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Hello

12 Nov

Hello to all our friends across the world some of whom have helped us to maintain and improve the factory and all the gardens and buildings on site. With your help we have achieved so much but still have more work to do. It is a life long project for us. The list of tasks completed is too big to put into this newsletter.

We really enjoy meeting new people and old friends and have kept a photo album of many of the volunteers working here which I show to new volunteers so they can see what type of work they may be asked to help with.

Richard and I have now lived here for almost five years and have seen some changes in the weather. In the last two years we have had a drought and the river almost dried out next to our garden. However this has allowed us to remove a lot of bamboo and brambles from the riverside and to rebuild the small barrage in the river at the end of our garden. Unfortunately we have also lost a few trees from the surrounding hills and now as we are experiencing strong winds have to watch out for falling branches on the road and terraces.

Our road has been given a name by the Mairie at the request of the French post office. Our address is now 272 Chemin de la Tannerie.  We have also changed our websites and separated the NVC training from the volunteering and our new website is called volunteer-france.com. If you have any friends who would like to volunteer to help us please show them the new website.

We are looking for specialists to help us with pruning and tree cutting, woodworkers to help build windows and doors and roofers to help repair the roofs of the buildings. But we still have the garden to maintain and cleaning of the training centre and buildings.

This year’s project was to build a used water treatment plant using reeds and water plants. We are now in a position to recommence growing vegetables and are preparing the soil with home-made compost and compost collected from the road when we cleared the track. Over the winter we will be preparing the ground for planting vegetables and pruning all the trees and shrubs.

We are very pleased that a young couple are moving into the Peace Factory as permanent residents and they are interested in helping us to grow fruit and vegetables.

Look forward to hearing from you, Trish.

Many hands make light work

19 Feb

I was thinking today about the many people who have stayed here as volunteers. Some stayed for a couple of weeks and many have been able to donate much longer periods of time to the project here. And some have come looking for a new lifestyle and have wanted to test out living in a different way. All have been special in their individual ways.

So thank you to the volunteers who have worked here over the last two years:

Hugues, Sally, Siobhan ,Joseph T , Anna Lena, Andries, Emanuel, Sven, Sarah, Insa, Florina ,Ioana (Jo), Daniel, Pavel, Dorothea, Megan ,Victor, Clemens, Hannes, Aidan, Ilkka, Kasia, Olena, Ellie, Richard, Robert, Kevin, Luis, Nadir, Nicolas, Katherine, Sarah, Simon, Daniel, Alberto, Alberto, Marie, Massai, Sean, Dylan, Michael, Hannah, Nicholas ,Manuela, Christine.

Here are some photos of the volunteer team in action:

We can always do with more help. There is much that remains to be done. So if you know a person (over the age of 18) who would like to spend a minimum of two weeks in the glorious south of France, then send them this link:

www.volunteer-france.com

If you want to know more about how we work with volunteers then see this blog post.

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Here are some of the tasks that need doing:

Raise funds for turbine project
Repair bridge outside rear door to 2nd floor of factory
Clear debris from 3rd, 4th and 5th floors of factory
Rebuild wall by rear of 2nd floor of factory
Repair retaining wall of old track to factory
Fit carpet for training room
Clean all carpets
Make and install sound partition for 1st floor sliding door
Cut 6 bamboo roots from by the river to develop into plants
Empty one composting toilet storage bin
Fix leak in Little House roof
Fix leak in Big House roof
Improve Little House terrace
Improve reception area
Clear up debris from parking area outside factory
Move wardrobe from top floor of old house to first floor factory
Decorate sink in corridor factory second floor
Sort two garages of various personal stuff
Supply and fit door from staircase on 2nd floor
Clearing track of leaves
Strim turning area and move rocks
Wooden steps from 2nd floor – smooth off, rub down and varnish
Replace broken or missing glass panes on river side of 1st and 2nd floors
Remove grass cuttings from 3rd floor terrace
Lay wooden boards on 2nd floor
Fix window by wooden steps on 2nd floor

Everything in the garden’s rosy

6 May

It’s that time of year when everything suddenly bursts into life. The trees turn green very quickly and plants (and weeds) suddenly sprout up from the ground. Going for my daily walk with the dog, I see brown fields turning green one day, and then they are full of growing crops the next. Yesterday I noticed a lot of fields where the crops had been harvested already. Gone in a trice. I am not yet used to the cycle of growing here in the south west of France. Everything seems to happen a lot sooner than I remember it in the UK!

