun collectively making up an icon on the spot for this principle (a big head with hovering energy efficient light bulb next to a small shovel).

After this we were theoretically into the norming stage, with its fun free-running, brick-in-your-toilet-cistern music video. But it felt too nice outside, and the projector quality would have been even worse since it was now sunny and bright, so i cut that from the program, suggested they move around the garden a little as an energising break (some of them had been lying disturbingly still on the grass durng the second principles session, with their heads facing down...) and then ran through the design tools session. This was well received, although it felt a little unprepared on my side.

Next came the design for real floor exercise, but i had not yet made all the icons for this - having planned to do it during the lunch break I then actually needed a break and also had to go off and buy some food. The course assistant had prepared some during the hand chain game, but there were still a lot to do. I suggested that the participants make the remaining cards up themselves while i laid out the string zone markers and placed the immovable sectors icons (prevailing wind, south, road, ugly view etc). They seemed to enjoy this a lot, having a creative break from the learning i suppose. Then we all played around working out possible placements and designs among the zones on the floor.

The rest of the sessions went well, the permaculture in our lives provoked a lot of discussion again, and fortunately i had overestimated how long it would take to plan the arrangements for Sunday, so we got back on time after that. There was a big groan when i mentioned feedback in the last session, and then they all said very nice things about me and the course so far. One person then suggested a closing event too, so we all held hands and stood in silence for a few minutes, before ending a few minutes early!

I then put on some Ennio Morricone spaghetti western music and slowly packed away, feeling epic and very happy with how it had gone.


I awoke several times to the sound of rain on Sunday morning. Heavy rain such as had been notably absent all through April. The paths were awash and i hoped people had taken heed of my suggestion that they bring stout shoes or wellies. One person called to say she wasn't coming as she wasn't good in the rain. I revised a few things on the timetable to deal with this rain, and thanked John and Daz for building a new shelter in the growing area a few days before (to collect water originally, but quickly developing many other functions like keeping cardboard, straw, tools and now course participants relatively dry and sheltered). I would do a lot of talking under the shelter, a quick tour of the growing beds, then we'd have a tea break in the warm kitchen.

Another person phoned up who hadn't been there on the Saturday, and i realised i hadn't organised her a place in the transport planning session, so i apologised and gave her some phone numbers to ring. I lit the kitchen rayburn and tidied up a little, put kettles on and headed down to start the day. In an amusing contrast to saturday's large collection of beautiful printed mind map session preps, today i had some writing on the back of an envelope for the whole day - a list of the principles to remind me of what to remind people, timings and locations for the tours, and materials needed. It worked fine, and fitted easily in my pocket, which kept it out of the rain.

Everyone arrived on time, and we walked up to the growing area, got under the shelter and went through some of the techniques at work, including the new water collection roof, which had collected 400 litres in 4 days! An excellent example of stacking, catching and storing energy, multiple supply, multiple function, design not labour intensive and yield is unlimited, which made my job of pointing out principles in practice verysimple, and quite dry. We wandered out in the rain to explore the comfrey patch where we recycle humanure, and the perennial vegetable beds, and the squash bed where i am combining squash growing with bramble clearance this year.

Then we damply repaired to the kitchen, for tea and the story of how we got the Steward Community Woodland project together. It stopped raining as we stepped inside... It was a long tea break, and some people ate their lunch. We then looked at the compost loo, a few dwellings and the communal spaces, before stopping again for lunch. I worried that i was the only one eating at this point, as most people had eaten during the earlier break, but lively discussions raged around the firepit anyway. I had decided earlier to cut the practical, so we then headed off to Proper Job for the afternoon. I realised in the car i was actually really tired, and hadn't done any learning reviewing yet - which i know is an important tool in learning new information - to be reminded of it a day later, then a week, then a month, then a year, means that the neural pathways stay clear and accessible for you, and it is easy to remember the information.

We arrived at Proper Job, and i ran through a brief review of saturday's sessions, recalling each session in turn and asking people to call out the principles, ethics, design tools etc to jog their memories. People remembered the principles by the pictures i drew first, and then the principles themselves, which i found very interesting. I then gave them a history of Proper Job, and explained all the different areas in which we recycled and resold things (community composting, second hand clothes/ furniture/building materials/tools/books and films, green shop etc). I then let them wander around and look at things by themselves, and bring any purchases they wanted to me for pricing up and selling.

After this informal (and for Proper Job, lucrative) half hour, we reconvened outside in the sunshine for the closing session. I was feeling very tired by this point, and i didn't facilitate very well here. We discussed whether and how people would like to stay connected after the course, and exchanged phone numbers, and a few projects were flagged up. I then initiated a closing round of sharing a moment you found inspiring from the course, and an offer and a request that may be useful to other members of the group. I figured this was a good way of reminding people of parts of the course again, as well as letting me know what went well on the course. People were a bit unspecific, but i got lots of nurturing and lovely feedback about how much they had appreciated the course, and a few offers and requests were voiced. A buzzard soared overhead at one point, in an effortless and striking spiritual omen of something or other. We then stood in a circle and held hands. I thanked them, and the course ended with a group of tired inspired people standing together in the sunshine, honouring each other and our shared time together.

Packing down and reviewing

As they were leaving i managed to get a few bits of constructive feedback out of them, then i locked up, danced around the yard in joy for a bit, and headed off to a reservoir with my lovely course assistant for more dancing around, swimming, beer drinking and unwinding. I wrote down review thoughts as they came to me that night, and did a proactive session the following morning. As i have been writing this page i have also been using it as a way of reviewing as well, noting down my personal feedback and done differentlies as i go along.


I kept a record of the hours i spent working on this course: I spent 41 hours in total preparing, convening and designing the course. The course itself was 15 hours work, and i have spent 4 hours reviewing it. That's 60 hours in total.

The course was priced at £25-£40 (self assessed sliding scale), and it brought in £265. The Saturday venue cost £45, and the materials and travel about £10, so i earned £210. £20 of this i will donate to Ashburton Futures to support them and reward them for their help in advertising and convening the course. The rest i will keep as wages for myself - £190. Thats £3.16 an hour for me alongside: the teaching and convening experience; a design i can use in my portfolio and a two day introductory course design (timetable, session guides, debrief and course materials) that i can use to help me prepare the next one.

To the lessons learnt and done differentlies page