Annex: initial invite email

Title: London Permaculture Diploma Peer Review Guild
Date: 04/12/2012
To: as many London Diploma folk as email’s I had
Hi London diploma people,

A few of us were at the National Diploma gathering at the weekend in Birmingham which was fun and inspring!  There was a talk from Richard Perkins (a diploma tutor) about his more supported approach to working with his diploma apprentices.  Those of us who attended the talk thought some elements of what they are doing might be really useful things that we could do in London toprovide ourselves with more support on our diploma journeys.

So we propose a trial peer review guild to test out some of the ideas and see if they could work.  This is different to the action learning guilds that some of us have been involved in (using the 4 questions) in that there is more commitment from those in the group and those in the group provide eachother with more support.

If you want to be part of this trial peer review guild then please let me know.  If the timing outlined below doesn’t work for you now but you would like to be involved in the future (assuming a successful trial) then also get in touch and I will include you on future emails!  If you just want to join the action learning guild in January and not be part of the the peer review guild that’s also fine!

Diploma Peer Review Guild: Trial

A group of us attended Richard Perkins talk about a more supported tutor/apprentice approach to doing your diploma.  He is working with a group of 8 apprentices; they produce one design every 10 weeks and then have a 2 week period to do a peer review of one design of one of the other 8.  There were some of his apprentices at the talk.  For me there were three key things that came out of the work this group have been doing:

  1. Agreed and shared deadlines to produce a project design report by.
  2. Peer review of your project report
  3. A commitment to the group that each person will produce a project design for their portfolio by the agreed shared deadline

Reasons why I think this is important:

  1. It will make me accountable to you my peer review guild to complete a design by a certain date – it will make me get on with my diploma.  I have not been very good at sticking to my own self imposed deadlines so far so I really think this will help me.
  2. I will learn a lot more about your project and how you design by reviewing what you have done than I will ever learn just from hearing the 4 questions in the action learning guild.
  3. I will get your feedback about my project/design and so will be able to tweak it before I submit it to my tutor so I will be more confident in what I have done
  4. We will learn together about how we apply the critieria and will be better designers because of the cycle of feedback.

How the trial will work:

  1. 4 Dec 2012: begin a new design project or begin to write up a project that you have been working on.
  2. Action Learning Guild meeting in first week of Jan, 7, 9 or 10 Jan at the Southbank Centre.
  3. Complete a project report for your design by 31 Jan 2013. This might be one you have already completed, or it might be a new one that you are starting now – you choose.
  4. 1 Feb – 14 Feb is peer review period.  During this time you will spend approx 2 hours reviewing one project report from one other person in the guild and fill in the template for peer review feedback used by Richard’s group (template attached).  If your work is digital then you just need to make it available to your reviewer (email/website) if its offline you will co-ordinate with your reviewer how to get your information to them.
  5. 3rd week in Feb – peer review guild meeting at the Southbank Centre.  We’ll meet up and discuss how the process went, whether we think it is useful – if we think it’s worth doing we will design a programme for the rest of the year to do a number of design/peer review cycles (to be agreed once we have done the process once).  The idea is that you don’t review the same persons work each time and you have someone different looking at yours each time too – more diversity for learning and feedback.

What to do if you are interested?

  1. Start working up your designs
  2. Tell me that you want to be part of the process – I will then draw up a matrix of peer reviews so that we each have one review to do and we know who’s work we are going to review.
  3. Come along to the action learning guild in early Jan if you want to.  Tell me which dates work best for you
  4. Complete your design by 31 Jan 2013
  5. Make your work available to your reviewer
  6. Allow a couple of hours during the review period to do a review for someone else.
  7. Come along to the peer review guild meeting in feb and review the process.

I’m really excited about this!  Its a whole new phase in getting on with my diploma.

Liz (and Seema and Ruth R)

PS – I’ve tried to harvest as many email addresses as I could find – but feel free to pass on to other diploma apprentices you know who I’ve missed.

Here is the attachment to the email – the peer review template form

Presentation & Organization of Project Report Editing, shape, size How does it read, length, style etc. Are the right things included/excluded?

Mix of media, genres and styles How does it hand together, is it interesting in a range of ways in terms of how it is presented?

Management of Output Time management, delivery of the project report

Design Skills

Look at what design skills are presented

Action learning skills (for Project and Project Report) Concrete Experience (Awareness in action)

Reflective Observation (Appraisal of action outcomes) Active Experimentation (Use of piloting and trials)





Contribution to knowledge commons

For examples of other peer reviews check out these websites:


Outdoor playgroup


I would like to take my daughter into the woods/nature with some other young children on a regular basis (at least once/week) for free play in my local area.

This design began in Oct 2014 (although had been an idea prior to that), I intend to implement this project in August/September 2015.


About groups playing in nature

  • It goes without saying that I get why and how important it is for Teasel to be outside in nature (and for me too).
  • Through research I know of the following groups that offer children’s outdoor play in the area:
    • Nature Play Richmond Park – self organised, free group for parents with toddlers, a small gentle walk followed by picnic and free play in the park. This is great, I love attending, but I drive or take a long bus journey to get there, logistically it is not ideal.
    • Forest School on Wimbledon Common – paid activity (£10/session) I attended 4 sessions, led group of toddlers walking in the woods, woodland activities. This is good, not as much free play time as I would like, too much adult intervention resulting from it being led by an expert and parents not all understanding when and how they can and should stand back, some of the activities have been good.  It is expensive and also a drive away.
    • Natural Childhood in Streatham – have researched but never attended (it’s too far away).  Weekly child led play in a local park
  • There is nothing in the local area that I could walk/cycle to or get to on a short bus ride
  • Nurture in Nature – I heard a talk from a permie person about a playgroup in Glasgow called Nurture in Nature, the premise was similar to Nature Play, the difference was that there was no compulsory walk and the group met at a different park each week.

About me

  • I take Teasel out most days, but we are more likely to spend longer and have more fun if there are others with us. I like to take her where there are other kids sometimes and they are more likely to be in playgrounds than out and about in the park
  • I will go to Nature Play whatever the weather, if the weather is poor and it’s just me I won’t always take Teasel out.
  • It’s easy for a few days of the week to pass without nature time because of other activities and general busyness
  • I enjoy regularly returning to the same woodland location and being there as the seasons change. I also enjoy discovering new places.

About toddlers locally

  • There are LOTS of mums locally with many and varied interests (as witnessed at a recent ‘meet more mums’ event and just from living here). It is likely that there will be some who are interested in their children playing in nature in the way that I am.




  • I would like the physical boundaries of this design to be within cycle/simple bus distance of my house.


  • I would like to have a playgroup set up and running in the autumn.  There is a time challenge with the summer holidays (meaning that I am not available in July and early August), so aim to implement in September.


  • My knowledge of forest schools (a little, would love to learn more); knowledge gained from volunteering for about 6 sessions with 3-5 year olds a couple of years ago, talking to a good friend Ruth who ran a forest school, attending 4 sessions on Wimbledon Common with Teasel
  • Local nature spaces: parks, nature reserves, the river Thames, cemeteries
  • My enthusiasm and passion for being outside with kids
  • My ability to set up a website
  • Friend who is a graphic designer who offered to design some marketing materials


I did an input output analysis of what a successful outdoor playgroup should be like.  This helped to identify functions, elements and yields.

Input output analysis
Input output analysis

Identify Functions

  • Group and group culture
  • Play in nature – child nature time
  • Adult nature time

Identify systems and elements

Elements of this design are

  • Me with two roles; parent and organiser
  • Teasel
  • Other children
  • Other parents
  • Other organisers
  • Means of communication i.e. website/facebook
  • Local parks
  • Logistics (where/when)

I drew a web of connections (shown below) looking at these elements, this helped me to identify yields (in red) that could be achieved if I could link the elements to form a system, this tool reinforced my input output analysis in terms of yields.

Web of connections - yeilds in red
Web of connections


Potential yields (yield of a system is theoretically unlimited) identified through the web of connections and i-o analysis.

  • Friendships (adults and children)
  • Learn, experience and share parenting approaches
  • Find new and interesting green spaces
  • Older and younger children playing together
  • Make me take Teasel out even on wet cold days
  • I could learn more/new/different forest school type activities

I then tied together potential yields and functions and mapped them against the elements, this helped to demonstrate how most of my functions and yields are mapped with the adults and children of the group, which is as it should be for this to work successfully.

Map of elements and functions/yields
Map of elements and functions/yields

Through this brainstorming of functions and elements, I think I have a number of systems that could meet the brief:

  1. Carry on taking Teasel to the park by myself, and just go to Nature Play in Richmond
  2. Talk to existing friends and start a regular group among people I know.
  3. Start a group and publicise more widely than my own personal network.  As I have noted in my observations there are many different models that I could base this option on (Nature Play, Nurture in Nature, Forest School being the ones I know) .

I decided to do a little wild design/ideas brainstorm at this stage to see if there were any other systems I hadn’t yet thought of as shown in the following plan.  Whilst this didn’t yield any new systems it did give me a couple of potential ideas to incorporate into system 2 or 3 (crafts, day trips and singing).

Wild design ideas
Wild design ideas

To begin with I took my three possible systems and looked at a SWOC analysis for each.

Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Constraints
1 I can be flexible on when and where I go I don’t achieve the goal of Teasel playing with other children.Going to Richmond is still to far I could invite friends along when I do go rather than going on my own I worry that with the next baby getting to Richmond Park is going to be really hard, so it would be good to have something more local
2 Would achieve my goal of Teasel playing in nature with others, and all the yields outlined above. I have sort of already tested this option in Nov/Dec 2014 when I met a couple of mum’s at Nature Play in Richmond Park and tried to set up a more local regular meet up, it didn’t continue because there were too few people involved (just 3) and the location we chose was still a drive away and not logistically brilliant for me.   I therefore need to reach a wider group of mums. Using existing networks would likely draw others in I don’t know that many people.
3 Would achieve my goal of Teasel playing in nature with others, and all the yields outlined above. I would feel like I have to go every week, which could become a burden.It will take time for me to organise it.I am not very good at marketing and publicity. I could set up a ‘Nature Play’ group as there is a sort of mini brand associated with this.There is an opportunity to discover more local places and parks that I don’t know about yet.Other people might step forward to get involved – suggesting new play spaces, helping to organise (I don’t know until I try). I feel like there isn’t an obvious local place (in the manner of Richmond Park or Wimbledon Common which are amazing natural spaces).  The local parks feel a bit nature-less sometimes.If I set something up I worry that I won’t be able to keep it going once the next baby arrives.

Having worked through a SWOC analysis of the options it feels like option 3 is the way forward as it is more likely to be successful than option 2, option 1 will not achieve my goal.  There are a number of constraints around this option which I need to look at in more detail, there are also a number of different ways to design option 3.


At this stage I considered the ethics to help to develop the design further:

Earth Care

  • Allow kids and adults to enjoy nature, to appreciate our local parks and hopefully to grow up aware of the need for earth care
  • Make locations public transport accessible to reduce emissions of people travelling (also local parks people tend to walk to which is good!)

