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Cloughjordan - Skills to create sustainable livelihoods

Sustainability advocates in Ireland used the ESF to develop and deliver professional training courses in a range of skills necessary for sustainable living – particularly in food, construction and energy. These forward-looking courses are equipping Ireland’s workforce to meet the demand of the future.

Cloughjordan is a village in County Tipperary in the centre of Ireland, which is host to a formative experience in new ways of living. It is the site of Cloughjordan Ecovillage, an innovative community that has earned the accolade of being voted the greenest community in Ireland and the country’s second-best place to live. The ecovillage will eventually contain 132 homes, of which 50 are currently occupied. It is sited on a 67 acre (27 hectare) farm contiguous with the existing village, and is designed to backfill a traditional ribbon development and create a new neighbourhood at the centre of the village.

Its objective is to apply the principles of sustainability to all aspects of life, reducing the community’s carbon footprint by changing how the residents build their houses, grow their food, earn their living and do their travelling.

Sustainability through and through – energy, food, transport and work

Energy use is the first aspect of sustainability. The ecovillage is being built following ecological principles, using local materials with low embodied energy, such as timber and hemp lime, and including lots of insulation. Most houses face south and harvest rainwater. The aim is that the houses have a minimum impact both during their manufacture and over their lifetime.

To minimise its energy use, all the houses in the ecovillage are connected to a renewable energy district heating system powered by Ireland’s largest solar array and two wood-chip boilers. This development was part-funded to the tune of €750,000 under the CONCERTO initiative of the EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). In time, the village aims to generate its own electricity.

Food is another aspect of a sustainable life, and Cloughjordan Community Farm aims to develop a healthy food culture and a secure local food supply, as well as hosting training in resilient food systems. It operates using community supported agriculture principles in partnership with the ecovillage, its 16 hectares being given over to sheep, cows, pigs and organic crops. Its 60 family members subscribe €20 a week and in return receive a constant supply of cereals, vegetables, milk and eggs – top-quality food at affordable prices. As for ‘food miles’, the produce only travels one kilometre from farm to fork.

As regards transport, one of the criteria for locating the ecovillage at Cloughjordan was its closeness to a railway station, and a car-sharing operation is based there. The village’s combined live-work unit obviate the need to commute to earn your living.

The ecovillage promotes employment too. One of the most recent initiatives is the We Create green enterprise centre, a shared workspace for 30 people that will feature a community kitchen, a tool library and, most innovative of all, a ‘fab lab’ (fabrication laboratory) using technologies such as 3D printing. This will enable those working there to design new objects and then simply make the prototypes there and then.

Thus the project has spun off half a dozen new enterprises. The arrival of the ecovillage has also enabled businesses outside to prosper, among them a bookshop, a bakery and a wholefood buyers’ coop.

The idea to found the Ecovillage emerged in 1999. An educational charity called Sustainable Projects Ireland Ltd (SPIL) was set up as the vehicle to develop an ecovillage in Ireland. SPIL set out to look for a 100 acre (40 hectare) estate near a town that it could buy, but quickly realised that the processes of urbanisation and globalisation had left many towns and villages in decline, so decided to find one which fitted a number of criteria including having a station, school, shops, pubs and other services. In 2002 it identified a 28-hectare farm for sale in Cloughjordan, a depopulated village that stood to benefit from an influx of new people. The project commenced a two-year period of community meetings, progressing to the signing of an ecological charter and the drawing up of a master plan. Planning permission was granted in 2005, and the farm was purchased. Infrastructure was put in by 2008, house building started and the first residents moved in at Christmas 2009.

For the benefit of intending residents, the ecovillage hosts an experience day twice a month, which gives visitors a tour, a presentation, and a chance to meet members and locals. The main demographic groups among the residents are young families looking for a safe and healthy environment in which their kids can grow up, and people about to retire who want a secure environment to retire in. there is a smaller third group of sustainability & ecobusiness enthusiasts. Residents include a Canadian, a Belgian, a couple of French and a few English people.

A future-proof way of working

Training plays a large role in the Ecovillage concept, and the village contains an educational space, so that Cloughjordan is capable of offering a very rich experience. Educational bodies like Cultivate and FEASTA (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) have relocated there. The training offered concerns not just the ‘hardware’ of sustainability – such as skills in construction, energy and food production – but also the ‘software’ – the social innovation of learning how to organise in a sustainable way. This means that power and decision-making need to be distributed fairly among all the members of the community.

Sustainable Projects Ireland is particularly keen on two methodologies for this. The Viable Systems Model (VSM), first developed by Stafford Beer, analyses how plants and animals survive and make a system in nature viable, and transfers the lessons of this model from biology to society. Sociocracy, which is based on trust, discussion and consensus decision-making, complements this by supplying insights about effective management. Blending these together, The Ecovillage is developing a new ‘operating system’ for sustainable living. Organisations such as the Permaculture Association in the UK are also adopting the system.

Cultivate, whose strapline is ‘Living and Learning’, made use of the European Social Fund to develop and pilot a series of labour market activation courses on sustainability-related skills called Green Works. Created by updating existing syllabuses to include a sustainability dimension, some 30 courses were run in 2010-11 using 25 trainers at five Green Business Centres around the country, including Cloughjordan.

Delivery of the €1.6m ‘Sustainability and the Green Economy’ project (marketed as ‘Green Works’) was supported by NICER Training, a training provider registered with FETAC (Further Education and Training Awards Council). Green Works provided training in green building, green business, land use, sustainable tourism and practical skills. Students could build their own curriculum from modules which took the form of themed courses, FETAC certificates, workshops, clinics, lectures, networking and industry events. The training was free, and was aimed at unemployed people who had been working in the declining sectors of design and construction, with outreach to under-35s and the long-term unemployed. It also helped develop skills for eco-entrepreneurs and those interested in creating new businesses. Some students gained qualifications up to level 6 of the National Framework for Qualifications (NFQ), while others undertook reskilling programmes that counted towards their obligatory continued professional development (CPD) hours. There was also a level 8 equivalent blended learning module. In all 1,806 people completed the course, at a cost of €886 a head. At the end of the course, 48% of a sample of 255 students reported that they had now found jobs, self-employment or other training or education.

Many of the courses have continued to date at Cloughjordan (albeit currently without ESF support) and are accredited by FETAC against the 10-level national award frame¬work. Subjects include community resilience, green ebusiness and social media, green building, hemp building, cob building, and building energy rating (BER assessor). There is a three-weekend course on Perma¬culture Design, at level 5 (the next but one below university level), which now has 110 graduates and attracts students from as far away as the US. Students can find affordable accom¬modation in the on-site 32-bed Django’s Hostel, built with help from the EU-funded North Tipperary LEADER Partnership. The €140,000 Cloughjordan Village Enhancement Scheme of which it forms part also included creating a community woodland. The Cloughjordan Community Develop¬ment Committee has developed a crèche and a heritage centre as well as beautifying the village streets and footpaths.

The courses offered at the ecovillage aim to prepare Ireland’s workforce for jobs in the growth sectors of the future – especially sustainable food production, construction and energy provision. Whilst there is for instance immense potential to create jobs immediately in the energy-efficient retrofitting of the existing building stock, there are also outcomes that short-term job creation indicators don’t catch. Cultivate prefers to think in terms of developing the community’s capacity to create long-term ‘livelihoods’. This includes the ability to design new solutions and replicate ideas that have worked elsewhere.


Cloughjordan Ecovillage:
European Ecovillage Network:


Davie Philip
Education Manager
Cultivate Ireland
Co. Tipperary
+353 87 634 0697