Above are some photographs of the garden here at The Old Tannery. We have growing:

Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peas, Broad Beans, Lettuces, Carrots, Radishes, Leeks, Sprouts, Peppers, Aubergines, Melons, Courgettes, Globe Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Chives, Sunflowers, Peaches, Pears, Apples, Cherries, Gooseberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Apricots, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Olives.

And not forgetting the chickens and the goldfish!

We also thought you might appreciate some photographs of our area:

That’s all for now. I am flying off to the UK for a week, to improve my English!

Ecologically Speaking

31 Jan

For many years before we left the UK, I was keen to protect the environment and belonged to several organisations such as WWF for Nature, National Trust, Woodland Trust and the local Wildlife Trust to name a few. I also saved and reused paper and envelopes and won a gold award for Gardening for Wildlife. Here we live in the middle of the countryside in an environment which once was hostile to the local wildlife. As an old tannery it must have polluted the river and the ground around it. But it did give a large number of the villagers a job, although it sounds like it was a very hard job, dirty wet and cold and involved the use of many chemicals. 

Since Louise bought this site over twenty years ago it has slowly been cleaned up and redeveloped into a peaceful haven in which to live close to nature. However there is still much to do. We are still removing a lot of debris from the old tannery and planning to get the water turbine working again to generate electricity for the site and install a method of dealing with our sewage. Another idea is to get the old water filter and tower working again to provide grey water to use for toilets and cleaning. We hope to achieve this using a ram pump which does not need any electricity to work. It works by the pressure of the water itself. These are large and expensive projects and will have to wait until funds and help becomes available. 

There is a lot we are doing and can do in smaller ways to help protect the environment. In the gardens (which is an area close to my heart) we use a no dig technique to prepare the ground for growing vegetables. We collect cardboard and put it down on the areas we want clearing of weeds and cover it with manure.  Nature then works it’s wonders and the insects amalgamate the manure within the soil. Only a small amount of weeding is then required as by not digging the soil we don’t disturb the weed seeds embedded in there and many stay dormant. 

  

 The manure comes from our local organic sheep and cow farmers. We cover all the beds with the straw and wood shavings collected from the chicken house (prefertilised) and sow clover as a fertiser which when we hoe the beds is taken down into the soil. This is done in the winter months and by spring the beds are ready for planting in. It saves our backs too!  The wood shavings are free from our local carpenter as we save him from having to burn the excess he produces. 

We have also built and installed three composting toilets 

  which also use sawdust or wood shavings from the carpenter. When they are full we empty the contents into larger bins up in the woods where it is allowed to decompose for six months to a year before using it on the gardens. All our food waste is put into the compost bins in the garden and used when planting begins. I also use a Bokashi system for breaking down all food waste before putting it on the compost heap. We also try to reuse as much as we can and where possible use old wood for building steps or shelves or even garden seats. We have also made some steps and planters out of old tyres  

 which we found in the old factory. As we are surrounded by woods I would also like to make our own wood chips for mulching the gardens to help retain the moisture in the soil as is is very dry here for most of the year. But I haven’t worked out the most cost effective way of doing this yet. 

Inside and on the buildings we use Eco products for cleaning and have insulated the apartments with eco friendly insulation and built the new apartments as ‘passive homes’. This means that they need the minimum of heating as the sun heats them during the day and being well insulated they retain the heat. They have been built within the concrete frame of the factory so there was no demolition of the outside walls and the exterior looks unchanged (except where we have repainted and improved the buildings). For cleaning we mostly use white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and black soap which is very effective for most things. Cleaning windows is a bit of an issue here as we have three floors and on the training floor alone there are over 250 panes of glass on the outside walls of the factory. And because we have six garages under the ground floor, each floor in effect becomes one level higher and is almost twice the height of a normal house! We still haven’t managed to find a solution to cleaning the outside of these windows yet. 