People Care

  • Make sure the kids and adults are looked after – be clear about dressing appropriately, food, sleep, leaving when you need to
  • I don’t want this to be my group, I don’t want to be the ‘leader’, I just want to be a co-ordinator of logistics, there should be no ‘leader’
  • Make sure that communications are clear, people know where and when to meet and can easily find the group if there is a problem.
  • Start on time – but allow provision for latecomers
  • Session should be appropriate to the age group, two hours tends to work for other similar groups use this to start with but make it open ended and flexible for people to leave when they need to

Fair shares

  • Needs to be free so anyone can join
  • Need to be able to get to the location by public transport easily and potential for car parking to make it accessible to all
  • No toys – so that kids can just play in nature, but also so that there isn’t jealousy and desires to play with toys created all the kids are on a level playing field

There are 2 key questions to enable the design to progress, what is the format of the playgroup and where does it take place?  I looked at a PMI of each of these questions to help with the decision making process.

What is the format?

I know of three successful formats;

  1. Nature Play (or Natural Childhood); meet at the same location each week allow children to play.  Nature Play includes an obligatory short walk, natural childhood doesn’t
  2. Nurture in Nature; meet at different local parks each week allow children to play
  3. Forest School; a led activity (usually paid for) with a few more props/activities provided than the two above but (done properly) these should enhance children’s play, sometimes but not always in a very clearly defined space in the woods
PMI of three formats
PMI of three formats

Having done the PMI analysis I can see that there are elements of each of these formats that would be good to include in my playgroup design including ritual, activities (sometimes but not all the time) and I am drawn to holding the group in the same location each week rather than a different one, but I am reserved about this as there is not an obvious local park.

During the observation phase of my design I considered and ruled out training as a forest school leader and set myself up as a forest school provider.  I ruled it out because I don’t have time to do the training right now, I also would be concerned (as mentioned in my ethics analysis) that it would become ‘my’ group and would burden me with planning and organising in a way that I don’t currently have time for.  It feels like FS is a paid activity, I would have to be careful about offering it for free not to undermine the work of other providers, or I would perhaps like to charge but this would not be in line with this design.  I would still love to train as a forest school leader as and when I have the time to do it, and potentially to offer forest school as a free activity – this is for a future design!

So on to the next question

Where could it take place?

I identified all of the local parks that I know of that might be possible and again looked at a PMI of each of them in turn as venues for an outdoor playgroup.

PMI of local parks
PMI of local parks

The analysis confirms my gut instinct that there isn’t an obvious choice, which leads me to think that a Nurture in Nature model rotating around local spaces might be better to start with until I have observed how children engage with each of the spaces.

I don’t feel like I am getting towards design answers yet so I need to consider some more design tools to see if they can help.


I looked at how patterns can influence this design in the following chart:

Patterns analysis
Patterns analysis

This raised some interesting points:

  • Spiral (it will start small and grow, ideally in a spiral of growth). I need to communicate more with the Nature Play organisers, how did they do it, how did they start?
  • Scatter – the lack of decent local park which I see as a constraint perhaps has a benefit as adopting a scatter approach to visiting different local parks each week could draw in more people to the group who will be able to attend at their local park.
  • Wave – the ebb and flow of energy, led me to think of food and snack time and the joy of sharing snacks at Nature Play, this is an important part of the group and helps to hold it together, therefore shared snack time needs to be included.


I looked at the principles and considered how different principles apply to the design.

  • Using biologcal resources:
    • No toys, only play with stuff in the woods – I will need some rules/guidelines for the website (e.g. free, no toys, what to wear)
  • Use and value diversity:
    • Where I do promotion is important as I want to attract and encourage a diverse range of kids/parents; it is pretty  white middle class around here
  • Integrate rather than segregate
    • I want to try and get different aged kids involved – so perhaps need to consider what time of day is best.  Toddler activities are good in the morning, but to get older siblings to come would need to be afternoons.  Having said that to get toddlers in the first place mornings tend to be the best time, and toddlers covers a broad age range babies up to school age.
    • This activity is about adults and children integrating together to achieve the benefits of nature time
  • Observe and interact:
    • this is fundamental to allowing child led free play to happen, need to make this clear and allow it to happen.
    • I have to start something and observe how it goes before the design is ever fully finished
  • Catch and store energy
    • It needs to be free with as few barriers as possible so that we can catch the energy of anyone who is interested
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback
    • I will need to monitor and adapt the system as the group evolves and allow for flexibility
  • Stacking
    • This playgroup will allow me to stack nature time, play time and making friends in the one activity

As a result of this work I have been able to clarify the design

  • Where does it happen?  I will adopt a rotating park approach for the first month and then observe how that works and decide at that point whether or not to make it fixed.  We will start at Fishponds as this is one of the better choices.  I will make a schedule for the first month to be included in the publicity materials
  • What happens during the session? just arrive and let play happen; adults can find somewhere to sit in the summer and move and walk or sit in the winter weather dependent, hold a group snack time.  I will take some forest school ideas that I like and test them out occasionally with the group
  • How long is the session? 2 hours but open ended
  • When is the session? mornings seem to work best for people – Friday’s work for me; 10am on Fridays
  • How do I communicate about it? Set up a facebook page, link to other local groups (e.g. meet more mums, yourtot),  make posters for the local parks and possibly for the library
  • How do I set a group culture?  Rules/guidelines on the website (look at again/use the Nature Play guidelines), allow free play to happen


The design work has enabled me to clarify what I am going to do.  I am going to start this outdoor playgroup in September, as many people (including myself) will be away in July/August.  This gives me time to publicise and promote the group before it starts.  My implementation plan is as follows:

  • Make a poster (ask Cara to help with this) and facebook group. By 1 August
  • Set a start date (Friday 2 September)
  • Promote and publicise throughout August. Primarily on websites; meet more mums facebook, netmums, yourtot.  Also take the poster to surbiton, kingston and tolworth library to Gymboree, sunbeams, tiny talk, tiny tunes, on the poster boards at the parks.
  • Gather my forest school ideas and equipment together to take along (small and simple)
  • Attend on the first session!


The maintenance plan is as follows

  • If no one comes after a few sessions – review the marketing, do more/different promotion, don’t expect people to turn up in poor weather
  • Review which bits do and don’t work – ask the members of the group don’t just assume I know the answers to this question
  • Perhaps narrow the locations down to a couple or even one if there seems to be a favourite
  • Keep the communication on facebook regular and updated
  • Keep reading and learning about nature and forest school type activities



  • This has been a really useful process to allow me to clarify my thoughts about the type of outdoor play group that I would like to attend with Teasel. Going through the process at times seems laborious but it does reap benefits in terms of new ideas and insights that wouldn’t be gained unless the process was followed.
  • I’m pleased to have looked at patterns again, I find it interesting to consider a problem from a patterns perspective it really opens up new ways of thinking.
  • Having not implemented the design has enabled me to be much clearer in this design (than in some of my previous) about what my implementation plan actually is – this is a good thing!


  • It is harder to evaluate a design that has not been implemented yet.
  • There is a huge amount of uncertainty for me about whether or not anyone would actually come and therefore if the design is effective


  • If I had actually implemented this design I think that I may not have presented all of the design tools that I have used, I feel like I’ve used loads but because I haven’t implemented it I haven’t finished the story.  On some of my previous design work where it has been implemented I have not presented all of the design tools used as they were no longer relevant as bits fell out through the implementation and return around the design cycle.  Having said that this will be a continually unfolding design, because it will constantly be reviewed and tweaked as people come into and out of the group.


These are my estimations for the implementation costs of this project

£25 – printing posters

Time estimations:

Marketing and publicity; 2 hours poster, 5 hours website + facebook + online promotion, 0.5hr/week updating facebook

Appendix for bike trailer design: client interview

What are my needs and wants?

  • Vision: to be able to use my bike more than I currently, I would like to be able to go shopping with the bike as well as doing the outings I already do. I hate driving to the shops, it is an energy leak (fossil fuel, money, time – it may take more time to go by bike but at least I am staying healthy in the process).
  • Need: Ability to carry heavy and bulky shopping home from the shops
  • Need: Ability to carry Teasel on the bike with associated stuff for short outings
  • Need: Fully functioning bike!
  • Need: to be able to store my bike and its associated bits and bobs safely in my shed in the back garden down the alley.
  • Want: Possibility of multi day bike rides, the ability to carry kit, probably not a tent but at least overnight stuff

What is my current bike useage?

  • Outings (e.g. swimming, park, library, playgroup etc) 2 – 4 times/week. Riding 15 – 20mins max
  • Occasional errands as part of these outings e.g. butcher, computer repair, local shop
  • I can only cycle when I know Teasel will not fall asleep in the bike seat, as if she does her head lolls very uncomfortably and I feel bad, I prefer for her to be awake in the current bike seat.
  • Every time I go out the basket contains my 2 locks and a bag of Teasel items (clothes, food etc)

What is my desired bike useage?

  • Continue with outings they work well
  • Shopping for groceries, this requires storage on the bike to carry heavy and bulky items home. I currently can only carry a couple of small items at a time.
  • Long distance cycle trips for pleasure – train + bike at weekends, perhaps multi-day.

What are my values?

  • Using the bike maintains my fitness and is preferable to going by bus (bus requires getting on and off with heavy buggy).
  • I value sustainable transport modes, I think it is important that my children travel by bike or bus rather than car as much as possible to foster good habits and a sense of the way we do things as a family.

What are my personal limiting factors?

  • Short term I may struggle to cycle as I get more pregnant and it may be hard with new small baby, but that doesn’t stop me from implementing a design now and having it available for next summer too once the new baby is big enough to go on a bike.
  • Whilst I can build something myself I am not sure if I have the motivation for it. I would like to explore through this design the options for self build but also look at buying something off the shelf.
  • Time – most of my time is taken up with child care and then gardening, there isn’t much on top of that. And right now with diploma!

What personal resources do I have?

  • Tools and skills with making things, although I’ve never tried anything that moves.
  • Lots of locally available materials

What is my timescale for this design?

It would be great to have something implemented this summer, I want the design finished to tie in with finishing off my diploma, but the implementation is less important.

Bike trailer design

This design began in May 2015.  It has not been implemented.


Base map

I have done a base map of the bike using photographs to consider my bike.  I have considered an overlay of it’s current attachments or non-permanent features and a second overlay of the attachment points or permanent features.

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Client Interview

I interviewed myself in a formal way and have written the details here.  The outcome of the interview is a desire to be able to carry 2 children plus heavy/bulky shopping by bike in the local area, with the possibility of longer multi day cycle trips with children and stuff.  I would like to have the implementation in place by September.


