Volunteering in 2017

23 Jan

The Peace Factory is now the name of the training centre for Nonviolent Communication. For volunteering we are now using the name The Old Tannery and we have a separate website and a new look. (Please see photos on website of volunteers in action.)


Without the help of all our friends from across the world we would not have progressed so far in renovating the old factory buildings and gardens. So we would like to thank you all. We hope we have not missed anyone and hope that our translations are correct. Of course we include in the English our friends from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. (I apologise that my keyboard cannot type the Cyrillic languages.) Please tell me if you cannot see your language or there are any spelling mistakes.

We have made some mistakes which we have learnt from and hope to be able to provide an even more enjoyable experience  here in Montolieu in the future.

Happy new year and thank you

Bonne année et Mercia

Šťastný Nový Rok a děkuji

Godt Nytår og tak

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar en dank u

head uut aastat ja aitäh

hyvää uutta vuotta ja kiitos

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr und danke

bold of új évet, és köszönöm

Hamingjusamur Nýtt Ár og þakka þér

felice anno nuovo e vi ringrazio

Godt Nyttår og takk

an nou fericit și vă mulțumesc

Feliz año nuevo y gracias

gott nytt år och tack

З Новим роком і спасибі

And thank you to Google translate.

We still need help for the next phase which requires a little more experienced specialist skills such as helping to get the water turbine operational, tree work, roof repairs, clearing 3rd floor of factory  in preparation for building a conference or training room and general work like clearing a route through the woods and clearing the track to the factory, painting walls and window frames, cleaning and replacing broken windows.

We are currently preparing for the installation of a reed bed system sewage treatment in the big garden and to do this we have had to move the compost heap.

Here are statistics about this area of France showing the amount of rain which has fallen during the last 20 years and over how many days.  But the Aude is known as the sunniest and windiest part of France.


Visit to the Auvergne 

16 Dec

Returning home from Paris recently, I decided to break the journey half way and stay the night at Clermont-Ferrand. This medium-sized city is located in the Massif Central region. The Massif Central is an elevated region in the middle of southern France, consisting of mountains and plateaus. It covers approximately 15 percent of the country.

This is a volcanic area of which the Puy de Dôme is the highest volcano in the range known as the Chaîne des Puys. 

And it is possible to visit the summit of this impressive (and happily defunct) volcano. 

Puy de Dôme volcano

At the foot there is a visitor centre where one has a choice of methods for gaining the summit – a two and a half hour walk or a ride on a rack & pinion railway. Guess which I chose!

Brand new trains

The views on the way up are superb

Some of my fellow passengers where carrying massive backpacks which turned out to be hang gliders. This is one of the most popular places in France for hang gliding. One reason is that jumps can be made irrespective of the wind direction as the summit is perfectly circular. 

I had a thoroughly excellent day out at a very modest cost (the visit being heavily subsidised by the authorities – I believe building the brand new railway cost over €76 million).

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!

Working with Volunteers

28 Mar

I never cease to be surprised by the amazing people we now share our lives with. People from all walks of life and all different cultures have been so helpful, kind and friendly and have come to help us to realise our dream to set up an eco community in a very beautiful part of France. We would never have achieved so much here without the help of volunteers who give their time and turn their hands to a wide assortment of tasks and challenges. Some have specialist skills while others simply have willing hands and a warm heart and are willing to try learning a new skill or even a new language.

From utilising old tyres to build a set of steps in the woodland to allow us to reach the water meters, to collecting and spreading trailer loads of manure for the garden. 20130903-224536.jpgimg_0686

From preparing and planting vegetable plots to clearing rubble and repainting walls, ceilings and floors and helping with the general maintenance of the buildings. Their help is invaluable.

All this work does not happen without planning and supervision so it does mean more work and some challenges for me. Possibly the biggest challenge this year has been working with a couple from the Czech Republic who when they arrived spoke very little English and no French, only Czech! After two and half months it is now possible to talk to them without using Google translate and to learn a little more about them and explain what we are trying to achieve here.

It is not all smooth running all of the time as the volunteers have to share a communal space with only a very small bedroom each. This sometimes leads to conflict which occasionally requires some intervention from us. we also introduce them to Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to help reduce or deal with conflict as it arises.

It is rewarding to see people learning new skills and languages and seeing the changes and improvements being made to the site.



If you know of anyone who would like to spend a little time in south west France and would be willing to work for just two hours a day in return for accommodation show them our website http://www.volunteer-france.com.

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!

Keeping warm in the south of France

23 Jan

The climate here is interesting. In summer it can get quite hot but in winter it seems to vary a lot year to year. Last year it was quite cold in December and January. img_3802This year, apart from one day of snow, it has been quite warm although dropping to 1 deg C at night. Tomorrow they are forecasting 15 deg C and sun!