We don’t use tumble driers as they use a lot of electricity but we do use dishwashers, as if filled are economical with water and electricity. We try to ensure washing machines are only used when full and we don’t use tap water for the gardens if possible. When boiling water we don’t fill the kettle unless we need all the water and on the odd occasion we hand wash dishes we use that water for watering the garden. We are now replacing all our light bulbs with new LED bulbs which use less electricity and last longer. 

We had a discussion about buying old or new furniture and clothes and the conclusion we came to was that some people need to buy new products to keep people in work but give them away to charities so that they can help others and provide cheaper products for those on a budget or keen on saving the planet. We also discussed whether it is better to buy recycled toilet and kitchen rolls or to buy paper produced from sustainable sources. The conclusion was that it is better to buy sustainably produced products as the recycling process is not always as ecological. 

We still have a lot more to do here so if you would like to come and see what we are doing you would be most welcome. See our website.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We have had a lovely summer

4 Sep
The swimming pool at Montolieu

The swimming pool at Montolieu

Well the summers is nearly over but we have had a lovely time over here. The weather was very good this year, although May was a bit rainy. However June and July were splendid – hot, long sunny days with temperatures averaging 30°C. Then it dropped a tad in August, making life that much more bearable. We have been wearing shorts and tee shirts all summer!

The local open-air swimming pool has been much in demand. It’s only open in July and August but when things got too hot, we took to having meetings in the middle of the pool!

The chickens got a new home
The new hen house

The new hen house

Finally we decided that the chicken house built by volunteers two years ago was not fit for purpose. It leaked and was beginning to fall apart, and rats and mice were trying to muscle in as well! So we went on-line and found a French company that supplied wooden, ecological chicken houses that were delivered flat for us to assemble. Here is the result!

They appear to be quite happy with the new arrangement, although for a few days they tried to return to the old one at the end of the day. That stopped when we demolished the old one! It must be working as we started to collect three eggs a day again.

Nettles
Nettles and yet another bone

Nettles and yet another bone

For Nettles it’s been a lovely time. She has had literally hundreds of people to play with her. She’s been out for long walks and runs. Here she is enjoying a bone.

As we are about to travel back to the UK for a holiday, she has an appointment with the vet who will give her a health check, an injection against worms and he will sign her off as fit to travel. This jas to be done between five days and24 hours before the channel crossing. This year we have decided to go on the overnight ferry from Caen/Ouistreham to Portsmouth thus avoiding any possible delays at Calais due to the refugee crisis unfolding there.

New volunteer website

We have produced a new website for people interested in volunteering here. Please do have a look.

Health Care in France

9 Sep

It has taken me over 18 months to suss this out as I have not needed to use the system so far, however other people have so I am now able to explain the system available to us out here. In emergency dial 112 and ask for Samu unless it is a motor accident when you ask for the Gendarmerie.

The first thing we had to do was apply for a Carte Vitale which enables us to use the health care on the government tab. This requires several visits with appropriate documents to the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM) office in Carcassonne. It is necessary to go more than once due to the beaurocratic processes used which can be interpreted differently by different administrators! It took nearly 6 months for my card to come through. This acts as an identity card for health care.

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I used my card first when I visited the optician. This meant that I only had to pay €15 for the full tests by an ophthalmologist (Dr) including for glaucoma. Then I was reimbursed about two weeks later. Unfortunately opticians are few and far between in France and in the rural communities you have to wait about 3 months for an appointment. On completion of the test I was given a prescription for new lenses to take to any optician, as they are found in separate shops and not affiliated with the ophthalmologist. However the cost of glasses is very high.