Identify functions

From the base map and client interview the key functions in this design are:

  1. Ability for the bike to carry 2 children + associated stuff
  2. Ability for the bike to carry heavy/bulky shopping

Identify elements and systems

Looking at the elements of the system

  • child 1
  • child 2
  • bike locks
  • shopping
  • bag of kids stuff
  • me
  • bike

Using random assembly enabled me to identify some options for integrating the elements

Random Assembly
Random Assembly
  1. children together or separately
  2. children on top of or with shopping
  3. shopping with kids stuff or separate
  4. locks need to be separate for flexibility of using the bike
  5. children in front of or behind the bike

This led me to think of two totally new ideas.  Until now I had assumed that I should keep and adapt my current bike (earth care/fair shares, limit to our consumption, not buy new stuff with associated impacts) but random assembly opened my eyes to two different styles of bike that are worth considering:

  • Barrow bike: putting the children and shopping together could work with a barrow style bike, or
  • Tricycle: putting them together behind me could be in the form of either a trailer on my existing bike or in a tricycle.

This led to a long list of possible ways that could achieve the function identified.

  1. Bike to carry children
    1. Trailer behind just for kids shop bought
    2. Trailer behind integrated with storage shop bought
    3. Trailer behind homemade
    4. 2 bike seats on the bike (front and back)
    5. Built in barrow in the front
    6. Built in tricycle system
    7. Children on separate bikes – not realistic for design timescales
  2. Bike to carry heavy/bulky shopping
    1. Trailer behind shop bought
    2. Trailer behind homemade
    3. Panniers (front and back) – the system I currently have doesn’t match with the child bike seat I have.
    4. Built in barrow in the front

Use design tools and ethics to choose the best systems

Here are the options outlined on my basemap:

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Firstly the ethics:

System Earth Care People Care Fair Shares
Trailer – shop bought Being able to use my bike to shop rather than car or bus = saving fossil fuel Would be a low maintenance, low time requirement option. Could find a second hand one = limit to consumption
Trailer – homemade Can salvage materials from skips, saving natural resourcesBeing able to use my bike to shop rather than car or bus = saving fossil fuel Could be interesting to learn new skills,Might just create stress and pressure in my life due to lack of time.Might require more maintenance than shop bought – adding more time pressure Not buying something new = limit to consumption
2 bike seats + panniers Being able to use my bike to shop rather than car or bus = saving fossil fuel Would be close to the kids, better for all of us.Panniers are really easy as I have all the bits of kit and things I need and have used lots in the past. I already have one bike seat and all the panniers = limit to consumption
Built in barrow Being able to use my bike to shop rather than car or bus = saving fossil fuel Would be close to the kids, better for all of us Could find a second hand one, but I think it would be harder to find than a trailer = limit to consumption.Might be able to find a local company that makes them and be able to support a local industry
Built in tricycle Being able to use my bike to shop rather than car or bus = saving fossil fuel Would be close to the kids, better for all of us Could find a second hand one, but I think it would be harder to find than a trailer = limit to consumption.Might be able to find a local company that makes them and be able to support a local industry

Then the embodied energy

System Embodied Energy
Trailer – shop bought High (although less if can find second hand)
Trailer – homemade Low (assuming using salvaged materials)
2 bike seats + panniers Medium (I have one bike seat and panniers, so would only need one more bike seat)
Built in barrow High if new as requires as a whole new bike, second hand as above
Built in tricycle High if new as requires as a whole new bike, second hand as above

And consideration of SWOC of each of the possible systems.

System Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Constraints
Trailer – shop bought Easy to attach and maintain.  Will provide a smooth ride.  I can also keep one child on one bike seat as well. Cost, embodied energy, parking, storage Chance to research these, I know very little about the options I don’t yet know what the cost is likely to be.
Trailer – homemade Low embodied energy Time consuming, potential for a lot of maintenance Chance to learn new skills and play with wheels and movement How much time do I have to make this happen?
2 bike seats + panniers Extremely easy as I have lots of the kit.  Very little storage required compared to other options I would need to swap either the current bike seat or my panniers as the two systems don’t work together.  This system is going to make my bike very unwieldy, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre where a trailer will not. See weaknesses
Built in barrow No set up required, just get on the bike and go Is it safe for young kids?  Cost, I would need a new bike (approx £1000 new)  I would want to keep my existing bike for times when I am not carrying kids etc.  Not so good for longer distance multi day trips can’t get it on a train. Could paint the barrow/use it to promote local projects Storage – would it fit down our alley?  Would it fit in the shed?
Built in tricycle No set up required, just get on the bike and go Cost, I would need a new bike (£500 on ebay, not sure if they are still being made)  I would want to keep my existing bike for times when I am not carrying kids etc.  Not so good for longer distance multi day trips.  Actual storage for shopping on the bike is low Storage – would it fit down our alley?  Would it fit in the shed?

As a result of my analysis, the following systems are not going to be considered further.

  • Homemade trailer – too hard right now, not enough time
  • Panniers + bike seats, too much weight on the bike, will make it unwieldy
  • Tricycle – won’t meet my needs for bringing bulky/heavy shopping home


I have discovered through this process that the best options for me are either the barrow bike or the shop bought trailer.

I then looked at the principles to help me to define the best option.

Use edges and value the marginal – there is an opportunity to support a small local business with the barrow bike (London Green Cycles details below), trailers are bigger brands

Make the least change for greatest possible effect – the trailer is the least change as I would not need a whole new bike and I will get a greater effect than the barrow bike because it will enable me to be a lot more diverse (see below)

Use and value diversity – the trailer option allows me to be diverse in my cycling options (I can go alone, I can use the bike seat I have with or without the trailer, I can upgrade in different ways as the kids grow up – e.g. adding a bench style seat when they are big enough to hold on themselves).  The barrow makes me less diverse in my cycling, I can’t travel by train with it.

Use and value renewable resources – either option allows me to cycle more and use my renewable leg muscles rather than fossil fuels

Produce no waste – in either case I can try and find a second hand version

As a result of the principles analysis in particular diversity and least change principles the trailer option is the right one for me.  There is one major determining factor which cannot be considered in this paper based analysis, which is how it feels to ride the bike.  I have begun the research process and found some potential options, the next stage is to go and ride them.

Possible bike trailers identified that I would like to test:

  • Burley have many different styles (£300 – £800)
  • Giant peapod double (£240)
  • Halfords own brand have a couple of different styles (£150 – £400)


The implementation plan is as follows:

  • Test ride the bike trailers I have identified as possibilities in local bike shops (July 2015)
  • Select the top 2 or 3
  • Search on ebay, gumtree and any second hand bike listings I can find to see if I can find one available, ideally arrange to test ride before I buy.  August 2015
  • My ideal would be to have implementation completed by Sept 2015, however given the timescales of the implementation plan this may not be realistic as it might be better to wait until after the summer season to see if anyone is selling off old kit in the winter time – in which case I think I might extend my ebay deadline until Mar 2016 (this also ties in with when child no. 2 will actually be able to ride in a bike trailer – before then they will be too small).
  • If there is no success on the second hand market arrange to buy new.


With the selected option the maintenance will be similar to my current bike maintenance, I will need to perform an annual service on all the moving parts.  I will need to keep the kit clean and safely stored.

Evaluation and review

What’s gone well?

  • I liked using random assembly and was fascinated that it gave me two ideas that I had not before considered.
  • I had thought that doing a client interview with myself would be a bit strange, but the process was an invaluable part of developing the design from an embryonic idea to something that has been carefully thought through and considered.
  • Looking at the systems through the three different tools (ethics, embodied energy and SWOC) really opened my eyes to the differences between the options, I started this process thinking I would build my own trailer but the more I considered all the options the more I could see this was too much for me right now.

What’s challenging?

  • Not having implemented, it is possible that once I test ride the options I may make some alterations to the design process, it might be necessary to travel around the design cycle again.  This is a really interesting observation as all of my design work to date has been implemented and so the design cycle process (going back and forwards around it a number of times) has been less linear than this one, I think because it hasn’t been implemented.

What’s the vision?

  • Easy cycling winter and summer, getting everything I need onto the bike

What’s the next step?

  • Do the implementation plan

Was it a success?

I don’t know yet if this is a successful design until it has been implemented, but in terms of learning and design process it has been a success for me to follow this process.


I don’t yet know how much this design is going to cost to implement, it depends on if I can find something on ebay or not.


[Criteria 1: Looby’s design web, Holmgren principles, zones/sectors, patterns, input/output analysis
Criteria 2: Applying Permaculture in my own life]
I wanted to do a permaculture design around my daughter Teasel and me being a mother, this is current in my life and I wanted to think about how I could apply permaculture design.  I have less time on my hands with a young daughter so I wanted to keep it simple, I decided to use the action learning cycle plan-do-review.  This design began in Feb 2014.
To begin with I started to explore how I could use permaculture design, but as I was brainstorming ideas and exploring the principles and tools I observed that it didn’t feel right, I realised that I didn’t want to change my approaches, perhaps make some tweaks but overall I was relatively happy with the way I was approaching mothering.  Through these observations I realised that as I had read and thought a lot about being a mother during my pregnancy I was already doing a lot of practices that aligned with permaculture ethos as this tied in with the way I wanted to raise my child.  I still liked the idea of using permaculture design and tools in some way as part of my diploma journey as Teasel is such a major part of what I do now it only seemed right so I thought about it a bit more.
I looked at all of the design tools and methods in a matrix as follows and thought about the following criteria:
  • Does it resonate with me in this context?
  • Would I would like to practice this more?
  • Have I used it a lot already in my design work?
  • Is it relevant to this design
Design Methods / Tools Resonate? Need more practice? Used lots? Not relevant to this design
Base maps x
Overlays x
Shadow Mapping x
Zones x x
Sectors x x
Client Interview x
Microclimates x
Soil analysis x
Input-Output analysis ? x
Brainstorm/mind map x
Flow diagram x
PMI x x
SWOC In previous work
Planning for Real x
Wild design x
Random Assembly x
Web of Connections x
Stacking x
McHarg’s exclusion x
Incremental design x x
Patterns x x
Limits x x
Helps x x
Actions/breakthroughs/insights x x

I could quickly see that there were some tools that really resonated and that could do with more practice and this would be the opportunity to use them.  As a result of this analysis I realised that conducting an appreciative enquiry might be a good approach and that if I did it once it could be something that I could repeat at intervals in her development to.  In addition to the design methods and tools in the above matrix I also would consider the principles and ethics.

The simplest way for me to approach the appreciative enquiry was to take each tool in turn and work through my parenting approach in light of that tool, this work is shown in the following photo sequence:

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I started this process when Teasel was around 4 months old, she is now 7.5 months. It has been a real joy to use permaculture design tools in this way to appreciate where I am on my parenting journey and to identify tweaks. Each time I look at the work I have done there are loads of other things to add, it is a never ending spiral of appreciation!  I will continue to use this approach for a regular appreciative enquiry session every few months, this can tie in with updating our book of Teasel’s developments.
This has been a simple but fun design process suitable for me right now as I have limited time due to looking after Teasel.  I started this design process looking at how I could use permaculture design to help with my parenting, and I quickly realised that a lot of my parenting approaches that I was already doing such as breast feeding, baby led weaning, using reuseable nappies, elimination communication, carrying her in a sling etc were pretty firmly rooted in a permaculture ethos.  Therefore adopting an appreciative enquiry which helped to identify the odd tweak was the most appropriate design tool rather than a redesign of the system.  I knew before Teasel was born that I would want to adopt these types of approaches (based on reading and conversations with others who I knew to be like minded – making use of their wisdom), but through my observations as she grows the approaches have been further cemented and continually reinforced as the right ways for us.
The analysis using patterns was a new area for me, I’m glad I tried this out as we have a session in our intro courses about patterns and it has been great to put it into practice.
This feels like a slightly strange approach to doing a design as the design bit was relatively simple, however I think it’s a really valuable design to have done as it’s given me new insight into how the design tools can work
Was it a  success?
Yes – I enjoyed doing it, it met my need to use the permaculture design with my parenting and yes I was able to use design tools.
And now a few photos showing some of my techniques in practice:

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Birth preparation design

[Criteria 1: Looby’s design web, Holmgren Principles, PMI, brainstorm/mind map. Criteria 2; permaculture in my own life.]