To help us keep warm, we have had double-glazed windows fitted in our apartment. Well worth the money – no more draughts and no more water running down the windows in the morning!

We’ve also been kept busy fixing a water leak in the main water supply. This meant clambering up a muddy bank at the back of the factory, plus multiple trips to the track which runs way above us, to turn the water on and off.


All well in the end. So on to the next job – stopping rainwater running down onto the second floor of the factory!

And finally, what could be better or more cathartic then a visit to the local dump!

Two volunteers hard at work


Car saga or ‘Inspector Clouseau is on the case’

6 Dec

The irritating thing about modern(ish) cars is that when they go wrong they can be increibly hard to fix. In the old days, cars were relatively simple; I remember my dad getting a Ford once where the heater was an optional extra! And who can forget the Ford Consul or Zephyr range where the windscreen wipers were operated by the vacuum from the engine so that going up hills they moved V E R Y slowly but going downhill they thrashed across the screen like a whirling dervish!

Well, nowdays the modern car has so many sensors on it that when one goes wrong, it can be a devil to find out which one. And this is the case with our Mazda Premacy that Trish bought in July 2014 from our local garage in Pezens (proprietor Raymond).

It’s a lovely car, shown here wearing a mattress on its roof! Our Mazda has five seats but the rear three can either be dropped down or removed entirely so it’s a very useful vehicle for us at The Tannery. The engine is a 2 litre turbo powered diesel and it is very economical, consuming 5 litres per 100 kilometres (or 47 mpg) most of the time.

Having run faultlessly for eight months, it developed a small fault whilst we were in the UK in Spring this year. When pulling away from cold, the engine would ‘hesitate’ a bit. This only happened in the first 5 kms and after that it would run perfectly all day. So we took it to a garage in Maidstone that we’d used before (as we were staying in Wrotham at the time). They diagnosed that the heater plugs (‘les bougies de prechauffage’) were not working properly and replaced them. And all was well! Until it started doing it again this Autumn!

So off we went to our garage in Pezens and they changed the fuel filter and gave us some rather expensive injection cleaner to go in the fuel tank. But to no avail. It started to get worse. Now not so much a hesitation more a complete reluctance to produce any power before the engine had warmed up. This meant the first trip of the day had to be planned as the engine needed about 10 minutes running to warm up and get going.

So I went back to Raymond and in my best French asked him to become Inspector Clouseau and really sort the problem. He had it for three days and told me that the engine was misfiring at 2,000 rpm until warm. He said to really understand what was going wrong would require a ‘diagnostique’. Unfortunately his computer did not have the special plug needed to connect to the Mazda’s socket. I had no idea that cars of this age had diagnostic software.  

The special diagnostic socket

 So we booked the car in to a Mazda garage in Carcassonne for the diagnostic test. On the day I couldn’t go so Trish took it in. It turned out that they didn’t have the special plug either. Brave Trish for coping with a mechanic who spoke French with a strong regional accent and very fast at that. Not easy!

So we took the car back to Raymond and persuaded him to call the mechanic at Mazda in Carcassonne. Interestingly, they were both relucatant to call the other (because I had asked on the telephone the week before for the Mazda person to call Raymond). Anyway they spoke! The result was that they decided the car did not need a diagnostic because now that the two French experts were speaking to each other, it was clear the problem was either the temperature sensor or the valve controlling the flow of diesel into the pump!

The car is going in tomorrow and Raymond is going to disconnect the sensor. If the problem goes away, then a new sensor is required. If the problem is still there, then a new valve is required. Neither of which is expensive.  The total cost so far for all this time? Zero! Neither garage wanted to charge us, which is not what I expected.

Getting to know the locals better

28 Oct

We have lived in Montolieu 33 months now and we have made some connections with local people. Of course the shopkeepers know us quite well now – Adrian in the wine shop, Nellie at the grocer, Saskia at the baker, Terry and Bernard at the restaurant; and the pharmacist sees Richard quite frequently! We love talking to Monsieur Escarré, who is in his 80s and walks down our track most days with the aid of his walking sticks. Talking to him is a bit of a challenge as he has a strong local accent, giggles a lot and his teeth seem to be quite mobile!

We have joined the retired peoples’ club where we have made some more friends. This month we went to the club lunch where 64 of us enjoyed a four course meal with wine and coffee (great value at €15 a head).

M Borillo, aged 92

M Borillo, aged 92

We sat next to Monsieur Borillo, aged 92, and his wife who together with their daughter had worked at the tannery where we now live. He told us a little about his working life. Before he went to the tannery he had worked on the land at Saissac, an outdoor man. Before he retired (30 years ago!) he had worked on the first floor of the tannery (where we now live), operating a machine that cleaned the skins before they were processed into leather.