Because I am registered I now receive free mammograms and bowel cancer tests. They send out a reminder for you to make an appointment at a hospital or clinic of your choice. I only had to wait one or two weeks for these. I received my results of the bowel cancer test one week after the test was sent off in the post! All clear. I received my X-rays for the mammogram complete with report two weeks later. Again all clear. The patient keeps their own records and X-rays here rather than the hospital, so it is your own fault if they are lost.

One of the volunteers had an accident and injured his foot so we took him to A&E. He went to reception with his insurance papers and was seen immediately by the nurse. He only had to wait a few minutes before being taken through for X-ray but it was about 3 hours later that he came out with X-rays, prescription for medication and crutches as he had broken a bone in his foot. So we took him straight to a pharmacy to get them. He had to pay for some of his medication as he chooses not to have a Carte Vitale but he claims it back from his insurers.

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When Richard visits our GP he has to pay €25 in cash to the doctor
and for any medications but he can claim this back from the UK.

Here is a video explaining how the emergency services work in France (just in case you need them when visiting us)!

Hard work in the garden is paying off

12 Jul

We are now reaping the benefit of all the hard work in the garden. Delicious organic fruit and vegetables.

20140712-215323-78803860.jpgTrish and Damien (supported by Carmene and Richard) have done well.

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20140712-215432-78872339.jpgWe have rigged up a water feed from the river which supplies the pond and keeps the frogs and four goldfish happy. It’s also a watering hole for Nettles! We also have an excellent petrol driven pump which extracts water from the river and produces a great volume of water.

20140712-215812-79092241.jpgWe’ve also grown some sun flowers!

It’s nice to be beside the seaside

16 Apr

Our nearest beaches are at Narbonne which is about an hour’s drive from us. Narbonne itself is a little inland and is connected to the Canal du Midi by the Canal du Robine which runs through the centre of the town.

The beaches are about 15 km further south and vary in quality from excellent to just like Blackpool!

Yesterday I took the four volunteers (Damien, Remi, Carmino and Erica) to the beach for the day. The weather was perfect: a balmy 28 deg C with hardly a cloud in the sky.

20140416-033837.jpg One of them went paddling (it was still a little cool for swimming)!

20140416-033945.jpg. Then we went for lunch. Typical for this region, fish and shellfish featured rather heavily, especially appropriate as most of the team eat vegetarian food.

20140416-034152.jpg. After lunch (I.e. two hours later!) we drove to the town and the team walked around for a couple of hours whilst I caught up with my work emails. I wonder what the recipients’ reactions would be if they realised I was working from my car parked in an old town in the south of France!

The Garden Office rises once again

14 Mar

After languishing, in pieces, in one of the garages, the Henley Garden Office that was so much loved by us, and lovingly taken down by all our friends, has finally seen the light of day.

After collecting dust, and neglected, for the last 15 months, we finally had sufficient hands here to put it up again. It’s taken three days and we’ve got to get the roof on, but it’s great to see it again. We can’t wait to occupy it!!

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Making great progress here at The Peace Factory

8 Mar

The winter seems to have given up the battle and spring now seems to have arrived. We notices the first blossom on the trees in mid-February. Now green things are shooting up all over the place: guess who’s writing this!

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Caterpillar Nests

Now one thing I do know is that the funny looking nests in this photograph of a pine tree near us can cause a lot of grief to animals and humans alike. They are caterpillar nests and if disturbed they shoot out poisonous needles. You don’t see a lot of those in Mote Park, Maidstone!

The team of volunteers have been working hard over the winter months. Thanks mainly to Andrea from Italy most of the old tress that were blocking the sunlight on the three terraces have been cut down. Now we have a lot of firewood for the barbecue pit. To assist in the logging operation we invested in an electric chainsaw which has certainly earned its keep so far.

The team has also been painting like mad, taking full advantage of the dry weather. All the garage doors have been done, as has the gate and the railings to the Old House.

New electric chainsaw

New electric chainsaw

Andrea doing his woodman work

Andrea doing his woodman work