This design was developed throughout my pregnancy which began in Feb 2013, but a lot of groundwork had been done throughout the course of my diploma starting in summer 2012.  A lot of strands that had been unconnected were joined up through this design which provided me with a clear focus for the last 3 months of my pregnancy (Aug – Nov 2013).


I am due to give birth in early November. My pregnancy has been good, I have adopted an approach of being generally active and healthy. Throughout my pregnancy I have been researching birth and babies, this culminated in a focussed design of how to spend the last three months of my pregnancy to best prepare me to achieve the birth I would like. I have wanted to try out Looby McNamara’s design web from People and Permaculture, this design fitted well with this desire.  Whilst the final documentation of the design happened after the birth I was using the elements of the design web to generate ideas and help me to connect my different ideas – writing notes on how each of the design web elements and permaculture principles were resonating with me.


  • Natural birth with no medical interventions, drug free.

    • Delivering our baby in a relaxed, calm, fun, empowering, powerful and safe space

    • That both Catherine and I feel supported throughout, both emotionally and physically

    • That I am as prepared as I can be to achieve the above aim


  • That when I start to implement this design there are only 3 months until the baby comes out, it is a short time to make what I want to happen happen.

  • Reading about birth and researching – natural birth, hynobirthing, orgasmic birth etc

  • I have also been doing an exploration of ‘inner work’ (here) throughout this period which has been a massive help to get me to this point

  • Two friends who have had homebirths, but in particular Mags who has been ever positive and helpful and returned into our lives at just the right moment (moving back to the UK after living in Spain for 5 years!)

  • All of these ‘helps’ enabled me to be certain of my instinctive decision made at the start of my pregnancy that a home birth was right for me.  Drawing them out as a flow chart showing the options of where to give birth and the influence of each of the helps demonstrates how these ‘helps’ have helped!
  • Helps
  • The ethics are always a help and they don’t feature specifically in Looby’s web, so this felt like a good place to consider them.
Earth Care People Care Fair shares
Hospitals are very heavy users of electricity/lights/heat – how can I reduce my impact? Prepare me emotionally  Birth is common to everyone, everywhere, historically and into our future.  This ethic reminds me how unique and not unique this experience is!
Drugs used during birth have manufacturing process emissions, chemical leachate into environment, drug waste that needs disposing – how can I reduce my impact? Prepare me physically; food, general exercise, body preparations
Food is fuel for me always and especially during pregnancy and birth – eat organic, local foods as much as possible Lots of people have given their time, stories and love to me which has been very nurturing Logistics – buy second hand items for anything I need – reduce limit to consumption
Walk as my primary form of exercise Catherine emotionally and physically well


I see the limits, as those that limit me achieving my vision.

  • Fear causing adrenalin during birth is the biggest factor that could cause labour to slow and/or create the need for medical interventions.  I need to be aware of this and work to break any cycles or situations that might create fear through my preparations.

  • I may have to have medical intervention which could save my or the babies life. The limit is how I perceive this, which is why emotional preparation is so important.

  • Due date, this puts pressure on me from the medical profession and from myself that the baby should arrive on or soon after this date


  • Current patterns of thinking that arise from me interacting with other people:

    • Negative birth stories shared by others

    • the assumption from many that birth is a medical process involving doctors and thus should be feared

    • ‘I’d like a home birth IF POSSIBLE’ feeling that I have to justify that it could all go wrong

    • Knowing the high rates of c-section and epidural use in the UK

    • Birth programmes on tv

  • I need to create a spiral of abundance of positive thought using affirmations, not listening to negative stories and challenging the nay sayers with my positive and certain unwavering position

  • I know that learning a lot about birth will help me to feel confident because I have the facts, I need to create this spiral of abundance of personal knowledge

  • I know that Catherine will be absolutely brilliant at advocating for me, standing up for me, asking questions and challenging if and when appropriate and doggedly not leaving my side – this is a great pattern to have in my arsenal


As mentioned in my inner work annex, the following design tools specifically helped me to generate ideas for this design:

  •  Life aims (fitness, empowerment, spiritual and social)
  • Biotime diary
  • Think & listen questions
  • PMI of the last day/week

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The key ideas that emerged for this design from all of this work are in the following mind map.  Interestingly all of the prompts in the design web have helped to generate ideas for this design.

Ideas including those that link together
Ideas including those that link together


  • Catch and store energy

    • Remember to sleep/rest in the early stages if there is a possibility of it

    • Food is key to maintaining my energy

  • Integrate rather than segregate

    • Things to integrate in this design:

      • personal outlook and mindset (how I perceive pain/birth process i.e. mental preparation)

      • pain relief (water i.e. a birth pool, coupled with movement and breathing),

      • atmosphere (calm, relaxed, familiar, safe i.e. home rather than hospital),

      • care givers (me and Catherine to look after our own needs, a trained midwife to look after the birth process)

  • Observe and interact

    • Observation that since I’ve been pregnant many people have shared negative birth stories, people like to share the dramatic and exciting stories fewer positive stories have been shared

    • tv programmes that glamorise difficult births and don’t focus on simple straightforward uncomplicated births

    • our own perceived lack of knowledge about the process led to self doubt that we would be able to make the right choices and make a home birth happen. Challenging this has brought us new strength in achieving the vision

  • Obtain a yield

    • Ideal yields: a positive birth experience for me and the baby, bonding for me and Catherine, empowerment for myself that I can deliver a baby

  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback

    • It is important that we design our ideal scenario, plan and prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically. Feedback loops will come about during the birth process and we may need to alter the design based on what is happening to me and the baby. However even if I do end up needing medical intervention I believe that with the right preparation and mindset I can still achieve a positive birth even if it doesn’t look quite like the vision.

  • Design from patterns to details

    • Pattern is healthy me and healthy Catherine in mind, body and spirit prepared for birth.

    • Details include active birth classes, daily movement and breathing practice, daily affirmations, focus on what I eat, regular exercise, hearing positive birth stories

  • Small and slow

    • I expect labour to be small and slow! And must keep that in my mind, my body will slowly get there, I can’t rush it!

  • Use and value diversity

    • Remember to use different movements, try out different positions, different breathing techniques that I have learned. Remember to introduce diversity if I feel the need to (music, aromas etc)

  • Edges

    • I think homebirth is an edge activity! If it goes well perhaps share my story with others in the homebirth support group or others in the local nct group.

  • Creatively use and respond to change

    • Similar to self regulation in this scenario, keep the vision in mind and make sure that it happens as and where it can even if there does need to be medical intervention at times – don’t let the interventions throw us completely off track of what we want to achieve.


Through all of the above prompts in the design web, the following themes emerged as the key areas to focus on for developing a specific plan to get me prepared during the final 3 months of my pregnancy.  Understanding this helped me to narrow down my specific ideas and enabled me to focus.

  • Eating and drinking

  • Exercising/stamina building

  • Positions and movement for labour

  • Positive mind activities

  • Knowledge gathering


In this section I have set out the plan for the next 3 months (there are aspects of this plan that I would like to continue post birth if possible including the eating and drinking, exercising and positive mind activities (although I will have to tailor these to be more relevant post birth)).

Eating and drinking

  • Be even more conscious of my diet and daily water intake
  • Prepare food for labour, keep the fridge stocked just in case

Exercising/stamina building

  • Swim/walk regularly, do something every day – don’t be lazy

Positions and movement for labour

  • Start attending local active birth classes
  • Start daily practice of breathing techniques, movement, positive affirmations about birth, relaxation, pelvic floor exercises and perineal massage (from week 34).  Some examples of my birth preparation notes are in the following photos:
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Positive mind activities

  • Daily programme of positive affirmations and visualisation about the birth
  • Regular massage for us both to relax (aim for twice/week)
  • Stop watching tv programmes about birth
  • Challenge and/or avoid conversations that are likely to lead to negative birth stories, or negative associations of pain with birth
  • Meet other home birthers to give me confidence – go to the home birth support group meeting
  • Being clear with the midwives about what we want – make a simple birth plan for them before 36 week check up

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  • Knowledge gathering
    • Re-read orgasmic birth book, read hypnbirthing book, watch orgasmic birth dvd again

With the above plan in place how do the ethics fit now?

Earth care: most of my daily exercise is walking, my food choices remain as earth friendly as possible, I can walk to my classes

People care:  I feel like I am looking after myself and the growing baby with this plan, my personal people care is great; I have met more people who have shared their experiences through this process which has been very nurturing for me

Fair shares:  this hasn’t been a big fair shares design so at least I would like to share my experiences and design process with others when it is all over.


  • It feels relatively easy as there is a clear end point with this!

  • Weekly active birth classes helps to remind me of the movements and breathing techniques to practice each week

  • NCT classes on a weekly basis during September have helped to keep us challenging our thoughts and desires and to keep me motivated.


  • There are lots of great things already happened to get me this far in the pregnancy!

  • I have a calm and relaxed attitude, I feel clear that the vision is the right approach for me that marries with my sense of self and life goals.

  • Catherine wants the same thing as me (perhaps even she wants it more than me)


  • I started doing all of this and here are my reflections one month in:

    • Eating has gone well, coupled with preparing food for the freezer to make things easier for when the baby arrives

    • I have added more depth to the daily affirmations to include welcoming the baby and focussing on positive thoughts about the baby as I saw a pattern of worry/doubt over having the baby in our lives within myself.

    • Shared use of hypnobirthing relaxation scripts hasn’t gone so well, so I started doing it on my own and that sort of works a bit, need to keep reviewing this one

    • Movement and breathing and exercise I do most days, at the moment I am happy with missing the odd day when I am busy as the balance is on more rather than less. I have found the right time of the day to do these that work with my life and I need to keep a check on myself if I get busy and start to stop doing it. I enjoy feeling fitter and noticing that my breath and lung control has improved, which continues to motivate me.

Sept 2014 reflections

  • Despite my intention to maintain my daily practice after the birth in the way that I was able to pre-birth I have struggled to fit in breathing/movement and affirmations on a daily basis with my daughter Teasel around.  However I do still use affirmations to help me to prepare mentally for upcoming challenges/situations, which prior to the birth I had never done.  I also am more aware of being mindful and when I get a moment (such as feeding Teasel) I take a couple of deep breaths.  I feel pleased that the work I did has filtered through into my life even though it has not been to the level I had intended.  I also think that the inner work I did around this time proved incredibly useful in preparing me for motherhood which has been a very positive experience so far.