When he worked here, there were about 50 people employed. The owner and the manager lived in the Old House. The buyer and transport manager lived in what is now the Little House.

The tannery business was contracting fast and just before its demise, it employed just five people. Looking at some of the old records, it seemed that the French state tried to support it, by paying the salaries of the employees for the last two years, but to no avail.

By chance I met a friend of a friend on one of our sailing trips who ran a leather trading business. He used to make visits around the world buying leather and he had purchased from the Tannery de la Dure many times! What a coincidence!

Anyway, back to the lunch. After consuming a tart and salad for starter, followed by coq-au-vin with dauphenoise potatoes, then cheese and finally a desert followed by coffee and all sustained by copious bottles of white, rosé and red wine, we got discussing our life and background with Daniele, the president of the Club de Retraite. She explained that on Tuesdays they had a course learning English. About seven people turned up but the tutor had returned to England for several weeks and they wanted to continue practising. So Trish agreed to go along! I will let her tell you the story but I am pleased to report that she has made at least three new friends and is talking about inviting some of the group to come and eat a meal with us or perhaps have a drink with us!

Meanwhile I flew off to England for five days for business meetings. Thanks to Graham and Sue Whibley for putting me up yet again!

Interesting sky at Carcassonne

Interesting sky at Carcassonne

I flew from Carcassonne and this time bought a Business Plus ticket – more expensive than cattle class but you get 20kgs into the hold, a reserved seat, priority boarding and most importantly for me, as I have problems standing in queues, fast tracking through security at Stansted.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Got to hit the sack ready for a Skype call tomorrow with my French friend, Jean-Pierre, who lives in Beavais.

Our holiday in the UK

4 Oct

We took three weeks away from our new home in France, to have a much needed holiday in the UK (much to the amazement of our French friends – “who would go to the UK for a holiday when you live in the south of France?”).

Anyway, we set off one morning with car loaded (including Nettles) and collected a paying passenger. We had posted our journey on BlaBlaCar which is a car sharing website. The young nurse had worked a night shift delivering babies. We took her from Montolieu to Tours where we then picked up a young man wanting to travel to Caen. We then drove the last 10 kilometres to our destination – Ouistreham – without a passenger. The lift sharing earned us €50 which covered the cost of the diesel.

We then boarded the 2300 ferry to Portsmouth. Poor Nettles had to stay in the car for the journey which lasted seven hours. We quickly got to our cabin and soon fell asleep, waking the next morning in time for an excellently cooked English breakfast. Not bad for a French ferry company?

We then drove to Kent where we stayed with Graham and Sue. Richard had meetings in London and the next day in West Malling. Then on Saturday we set off in separate cars to Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire to board our narrow boat.

Our home for the week

The week on the canals was the best we’d had for a long time. The boat was new, the company was excellent and the locks were challenging.

Graham and Sue left to go to a wedding in Suffolk and we drove to Manchester to stay with Trish’s brother George and his wife Heather. I left them on the Sunday to drive down to Gosport, collecting my elder sister, Sally, on the way in Northampton. We then boarded the good ship Lady Emma.

There were five us on board and we had a good time sailing around the Solent, even managing to explore Chichester Harbour. Sadly, all too soon the week was up. It is the last time I’ll sail Lady Emma as she is now up for sale. An end of a 30 year relationship with the yacht. She’s served us well!

Trish took the train down to Southamton with suitcase and dog! I collected her from the station and we spent the next two days in the New Forest. The weather had been great all the time we’d been in England apart from a day of drizzle on the canals. The Indian Summer treated us well.

One day, we decided to walk along the coast at New Milton. There is a 40 ft drop from the coastal path to the beach. And Nettles managed to run off the edge of the cliff! We both peered over the top, expecting to find a dead dog but no, she appeared from under a ledge, shook herself and then scrambled up the scree slope, finding her way and hauling herself back over the top, none the worse for wear apart from marks of sandstone on her chest. Talk about lucky!

This is where Nettles ran off the cliff

it’s a lot steeper than this shot shows

We also popped over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, using the new fast ferry service. We had lunch there and then returned to Lymington. We met up with Keith & Jackie for an Italian meal in Ringwood.

Next day we drove slowly through the New Forest, eventually arriving in Portsmouth to catch the overnight ferry to Caen.

On the journey back home, we took two people to Bordeaux, and one from there to Toulouse. Another €88 in the bank. If you are interested, BlaBlaCar has now launched in the UK – see their website.

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 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.