Rock Farm Residency, West Sussex, UK

A 6 week residency showcasing permaculture design, natural building, mindfulness practices and appropriate technology

Rock Farm, uniquely is a Horticulture Therapy Space as well as and being a productive Market Garden. It provides a radically inclusive safe space for people for from all backgrounds, experiences and challenges to get hands on! For that ever needed nature based therapy. At the same time it has productive yield and output of fruit, veg  salads, nuts and herbs it also provides a refuge space in nature for many of ages and backgrounds. In permaculture style, the farm has mix of some purpose planted annuals and perennials, as well as some forged nuts and salads from wilder parts. The Farm showcases the key three ethics of permaculture: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. With A staff member focusing on each part, Ali, Amber and Ben.

SAWA co-created the six week residency bringing together an broad team of residential and day visiting volunteers from a range of backgrounds. To showcase and learn how we can thrive with nature rather destroy it. As well as showing how we can create harmonious, nurturing and regenerative relationship within our communities and environments. Over the six weeks we took on various projects: Solar seed cain, compost heated shower and loo, pond and swale, community kitchen, pop up classroom meditation tent, planted some fruit tree guilds and made biochar and lots more compost!

The Solar Seed Cabin

Also known as ‘The Germination Station’ or ‘The Seed Store’, was the key build during the residency. This structure was designed to passively germinate and grow seedlings in winter. The passive solar design, employs design techniques to naturally harness and store the heat from the sun, with carefully positioned south facing glazing and adobe earth walls. The solar energy is trapped inside the the building by the greenhouse effect and stored in the earth blocks to be reradiated slowly through the night. The structure is made of a combination of natural, donated, foraged and recycled materials, such as wooden palettes, clay dug from site, wheat straw from local farmer and reclaimed glazing and polycarbonate.

The foundations, well there were none, the build sits of old donated beach groins on levelled ground and inch of gravel. The suspended floor made of reclaimed scaffold planks span between the groins. The timber frame structure reused a timber frame from a previous structure and harvested goat willow for columns, beams and braces.  The timber frame was infilled with reclaimed pallets from near by business units for the external face of the walls, an earth block wall made the internal face of the wall with slip straw infilled the gaps between pallets. For a cosy thermal mass to retain heat in the store. The south facing elevation is made of recycled double glassed units in timber frames, the roof is a mixture of reclaimed and new ploy-carbonate. The back window at high level makes for an openable vent during summer to control the temperature.

Friday Course Days

Throughout the six residency, we conducted five Friday course days to teach permaculture. Focusing and theming each day on The Five Elements: Fire, Earth, Wind, Water and Spirit! Each week seeing with new eyes the same site but with a new awareness of the cycles and processes of how energy and matter is moving through the landscape. These workshops directly related to the objectives of the farm and propelled the design and construction process forward at the same time.

Swale and Pond Design 

Water is life, we must relearn indigenous wisdom + knowledge of how work with water across the landscape. Harsh modern methods of trapping water in concrete drains and pipes and septic tanks create unhealthy cultures of water. Water retention is crucial for plant health and productivity. What better way to store water than in plants and in the land. The more water we can catch and store on the land the more life we can create. We designed and built a swale and a pond, to catch excess run off from across the site. The excavation of earth from the pond had a dual purpose: positive asset of clay for adobe brick fabrication, and negative asset of a whole for the pond and connecting swale.

Swales are a great example of lazy permaculture, with minimal interventions we can create opportunity for so much. See diagrams, the swale’s provides a range of habits for plants. in the ditch we have water loving nutrient loving comfrey and pumpkins can grow. On top fo the mound we can plant fruit trees like Apples, Cherries, Crabapples, Sea buckthorn, whose roots can grow deep to hold soil structure and exchange nutrients and water. While creating shade for the understory of lower lying shrubs and bushes such as soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries have be interplanted with these rose hips for mutual beneficial companion planting.

A ‘Permaculture’ Shower

The site needed a shower for the campers/ caretakers of the site. With a cold shower not being ideal in the ever-changing British weather, we once again turned to permaculture technologies to design a environmentally friendly hot shower unit for the residents to build and enjoy the use of.

The water is heated by a compost heater: a system that captures the heat generated from the decomposition of biomass by running water pipes directed through the compost pile. The Jean Pain method. Therefore, while you’re making your compost for the future, it is already working for you in heating your water. Two birds, one stone.

Circus  Tent (pop up classroom)

The Circus Tent stood as a key space to gather each day, offering shelter from the sun, wind and rain. This temporary structure made from an old parachute tent top, wood chip floor and  straw bale walls. The straw bales were slowly removed and used for slip straw, cobb and adobe brick making, they are an excellent, configurable seat and wall build up for an amphitheatre-like arrangement.

Community Kitchen

Eating together, and daily ritual which we realise are connection with the web of life and give thanks fro the fungi, plants, animals, micro-organism and soil minerals and biology for creating the health and nutrition form which we benefit.

Biochar Production 

What is Biochar? Biochar is a made from plant (bio) materials that have been heated in the absence of oxygen – a process called ‘pyrolysis’ or ‘charring’. Charring wood to make charcoal fuel and using horticultural charcoal have long histories. The term biochar has been adopted to specify a material designed to improve soil and hence plant growth. But, biochar also describes production using sustainable methods and resources, ie a material that helps mitigate climate change.

Why use biochar? When the right type of biochar is added to soil and compost, it can dramatically improve:Water retention, Nutrient supply to roots, Nutrient losses due to ‘run-of’ and Support for microbes and mycorrhizal fungi.

Tom of the Old Tree Brewery and The Compost Club showed us two great methods of making Biochar. Top Lit Up draft TLUD and the hanging barrel method. This became an integral part of the evening heating and gatherings outside during the residency. We then used the Biochar for the farm compost and added ground biochar to the plaster mixes to help stabilise them further.

A Fruit Tree Guild

We created, designed and built a fig tree guild on ‘The Wind’ course day. Head Grower Ali, and Farm Manger Ben, conceived than design. Showing how plants can be planted in companionship and relationship with each other. Fig Tree as the over story, bulbs planted in the drip line of the of the fully grown tree. Each plant provides a range of complex symbiotic functions from insect pollinators, insect repellers, ground cover, nitrogen fixers, green manures and  habitats creators.



Build Cost



14th October - 24th November 2020


Co-Designer, Teacher and Self Builder