  • A lot of this design is about bringing pauses into my day through my daily practice, and I have found that when I do this daily I miss it if I don’t do it, and it has brought a new energy to me.

Reflections on the design process

  • I enjoyed this one. It is simple but it was useful to have the framework of Looby’s design web to put together all the things that were in my mind.

  • It is really specific and has specific actions – so I know either I am or I am not doing them which I like because it is so clear.

  • Because of the time limits and my desires I am reviewing my progress regularly and keeping this in the forefront of my mind. A challenge for me will be to continue some of these daily practices which I have been seeking to have in my life up after the birth.

  • Time limited is fun – will review again once the birth has happened!

  • Cost – the only financial cost has been my active birth classes (£60)

  • Time:

    • daily practice (breathing, movement, affirmations) – 45 mins per day

    • daily exercise (I was doing anyway reasonably regularly have tweaked to definitely do something every day) – approx. 1 hour/day

    • classes (Sept only) – 1 hour/week (active birth)

    • design – has been an ongoing process of research and understanding birth and babies, this design evolved over a couple of weeks when I really started to consider it and start to practice, writing it up has taken a few hours

  • Interestingly using the design web didn’t prompt me to make explicit consideration of the ethics in this design (pointed out to be by Tomas my tutor after writing the first draft of the design process).

Was it a success?

Whilst I didn’t achieve the vision as written above, through birth I did achieve an amazing experience that was totally in keeping with this design even though we had to be in hospital. Thinking through the design in this way was invaluable to ensure that all of our needs were met during the birth and I am really glad that I did the preparation that I did to help me to achieve this. Teasel was born on 16 November 2013.

I have also done a little PMI of the hospital birth experience

Plus Minus Interesting
Clear and easy for visitors to come and see us afterwards – we didn’t need to make tea etc! DUE DATES! Not letting nature take its natural course (which is why we ended up in hospital) That induction led to C-section – as is common with the cascade of interventions, which all my reading suggested!
No drugs until the C-section.That medical care was there when I needed it Too many medical staff, crowding in and offering opinions when I should have been left alone to push. Because home birth was planned the time I spent at home in labour was great as we were all set up
Use of the shower through labour, staying focussed on my breathing and staying in the moment even though I was in hospital Having to spend 48 hours in hospital Labouring on the stairs of Kingston hospital.
Judy giving us a ride to the hospital in her car – a comedy car journey! The first 15 mins in the hospital – but it turned out to be a plus as our tears and disappointment galvanised us to have a wonderful experience Bumping into a friend in labour – our babies were born an hour apart.
An amazing midwife who cared for me.
A time to really appreciate how lucky we are to have the NHS and just what a great service it is.
Pasta! Fizzy orange drink that we would never have had in the house at home!

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TT Cobham permaculture afternoon

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Client Interview, Holmgren Principles, PMI, Zones/Sectors. Criteria 3; education. Criteria 4; leading workshops. Criteria 5; convening courses and events]

I was invited by Stephanie Jacommeti (SJ), who attended one of our intro to permaculture courses at Sutton Community Farm in 2013, to facilitate an afternoon with her garden group at Transition Town Cobham. They have a plot of land earmarked for a community garden and she wants me to introduce the group to permaculture and also to help them to develop designs for the site.This is a great opportunity for me to use permaculture design to help me to develop the programme and plans for the afternoon session.


  • Meet with SJ to understand the brief at the garden site – client interview

  • Use the existing two day Intro to Permaculture course that Ruth and I deliver as a basis for the design:

    • Course materials – use the elements that are most relevant to this group, cut out some of the content due to a much shorter time

    • Course participants – reflect on what I have learned about running a course in terms of people and group dynamics

    • Being the person who holds the space – reflect on what I have learned about being the holder of the space/facilitator

    • Course space – indoor and outdoor activities, film, flipchart, discussions, observing

  • Ruth and I also held a short 2 hour session (which included 45 mins of planting) for TT Tolworth in 2013, use the experience and lessons from this to input into this session considering the same elements as above.


I did a zone and sector analysis based on typical patterns relating to courses and reflections on my conversation (client interview!) with SJ.

Sectors, or external energies that might influence course participants’ ability to design and participate in the course that I need to be aware of:

  • Individuals within the group their existing knowledge, motivations etc. key ones that I know of ahead of time:

    • Some very experienced gardeners

    • people who are not part of the garden group but who are part of the Transition group who are coming to learn about permaculture

  • Perceptions of limits/barriers/positives about the project of each member of the group to include

    • the ear marked plot of land,

    • the land owners,

    • other existing land users,

    • the group itself

  • local resource availability (e.g. tools, manure, etc)

  • potential project partners/sharers etc

  • stuff going on in their lives – other things they might want to be doing on a Saturday afternoon

  • Stuff going on in my life – C&T will they be ok!

    Zone analysis of the afternoon obviously this is not strict use of zones but I am trying it out from a people interaction perspective (from my perspective and experience to date):

  • Zone 1: group discussions + group activities held by me – high intensity I need to be on my toes, responsive, energetic etc

  • Zone 2: pair work/small group work – set up by me, they do it I work alongside them and input as and when needed – lower energy from me

  • Zone 3: occasional conversations – tea breaks, in between activities (some I’m involved in lots I’m not) – I might or might not enter into this activity

  • Zone 5: my breathing moments when activities are in full flow and I take a breath – remember to do this Liz!!

Consideration of the ethics:

Earth Care People Care Fair shares
Project is about earth care – improving a patch of land Look after me when I teach – don’t get stressed, am I ok to do it alone? Sharing permaculture with more people
Hold the event at a local venue so participants can walk/cycle Make sure that participants feel welcomed and  get something out of the course Helping the group to enable the project to be accessible to all
Reuse as many of the printed resources that I have from other course to minimise waste Ensure that SJ’s house is looked after and that she feels happy
Encourage and value their inputs it’s two way


Firstly I did an initial brainstorm of design ideas, then I reviewed and refined (patterns to details) a number of times using an incremental design process. The plan that I finally delivered is here.

How can the principles help this design?

Least change greatest affect – don’t reinvent the wheel keep the core of our course and just cut bits out!

Everything gardens – this is me gardening our course – just modifying my environment – the existing course for a new outcome and new yields!

Edge – there are different ways to create edge in the course:

  • Interactions between people both formal and informal – coffee breaks, pair discussions, small group work, large group format. Design note: keep rotating who is working with/talking to who to create as much edge as possible.

  • Working inside and outside – patterns session is outside, do the ice breakers and web of life outside

  • A range of different skills/formats within the course; discussion time, observation time, designing, analysing, thinking, talking, listening – there are edges between each of these and creating different tasks and atmospheres enables edge to develop


  • Me delivering a course without Ruth – a new step for my teaching!

  • Potential future Intro course participants

  • Small financial yield

  • Trying out a shorter format for our course which can be fed back into our 2 day course

  • the chance to influence a local project – perhaps one I could get involved in


  • Stacking in sharing/teaching permaculture with the group with them also getting to make a start on designing their space


I ran the course on Sat 8 March, my sector analysis highlighted that Teasel might be a challenge for me – and she turned out to be. I had to leave after an hour as she wouldn’t feed. The group were very kind and we rescheduled to finish off the rest of the course a month later (Teasel being a little older and more able to cope this time!).

I ran the second course on Sat 5 April. There were four people in the room and one joined us via skype (which was a new thing for me to teach to someone on skype but worked well).  The following is the PMI analysis of both sessions.

Plus Minus Interesting

Ethics session – they really engaged well and started to think of ideas of how they could use them in their project

The second session was too heavy on indoor activities – because the outdoor bits were at the start and done in the first session My plans for paired activites didn’t happen as the group was so small it didn’t feel right to break it down further – but perhaps it could have been beneficial to enforce it – how to deal with the inevitable silences that occur?

Patterns session – I got very nice feedback from one participant that it was a really great exercise.

 Ending – how to successfully close the course?

Principles session – the group got into lots of detailed and interesting discussions, the principles really helped to spark things. It also allowed me to share other project examples that I was planning to do later in the session here in a great informal way.

That I had to split the course – it was pleasing that they all came back to finish off

PMI/PASE were excellent tools for this group to get the design working

How to make the design element feel more like premaculture and less like them moving bits around the paper – although this was only the first stage for them perhaps not be too hard on myself about this

I didn’t take any pictures on the course (one of the challenges of teaching on your own, not having space to step out and take pictures), but I share examples from other intro courses of the types of discussion points that came up.  Also we didn’t actually produce flip charts as we had such a small group we mostly discussed things in the group.

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Here is the final layout design reached at the end of the session, the elements were extracted from the PMI/PASE exercises and we used a sort of planning for real technique with cut out elements moved around the site plan through the discussions (not done to scale due to time considerations).  You can also see the use of our patterns exercise to help influence the collaborative design process.

Final layout reached at the end of the session


I will take the PMI points into our intro course, particularly that we can probably move a bit quicker on some of the day 1 activities. NOTE: we did this at our intro course in May 2014 and it worked well. I still feel the need to improve on the design stage aspect, have relfected with Ruth and will keep pondering on this one (also as I get better at design this will help).

Can I run a similar format for any other groups? It worked well and I was able to share a lot of information – more than I thought possible with the group. I feel they have a reasonable grasp of principles/ethics at the end of the session and have made a great start on pulling design ideas together and bringing their plot to life. There is a potential opportunity with a pub in Streatham – talk to Ruth further about this.

Reflections and thoughts

  • Doing a design that adapts another design (our intro course) makes it difficult to really ‘design’, it feels more like tweaking rather than radical design.  Having said that I was pleased to use zones and sectors in and interesting way.  Also it feels like there are two levels of the design, one which is the overall design outlined here and a second which is a mini design of each of the teaching sessions taking place both in my prep time and in the moment of delivery of a session to a group (e.g. PASE) when I adapt my teaching materials and knowledge and skills to date as appropriate to the group.  It is harder to reflect this mini design in the write up as it is mostly an internal process.
  • Teaching via skype added the element of pause into the group – with a slight time delay and the need to ensure that our skype participant could see/hear I had to pause and check in with the group more than usual.
  • I didn’t allow time for feedback on this course which is interesting as it is an important element of our 2 day intro course.  I didn’t have time for it, but also I think it is easier to receive feedback when working in a pair – it will feel extremely personal when on your own, so I didn’t ask for it.  Having said that I felt that everyone left pleased and I did recieve an email of thanks from the organiser saying:
    ‘Thanks so much for coming by today and teaching us about permaculture. It really helped us plan the community garden. It was also good to talk about the principles and how they slot into Transition work’
  • What yields did I harvest?
    • Delivering a course on my own was successful – although it is more fun with someone else and I think the dynamic is better with two – we can bounce off eachother and the group can get different opinions.  But given the small group size it was appropriate to have just me.
      • I don’t think there are any potential future Intro course participants from this group – but they could spread the word to others as and when the project grows

      • Small financial yield

      • Trying out a shorter format for our course which has been fed back into our 2 day course was really useful.  Knowing that our course materials can be used in other scenarios

      • I got the chance to influence a local project, unfortunately I have not had time to follow up and see how things are going with it.

