Can't Afford a Permaculture Course?

Graham Burnett
Thursday, 26th February 2015

Permaculture is all about embracing the art of the possible when financial resources are limited… From crowdfunding to hosting a course in your own front room, Graham Burnett explores just some of the options…

I believe that the Permaculture Design Course offers very good value for money, and is a worthwhile investment for individuals, projects and organisations. For example, many of my past students have used the skills and experiences gained to supplement their livelihoods by offering design consultation services, or have discovered ways to become more self-reliant or ‘downsize’ their lifestyles and live more lightly in terms of consumption and spending. Others have used their new design knowledge to enhance their work places, organisations or communities. Many have even been inspired to completely change their career paths and set up their own sustainable businesses or community enterprises following a PDC. Not bad for a course that can cost you as little as around £25 per day!

However most teachers and course organisers do recognise that for some people even these modest costs can be hard to find in the current climate of austerity, in which case there are a number of options that can make your learning more affordable... 

Crowdfunding to raise course fees

Increasing numbers of course students are using crowdfunding as an innovative way to raise their learning costs, getting friends and family or using social media to advance-fund them in return for rewards such as free design consultation sessions or other ‘pay back’ benefits later on. This is an option that we highly recommend as this gives you an opportunity to take full responsibility for raising your own learning costs, as well as a chance to be as flexible, imaginative and creative as you like!

Spiralseed and a number of other course providers are partnered with We The Trees, an ethical initiative who offer full guidance and a whole set of resources to help you create your own course fee raising crowdfunder.

Another crowdfunding platform that specialises in supporting permaculture projects, including helping to raise student tuition costs, is the free to use Earthways, contact them for more information.

Other funding sources

It may well be worth asking your employer to fund your training, particularly if you can demonstrate that it will benefit your personal development or bring improvements to the workplace. If you’re unemployed and claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance it’s worth asking at your Job Centre whether they can fund you. The Permaculture Association (Britain) is registered as a supplier on ProcServe, which is used by the Department for Work and Pensions, i.e. Job Centres, to buy things. Our courses are certified by the Permaculture Association, so if there is any funding for courses available it should be possible to access it.

Alternatively, here is a list of organisations that have given funding to people on permaculture courses in the past. This information is largely taken from Patrick Whitefield Associates website with grateful acknowledgements. Note that this list is for guidance only, and we cannot be held responsible for its current accuracy or otherwise.

The following list is UK based, but are there any similar sources out there for the rest of the world? Why not let us know!

Vegan Organic Network
www.veganorganic.net
VON have provided bursary funding that has enabled individuals to attend Spiralseed's Vegan PDC, as well as going on to undertake the Diploma in Permaculture Design.

Princes Trust
www.princes-trust.org.uk
0800 842 842
Gives grants for training to young people up to 25 years of age.

Princes Countryside Trust
www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk
Gives grants to projects that help support the people who care for the countryside, including grants for training.

UnLtd
www.unltd.org.uk
0845 850 1122
Provides funding for “people with vision, drive, commitment and passion who want to change the world for the better.” This is interpreted quite widely.

Thomas Wall Trust
www.thomaswalltrust.org.uk
Funds courses for individuals who have financial difficulties.

The Vegeterian Charity
www.vegetariancharity.org.uk
Gives grants to people under 25, which have included grants for permaculture courses.

Grants for Horticulturalists
www.grantsforhorticulturists.org.uk
Information on grants and bursaries available from organisations in the United Kingdom for horticultural projects, exchanges and travel.

The Conservation Volunteers (formerly British Trust for Conservation Volunteers)
www.btcv.org
01302 572244
From time to time either the national organisation or regional and local branches give grants for training.

Cooperative Community Fund
www.co-operative.coop/membership/local-communities/community-fund
Only gives grants to community organisations, not to individuals.

Listing Websites
Comprehensive lists of funders can be found at www.fundingcentral.org.uk

Paying by Instalments, Concessions and ‘Sliding Scale’ options

Some permaculture course providers are able to accept payment by instalment, enabling you to spread the costs over several weeks or months. Many also offer ‘sliding scale’ concessionary fee payment options, or limited numbers of ‘bursary’ or expenses only places in order to enable students on lower incomes to participate. However please note that most permaculture courses do not usually receive external funding or subsidies and need to be self-financing, covering all of the costs involved from course fees. Therefore concessionary or bursary places are only intended for those with genuine financial need. Please see specific course listings for more information.

Free Resources

There are any number of free resources available online. Spiralseed offer articles, videos and downloadable publications, as do many other permaculture course providers. The Permaculture magazine website  also gives away plenty of free ebooks, and editor Maddy Harland has recently written an excellent article on learning permaculture for free which offers some great advice on setting up your own self-organised study groups.

Organising Your Own Course

To my mind however there is still no substitute for the rich collective learning experiences gained from attending a course led by skilled tutors and trainers. Permaculture is about the art of possibility, and where there is a will there is a way to make it happen - If a group of you can get together, pool your resources in order to meet the costs of hiring a tutor and the other expenses involved, plus find a suitable venue (I have taught permaculture courses run in people’s front rooms before!), why not convene your own introduction to permaculture day or weekend course, or even a full Permaculture Design Course?

This can involve quite a lot of work and organisation, but also has a number of advantages beyond being more easily affordable. These can include the opportunity to organise a course tailored to your own site, project, group or community needs, or maybe a chance for new or trainee teachers to gain experience and feedback by working alongside more experienced practitioners. Many teachers are prepared to offer their services for self-organised courses and workshops at what really are quite reasonable costs. Try asking around, or else contact the Permaculture Association for more information.

Graham Burnett is the author of The Beginners Guide to Permaculture and The Vegan Book of Permaculture. He is also a permaculture teacher, and runs permaculture and forest gardening courses. See www.spiralseed.co.uk for more information

Further resources

Learn permaculture for free

Training the next generation of teachers

Tales of the Happy Pig: Mark Boyle's free pub

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