      • Boost in self confidence that I delivered a good course on my own and that I have quite a lot of knowledge to share with others in this field.  Also that most people came back to finish off the course and others joined for the second session.
      • I always get the opportunity to re-engage with permaculture, spend time with like minded people which I find very soul boosting (I got 2 doses this time!)

Was it a success?

Yes – the participants were happy the course was good

Yes – the design was adequate for the needs of the project

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Douglas Road energy strategy

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Holmgren Principles, PMI, Zones/sectors, microclimates, patterns, incremental design, mind maps, ethics. Criteria 2: permaculture in my own home. Criteria 3: site development. Criteria 4; dissemination (Open Homes). Criteria 6; symmetry (Open Homes and thermal imaging parties), Criteria 7: evaluation and costings]


The story is set in an end of terrace 3 bed house in suburbia, not been touched for 60 years resplendent with 1940s wiring, 2 pin plugs and an asbestos roofed shed.  The house is solidly built, but nonetheless draughty, there’s daylight seeping in round the edges of the front door, the aluminium framed double glazed windows are both leaking heat through the metal and because they are so old they no longer close properly and there are some really weirdly placed air bricks throughout the house which simply blow cold air directly into a couple of the bedrooms.  This was an opportunity not to be missed.  The chance for me to put into action all of the knowledge I had gleaned over my career to date working as a sustainability consultant and a civil engineer.  Plus the time for me to step away from desk bound activities to learn some new highly practical skills.  (PROBLEM IS SOLUTION)

We have a number of overall decision making criteria for the house project – the 3 most important ones are:

  1. Can the design choice save energy – are we adopting a system that will save the most energy in use? (EARTH CARE)
  2. Re-use of materials, closing the loop and preventing call off of new materials.  Can we use renewable materials as much as possible – sustainable timber, sheeps wool insulation, etc?  And also in what ways can we re-use materials that come out of the build on site – and or re-useable materials that are widely available in this part of suburbia (pallets!) (EARTH CARE)
  3. Our wallet is our weapon. (PEOPLE CARE AND FAIR SHARES)

The ‘energy strategy’ – grand title!  The overall plan to reduce energy in the building is to wrap the house in a woolly jumper.  We want to make sure that as much of the heat that is generated inside from ourselves, the cats, cooking and of course the gas central heating system stays in the house for as long as possible keeping us toasty warm.  Obviously it will all leak out at some point – but we want the house to ‘catch and store’ as much energy as possible.

  1. Keep our bodies warm – invest in thermal underwear before next winter
  2. Keep any heat generated in the house – draught strip, insulate, double glazing, thermal curtains
  3. Focus heat retention in zone 1
  4. Minimise hot water use – aerators, low flow taps, A rated appliances, small bath
  5. Generate heat renewably – wood burning stove, solar hot water
  6. Generate electricity from the sun – solar PV panels (plus a financial yield from the government!)


The survey phase for this design included the following:

  • I had done some small retrofit works on my previous flat and through this process learned what else I could have done
  • Work at BioRegional, running sustainability consultancy for 4 years – knowledge about sustainable energy and sustainable building materials
  • Interview every trades person I could think of who would come round and give me a quote – asking lots of detailed questions (plumbers, electricians, architects, sustainability consultants, builders, solar installers etc)
  • Feel where cold is in the house, assess possible materials from house – i.e. look at house!
  • Other people’s retrofits (visits, blogs/websites)
  • Other sources of info on building design – AECB, passivhaus etc
  • Research specific products and product combinations; Green Building Store, Ecomerchant, Greenspec, and specific product manufacturers websites.

Decision Making and Targets

The plan was to upgrade the house and ensure our electricity and gas bills be as low as possible.  In keeping with the Climate Change Act 2008 I set myself a target of 80% reduction in bills.  But quickly came unstuck – 80% compared to what?  National averages?  But I know from monitoring our bills data in our old 2 bedroom flat (the ground floor of a leaky Victorian terrace) we are already 60% better than benchmark data for that house type.  Granted we had some energy efficiency measures installed, plus our normal behaviour – multiple jumper wearing and keeping the thermostat at 19.  So our personal benchmark isn’t the national average.  When I set out on this project I felt a target was important otherwise how else would we ever achieve our goals – the engineer in me!  But as time went on I realised that not only do I not know what to compare the reductions to I also don’t have a simple way of measuring the impact of individual design choices.  There are software and tools out there that could do this – but they are not available to me.  Plus the ultimate reductions will always be influenced by behaviour – so the high level target went out the window.  (APPLY SELF REGULATION AND ACCEPT FEEDBACK, original design concept was not appropriate to this design)

Over time I found The Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders (AECB) ratings which is a set of criteria for new builds and retrofit setting out good practice thermal performance for elements (walls, floor, roof etc).  The silver standard seemed good to me – better than Building Regs but not as far reaching as Passivhaus (German standard for houses requiring zero heating).


  • Previous consumption data from our old flat
  • Possible targets, decision making criteria and design parameters, pros and cons]


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So I have insulated with 140mm of sheeps wool insulation (Thermafleece), a renewable material (USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES) under the ground floor to prevent draughts from the floor void under the floorboards from coming up to cool our feet.  In addition I have draught stripped between the floorboards – yes this is belt and braces approach – but using the permaculture principle of multiple elements with the same function – if one of the systems fails we should still be ok.  One final element of the floor design has been to seal the draughts around the skirting boards with my trusty tube of decorators caulk – this plastic/toothpaste-like material squeezes into the small gaps and stops the draughts coming into the room.  The acid test was with the back of my hand on a cold windy day – pre-caulking there was some serious cold air blowing into the rooms… and now with caulk installed it is no more.  Draught stripping has been a low cost option and once the draughts are no longer coming through it’s possible to keep the temperature inside the house lower and still feel comfortable.

Insulation u value calcs
Insulation u value calcs


The loft is where most of the heat in the building is lost (maybe 35 – 40%), so making sure that the house has a very good hat on is vital.  We are undertaking a loft conversion so the loft insulation is going into the pitched roof and into our new box dormer.  My original design decision was to use Pavatex products from Natural Building Technologies – these are woodfibre boards and batts, using waste wood from industrial processes and converting it into a useable insulation product (PRODUCE NO WASTE).  These insulation materials are breathable, don’t release nasty chemicals into the air and lock up carbon (due to being made from wood) as well as closing a loop by using waste materials win win win win.  However – with a builder coming on board to build the loft conversion I’ve had a slight re-think (CREATIVELY USE AND RESPOND TO CHANGE).

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There is a downside to using woodfibre board – which is the thickness of materials (120mm above the rafters + 175mm between and below rafters) required to achieve a good u-value (0.15W/m2K) coupled with the (100mm) air space needed to ventilate the material to allow it to do it’s breathing thing making for a pretty thick roof.  To save space to gain more headroom in the loft we have decided to reach a compromise, we have decided to use a highly manufactured but super thin material called Tri-iso (Actis Super 10+) – like a space blanket coupled with some Pavatex to get the u-values to approx 0.16W/m2K – which I’m happy with and we get a roomy loft – brill compromise and keeping the heat inside the house.


  • U-value/cost/company manufacturing ethics comparison of different products]


The windows were a difficult choice… PVC windows are widely available, cheap and do the job – but many PVC windows degrade OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvery quickly in UV light.  The process of manufacturing PVC is highly toxic and generally I feel quite uncomfortable about using PVC.  So we decided to opt for timber windows.  And I found a great company in Bereco who manufacture bespoke timber windows (u-value 1.37W/m2K) – with the level of security that we wanted on the windows… other benefits of new windows have been blocking the sound of the A3, and making the rooms lighter (white windows as opposed to the very dark ones that were in before) (MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS FROM ONE ELEMENT, OBTAINING MANY YIELDS).  Triple glazing was considered, but was too expensive – to use our wallet as a weapon we need to have enough money in it, we can use the money saved from triple glazing for more insulation elsewhere – a better £/tonne CO2 saved.  A further element of the window strategy has been to install thermal lined OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcurtains and blinds to the windows – now I’m not sure how much of a difference this will make as the double glazing is pretty effective – but it will certainly feel more cosy on the inside with thick curtains – and that’s half the battle.  Plus – more than one yield I am learning how to sew in order to make the blinds and using old curtain material and pre-used coffee sacks too!

There remain some decisions to be made about the front door – with light and therefore cold air pouring in around the sides.  (SMALL AND SLOW – focus on the big areas first and prioritise)


The final piece of the woolly jumper on the house puzzle was to install insulation onto the external walls.  There are two possible ways to do it – (1) on the inside in which case you lose space in the rooms (not great if you want to sell the house in the future) and there are all sorts of issues with thermal bridging and damp that arise when doing the inside so we decided against this option – or (2) on the outside.  Outside is simpler you just get big sheets of insulation and fix them to the walls in long runs much less fiddly than the inside… so we opted for external.  However the prices we were quoted tripled during the project.  I tried to look in detail at the potential savings – but found it hard to find real and accurate data.  Based on our behaviour I estimated it would take 60 years to payback, and also considered how much thermal underwear could be bought for £10k! (the approx cost of the works). We have put the walls on hold for now.

We thought seriously about our zones when making the wall insulation decision – the zone 1 of our house where we spend most our time will be our new kitchen/dining room – which will be super warm because of the newly built highly thermally efficient walls.  Our zone 2 – the bedrooms – only need to be warm at night and when we get up, they’ve been draught proofed and only have 1 external wall each so heat loss from each room is not too bad.  The coldest part of the house is our zone 3 – the stairs and hall – which has the largest expanse of exposed external wall on the north side.  If we keep the internal doors closed and draught proofed, therefore preventing the colder air leaking into the warm rooms – then the hall being a little colder shouldn’t make too much of a difference.  We need the warmth of the house in our zone 1 – where we have also installed a wood burning stove to provide us with free heat from renewable sources.

But it is not a closed book now that we have two very thermally efficient rooms (our zone 1 kitchen and our bedroom in the loft) I can really notice the affect, thermal comfort is an important factor and to be in a space that requires little heating and still feel comfortable is great (RESPOND TO CHANGE, OBSERVE AND INTERACT).  I have been investigating the use of cork as an insulation material, I could do it myself, it would cost less, and it would support the very troubled Portuguese cork industry. (SMALL AND SLOW, VALUE THE MARGINAL – cork is an edge product in insulation terms).


The hot water plan is to make sure that all showers and taps are aerated and low flow to reduce the water coming out of the tap (VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES).  And then we are going to try and install some solar hot water panels into the twin coil cylinder (INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATE) (which was required to replace the very old, very leaky hot water cylinder which currently doesn’t hold heat in the tank for very long and mainly heats the airing cupboard – great for germinating plants but a bit of a waste of fossil fuel energy I think!)  The location of the panels is proving to be a bit tricksy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElectricity from the sun – well if there is a bandwagon why not jump onto it!  Given that the government are still paying a reasonable rate to anyone who can afford to install solar panels onto their roofs to generate their own electricity it seems foolish not to.  So we’ve decided to commandeer the biggest roof space for this purpose – at the expense of being able to heat our hot water – financially at the moment it makes more sense to do solar electric because of the payback even though in carbon terms it’s better to do hot water.  But solar hot water is not a write off yet.  This has been an interesting compromise – the yield of an income is important and real the yield of carbon savings is also important but harder to see and therefore harder to see the direct benefit.  The government is talking about a renewable heat incentive which will make hot water more viable but it’s not in place yet.


So to summarise the design and implementation of this project:

  1. Keep our bodies warm – invest in thermal underwear before next winter
  2. Keep any heat generated in the house – draught strip, insulate, double glazing, thermal curtains
  3. Focus heat retention in zone 1
  4. Minimise hot water use – aerators, low flow taps, A rated appliances, small bath
  5. Generate heat renewably – wood burning stove, solar hot water
  6. Generate electricity from the sun – solar PV panels (plus a financial yield from the government!)


The only way to identify the success of the strategies implemented will be to monitor our performance over the coming winter (the works were mostly completed by Feb 2013 so the 2013-14 winter will provide a complete winter’s worth of monitoring).

The monitoring plan is as follows:

  • Weekly meter readings for gas, electricity and water
  • Use imeasure website to record meter readings and assess against degree day analysis
  • Observe how we use the house once it is no longer a building site and actually a place to live and assess if the analysis is appropriate to our useage patterns, tweak as appropriate
  • Analyse meter readings quarterly to identify design tweaks and improvements
  • Consider implementing the ‘next steps’ identified below
  • Thermal imaging of the house to assess what is and isn’t working, work with Transition Town Kingston to implement a thermal imaging party in my street to include my hous
  • Update this blog post with actual energy usage as I get the data


  • Make final design decisions on solar thermal, wall insulation and front door
  • Share my knowledge with others:
    • web article,
    • use this design as a teaching aid on my intro to permaculture courses
    • contribute to the newly formed Kingston green building group
    • thermal imaging party (as above)
    • perhaps consultancy – I have already done this informally through friends and formally through a consultancy report on another house


  • I had a very long survey phase through my previous work, previous flat project and through the first few months of owning the house and not doing anything but interviewing trade which allowed me to get to know the building.  No ‘design as we do’ on this project!
  • A lot of the analysis took place as and when I needed to do it for the design of a particular element, there were a number of analysis/design cycles that I went through as the pattern was developed into detail.  There was a lot of analysis on this project – particularly numerical data analysis of consumption, u-values etc.  It feels like analysis was a bigger element of this project than some of the other designs I’ve done, I wonder if this is because I had the knowledge built up over years working in this sector to know what and how to analyse, compared to some of my other projects which have not had so much analysis because I was working in technical areas that are newer to me.
  • The timing of the project (house purchase just as I was doing my PDC) was perfect for being able to see how permaculture integrates into the engineers approach.
  • I could have tried to use a few more design tools in the early phases e.g. PMI, an adapted form of PASE – but this was really my very first attempt at integrating permaculture into my work (even though it’s one of my later write ups!) and I don’t think I fully appreciated the usefulness of some of the permaculture tools at the time.
  • The biggest lesson from this project overall has been developing my skills and the confidence to use those skills – I am now reasonably confident carpenter and tiler and I can have a go at plumbing and electrics, these skills I gained through observation first and then working up slowly in my competence as I developed my skills.  These are really important and valuable life skills that I am pleased to have confidence to do now.
  • I understand how houses work!
  • Time was another key factor in my personal people care.  Allowing myself time to think through the problem, developing the solution and then implementing (even if it required some time to learn the skill) without strict deadlines has made it a period of abundance and learning for me.
  • Costs – this is an extract from the costs spreadsheet, overall for the total retrofit project we came in at our budget with some elements costing more than anticipated but savings being made elsewhere.
    1 Windows £15,745.00
    2 Insulation – side + back walls (internal)  tbd
    3 Insulation – front (internal)  tbd
    4 Insulation – ground floor £761.66
    5 Bathrooms and plumbing – total £5,566.04
    6 Woodburner £1,958.00
    7 Hot water tank  Incl in plumbing
    8 Solar thermal  tbd
    9 Solar PV £6,127.09
  • Time – the overall project took approximately 6 months longer than I had anticipated at the start, this was due in part to my naive time planning having never programmed a project like this before and in part due to stopping for 6 months to wait for the long wet winter to pass and finish off the final external elements.

September 2014 update

Following the monitoring plan I have been taking weekly meter readings.  Using 2 years worth of data I have worked out the total annual consumption and the % improvement from typical similar houses shown in the table below.  I have put a range of figures for improvement because there are a variety of different sources quoting different typical UK average figures (the problem I highlighted in the beginning).  Our electricity consumption is almost entirely offset by the solar panels so we are close to net zero on electricity.  In addition to the numbers the thermal comfort levels of the house are now SO much better we have plesant and warm spaces to live in.

We have joined the Superhomes network and have been assessed to have a 62% carbon reduction in the building fabric, the property was open for our first Superhomes open day on 13 September and 12 people came round.  We are planning a thermal imaging party based at our house and including others on the street in January 2015.

Ave June – June % improvement on UK average for similar house/useage patterns
Elec, kWh/yr 1650 50 -75%
Gas, kWh/yr                    10,950 30 – 65%

Tolworth community garden

In this beautiful sunny weather, Ruth and I ventured into new territory last Saturday with a short permaculture session right beside the A3 in Tolworth.  There on a roadside verge is a burgeoning community growing space and we had agreed to run a short intro to permaculture course for the budding growers in the group.  As is often the way, we soon found people with lots of and a diverse range of gardening experience; I love this because it adds a richness to what we are doing.

We began the morning with a quick pattern name game to warm things up, using a pattern to make throwing 3 balls around a circle easier than if it were left to random chance.  Then straight into the web of life; inputs, outputs, connections and beneficial relationships in the web and what happens when things go wrong.  I find this a very powerful way to start to explain how nature works, and it was great to take a step away from getting stuck into plants!  We then tried something new by getting pairs to ‘meet a plant’ and were amazed at what was uncovered and how a few of Holmgren’s principles are so immediately and obviously visible in just a single plant (leaves, stem, roots and all).  With a whirlwind observation of nature under our belts we were ready to get into the design part of the morning.

The roadside verge in question is seriously lacking in soil, nutrients or much plant life – although the community have been working hard to change that and Saturday was another chance to add to the already growing selection of annuals and perennials making this back end of Tolworth a much brighter place.  We had been lucky to acquire a number of donated plants including some borage, sedum, sorrel, aubergines, lettuces and peppers and with two raised planters prepared by me from some offcuts of wood from my recent building project and some free well rotted horse manure we were ready to go with first planning and then planting up the planters.  Photos coming soon of the amazing results!

Peer review guild

[Criteria 1; Holmgren principles, patterns, incremental design. Criteria 3; administration. Criteria 5; community building. Criteria 6; symmetry]

This design began in December 2012 and my inputs lasted for about a year.

I don’t resonate with the ‘apply self regulation and accept feedback’ principle too well in my permaculture designs, or at least I haven’t so far.  I’m a do-er, I often struggle to reflect and adapt and change in response to my reflections, especially when I work on my own.  But over the last couple of months I’ve been working on a project design which is all about self regulation and feedback, that’s a turn out for the books!  I have used the plan-do-review action learning cycle in this write up, which I learnt about during my PDC.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick canter through recent history – I did my permaculture design course in Sept 2011, I was very inspired and excited about permaculture and immersing myself more into its application in my life.  I started to teach permaculture and embed my knowledge early 2012.  I signed up and started my diploma in May 2012.  I did more teaching throughout the summer, I generated lots of ideas, I did lots of research and quite a few sketches and doodles, I did some pacing of my back garden and drawing of base maps I even built a pond and a shed.  But come October 2012 all of this felt like it was for nothing, I was ‘stuck’.  I’d lost sight of why I was doing the diploma or what all the effort and enthusiasm had been about.  The reality was that because I had not written anything up, I felt like I wasn’t ‘doing’ my diploma (even though in reality I had been ‘doing’ lots of things, I just hadn’t produced any outputs yet!).

Fortunately the initial spark burned bright enough for me to know through my ‘stuck’ haze that there would be a light at the end of the 2012-11-10 18.43.13tunnel.  And serendipitously there was a Diploma weekend scheduled in December.  So I duly signed up and went along.  I’ll be honest I felt quite anxious, I knew I’d probably see my tutor and have to face up to the truth that I felt like I hadn’t really done very much and that I’d probably be surrounded by lots of highly efficient permaculture diploma apprentices with lots of designs under their belts.  But pretty much once I had walked in the door and (principally once my blood sugar levels were restored after a long and hungry train journey) spoken to a couple of familiar (ish) faces I felt like this was going to be a good thing this weekend.  There were plenty of stories unfolding as the night progressed of unstarted/unfinished designs and the like, I was amongst friends!

And then after a day and a half of inspiring and interesting talks and discussions I hit upon, for me, the weekend highlight!  A talk by a diploma tutor called Richard Perkins and some of his apprentices.  They had devised a really exciting approach to doing their diploma together, and it was this working on it together whilst doing your own projects that really resonated for me.  That’s exactly what I need, I need some other people to be working together with on this thing.  That’s how I’ve always worked, I’ve been feeling isolated and that’s why it’s felt so hard.  And they had a really simple method for achieving this – to have a peer group who support eachother by reviewing another person’s design.  Genius!  And the other best bit about this workshop was that not only was it resonating with me, but it was also resonating with a few of the other London folk.  After that one hour session I walked away feeling that we had an embryo of a peer review guild in London, three enthusiastic people was enough to get us started.

The design itself was extremely simple, I based it on the format that Richard’s group were adopting and made minor tweaks rather than major redesigns for the first trial.  I researched in a bit more detail how Richard’s group had been doing their work through looking at their websites and looking at their peer review template form.  As a result of this I extracted the following elements required for this design:

  • A period of time for the design to happen;
    • 10 weeks works for Richard’s group as we have nothing else to base our decision making on use this, test it and see what happens.
  • Who will be part of this?  There were 3 of us from the diploma gathering but are there any others?
    • I have access to some email lists of London diploma apprentices, use these, contact London tutors (Claire White, Hedvig Murray – check if there are any others) to pass on, ask people on the lists to pass on to others they know. (People care – try my hardest to make it possible for anyone who wants to to join in by contacting widely)
    • I decided that as there was a small group of us who had some energy to make this happen not to invite people in theory, but to set out the plan and invite them to join the trial now and if the timing didn’t work for them they could join future peer review processes.  Catch and store energy of the small starting up group.  Fair shares – make it possible for people to join when it suits them and that there is no advantage/disadvantage to being in the first phase
  • Joint agreed deadline for completing a written up design
    • 10 weeks after the start (Fair shares – everyone is in the same boat, we are all working to the same deadlines)
  • Joint agreed deadline for doing the review.
    • 2 weeks after the design write up deadline works for Richard’s group, try this out it seems sensible to have some time but not too much time so that we can keep the energy of the process moving.
  • Action Learning Guild during the design cycle;
    • Richard’s group did this online, we are geographically closer so we could meet face to face in a central London location.  Previous ALG’s have been at the Royal Festival Hall, it works, don’t change it.  (Earth care – everyone can reach by public transport, building is already in use no need for additional heat/light for us)
    • This gave a chance for us to meet up and chat about our progress, feed off eachothers energy, help with problem solving etc.  Use the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, what’s the vision, what’s the next steps). (People care – this seems to me to be really important to combat the feeling of isolation and giving us support)
    • Make it clear that people can be involved in the process even if they can’t join the ALG (People care – other commitments may make it impossible for all involved to meet, but still make people feel welcome to join)
    • Set a date when at least the three of us could make ask them now at the start.  (People care – involve everyone, make sure I am not left on my own at the Festival Hall!)
  • Who will review whose work?
    •  I will design how this works once I know who is part of the group
    • Make it explicit that people can submit work however they want (via email, meet up in person, post etc), leave this to the individuals to work out with their reviewer  (People care – make sure that those writing up their diploma’s that don’t have a website are still included in the process, and those who don’t want to fill in the form can meet face to face to do their feedback.  Earth care – a lot of this process will happen via email, we can reduce transport journeys in this way)
  • Have a trial to see if it works and then review.
    • I need to design in a feedback session after the end of the process.
  • Peer review template form for us to use for the actual review process.
    • Tweak Richard’s group form to include links to some of their websites for examples of written up designs and peer reviews.  I don’t know which bits of the form will and won’t work yet this is what the trial will help to find out, review after the trial.

This design was written up in this email as an invitation to London diploma folk to join the trial (I first passed it round the three of us who were the spark for comments and feedback, I tweaked the commitment part for the final invite).  I tried to keep it as simple as possible so that those who hadn’t heard the talk or done the research that I had would still understand the process through my email invitation.   I was staggered that 9 people were keen to take part in the trial with a few others interested but the timing of the trial was not to work for them.

When I was doing this work I didn’t really think of it as a portfolio design and I didn’t use any design tools because the whole thing just seemed too simple to be a permaculture design, do a trial using somebody else’s format.  Talking to my tutor about the process he encouraged me to write it up as a design and having done this I can see that it was a valuable design, there was more design to it than I thought and that I could probably have explicitly used more tools for example I could have done a formal PMI or SWOC of the design elements, I could have thought more formally about the limits as this might have helped to highlight challenges other people might face with engaging in this process, I could have done some wild design to harvest other ideas.  I did keep the principles and ethics at the heart of the work I was doing.

Who reviews who?

There were 2 broad options for this, I have written a PMI of the options to demonstrate how I came to the conclusion that a circle pattern was the preferred option.

  1. Pair people up and they do a direct swap
  2. Circular pattern where you review someone’s work and someone different review’s your work
Plus Minus Interesting
Pair people up Simple to design Not good for an odd no. Could make the ALG into just these pairs and reduce diversity of feedback
If one of the pair drops out then the other one has nothing Some people might just go off in their pairs and not join in in future if it really works for them
Less flexibility for future rounds
Circle pattern More diversity of feedback – 4 different people inputting to your work in 2 rounds More complicated to design and communicate I didn’t realise it was a circle pattern until I had done it, the concept was about diveristy
If one drops out you still get something out of the process You get to communicate with more people – could be plus or minus
More flexible for people being added or removed in the futre – the circle can be made as big or small as it needs to be

As a result of the 9 committed to the trial I designed a simple circular pattern for peer to peer feedback so that each person had someone different to give and receive feedback to and in 2 guild cycles there would be inputs by 4 people into your work, and it also allows flexibility so that people can be added/removed in the future.  I presented it as a spreadsheet for simplicity as shown below (made anonymous for this write up); behind the scenes everyone had a number and each number shifted along one place for the first review and two places for the second etc etc.  (Fair shares – it is more equitable to have different reviewers/reviewees as different people will put in different amounts of time and commitment to the review)

My name is: The person who’s work I am reviewing is: The person who is reviewing my work is:
Person 1 Person 9 Person 2
Person 2 Person 1 Person 3
Person 3 Person 2 Person 4
Person 4 Person 3 Person 5
Person 5 Person 4 Person 6
Person 6 Person 5 Person 7
Person 7 Person 6 Person 8
Person 8 Person 7 Person 9
Person 9 Person 8 Person 1

How did the principles influence the design?

  • The circular pattern for giving feedback increased diversity of feedback received and projects looked at  – use and value diversity
  • Use what has been done before with minimal adaptation, for a minimal change we will get the effect of lots of people getting diploma work done which on an individual basis is a great effect on our diploma journeys – make the least change for the greatest possible effect
  • The problem is the solution: I wasn’t able to commit to my diploma, there were others in the same boat
  • Pilot phase – to test the system, we don’t know if it will work until we’ve tried it out, so keep it simple in the first phase and then learn from that (use small and slow solutions)
  • Catch and store the energy of the diploma weekend, I got on with making it happen straight away whilst there was still lots of energy from the weekend.
  • Observe and interact – observation that this was working well for another group, interaction with their plan adapted to our situation.  Also the pilot phase allows us to observe and then interact and make changes for future phases.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services – use our own personal renewable resources of our skills as designers and try to develop these skills through practising reviews and looking in detail at other people’s work.
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback – use the feedback recieved from others to influence our design work as well as the lessons we learn from doing reviews of other people’s work.


And so it happened, we had a great action learning guild meeting in Jan 2013 with 7 people attending,  we used the 4 questions in small groups to discuss individual progress and had a large group discussion about the peer review process we were in.  Designs were submitted by the 31st Jan.  9 people were involved and I think all either received or gave feedback some got both (not everyone managed to get a project submitted for their own personal reasons).  On a personal level all the groundwork that I had been doing came together in the form of some written up designs and all of a sudden my diploma made sense.  And during the 10 week design period I had written up 3 designs!  I set a date for the


Following the cycle we had a review of how it went, three people didn’t attend and I haven’t really heard from them.  So I guess I have to assume that it didn’t work so well for them (I know for 2 of them life commitments and time commitments have got in the way).  But for the other 6 it was a good thing all round.

  • People found it really useful to a) get things written up – this is a common problem, getting round to doing the write up and b) to give and receive feedback – different people have had different levels of feedback given/received.
  • It’s important for the group to connect on a regular basis and to know the other people whom we are in the same boat with. So the ALG is an important part of it.
  • A desire to do it again gives us the opportunity to catch and store this energy
  • Even with life complexities and not exactly meeting the deadline for everyone it still seemed to work and people were happy.

PLAN (round 2)

And so we decided to embark on another cycle, 3 people left and 3 more joined in, so we are keeping with the magic number of 9!  The one adaptation we added was to make the next action learning guild more design focused, rather than progress focused.  So we were all to consider the 4 questions (what’s going well, what’s challenging, long term goal and next steps) with respect to the specific design we are working on rather than to our diploma generally.

DO (round 2)

The second round happened again with mixed levels of projects being completed and reviewed.  I think that as the spring/summer arrived people moved into outdoor phase and some of the original enthusiasm started to wane.  The review meeting after the second round was less well attended and we agreed to take a break from the cycle of peer review and perhaps look at other ways of giving/receiving feedback.

Beyond round 2

I continued to organise action learning guild meetings without the peer review element every couple of months, the ones over the summer were poorly attended but come the autumn there was more interest.  I observed that a lot of people would come along to one meeting soon after they signed up for their diploma and then we would never see them again.  I had a baby in Nov 2013 and so stepped out of attending and then of organising the meetings.  Since then until now (Jan 2015) there have been at least 3 people I know of who have been organising action learning meetings among the London peer group.  In addition I have still been doing peer reviews on a direct one to one level with some of my peers.

To end here are my personal reflections:

What’s gone well?

  • I felt really energized doing this work because it worked well and others got something out of it too.
  • It’s had a big knock on effect for me, not just doing one design but really immersing myself in my diploma
  • The design and implementation has touched on principles that don’t resonate so much with me in other areas of design/life e.g. apply self regulation and feedback, use and value diversity
  • This was a good opportunity for a people based design
  • From an inner perspective this process has made me more confident in my ability both as a designer and as an organizer.  It’s given me bags of confidence to make things happen.  It’s shown me that making a commitment to others is a really important aspect of how I work and design, it makes me feel more comfortable when the commitment is explicit.
  • It’s good that people can be involved and get something out of it even if they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter (i.e. late deadlines)
  • The group, meeting and sharing, has been a really valuable part of what made this work.  But having said that it still worked even though there were some in the group who never came to any of the meetings.
  • Writing up designs really helps to clarify the design process and learning outcomes – this is important!
  • For the two peer review sessions that we did it was a real success for the people involved, they got on with designs and were able to give and receive feedback.

What’s challenging?

  • Though there were lots of other people involved, I don’t really feel like we designed the actual process together – as the design work had sort of already been done – the work was in relocating an effective design to this specific time and place
  • I am left with some unanswered questions; Did it only work for the people who came and shared their stories?  What about the ones who didn’t complete a project and we haven’t heard from them?  Did it work as well for them?  Should I follow up in some way?
  • I know that one person dropped out because he didn’t feel like it was useful for him to be involved as he had submitted and reviewed 2 designs and not received any feedback on his work – this was a real shame and inevitable and something that is hard to control.  We made it very clear that being involved meant that you were committed to doing all of the process, but this didn’t actually happen for some people.  Perhaps I could have designed some sort of fallback option to ensure that this didn’t happen, or perhaps a three way review process so that there was a third person available, this would have made it more complex, and in the beginning I was relying on people’s individual commitment to the process and the group to make it work for everyone.
  • It’s very situational as to who is available/interested/has energy at the moment (which is a people thing!).
  • There are loads of people on the original email list who didn’t get involved, could I have done anything differently to get them involved, or are they all people who were just not actively working on their diploma’s at the time?
  • It’s challenging to make something that is really simple and requires not a huge amount of ‘design’ into a design, but I still think it is a valid design, because though it is simple there were still design decisions and the principles and ethics influenced the way I approached this work.  My use of design tools was limited as the design itself was so simple.

What’s the vision?

  • Having done this work, I would love to think that someone else would pick up this work when they are in the same position as I was on their diploma journey, I hope that by having written it up as a design I could make it available to others so that they too could think about doing this.

What’s the next achievable step?

  • To achieve the vision, once I have this design signed off I will send it to the permaculture association for them to publish on their website to make it available to others.



Design/Organisation: 4 hours

ALG: 2 hours

Feedback: I didn’t get a project to give feedback on – so zero for the first round

Feedback meeting: 2 hours

Money: £0

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