Monday, 22 August 2016

VOLUNTEERING AT THE FOREST GARDEN

Guest post by Stuart Bullen


As someone who’d done some volunteering in the dim and distant past I had been feeling that I should get involved in something similar for a while. I wanted to use my background and interest in all things environmental and geographical, so I made the initial step of contacting the excellent ‘Active Student’ volunteering team here at the University of Brighton, to enquire about their Staff Volunteering Scheme. This allows staff the opportunity to undertake up to five days volunteering per year at a suitable local community group. I asked them to highlight possible eco opportunities for me.

I was after a bit of a different experience from my role as an SSGT (or Student Support & Guidance Tutor) in the Brighton Business School. This student focused job, although wonderful, is primarily office based so I wanted to get my hands dirty, quite literally smell the roses and perhaps ‘give something back’, as the saying goes, to the local area and community.

Of the many local possibilities I was most tempted by the Moulsecoomb Forest Garden & Wildlife Project. It’s website and history did a good job of convincing me this was the place to head for my earthly delights ! A quick form completed, a few formalities at the university and all was set. 

I volunteered for a total of three days (one each in April, June and July) at this project, which is based just behind the Moulsecoomb railway station and University of Brighton campus. You wouldn’t believe, once you’re there and immersed in your restorative outdoor work, that you’re near such a hubbub of life and action, such is the tranquil nature of the site.

There is something calming, Zen-like and, indeed, good for the soul about being in such an environment. The site is a large one which is set into quite a hill, so the view from the amazing, genuinely eco-building at the top is a great one. It is a place of peace, solitude, communal working and, (vitally) it has to be said, good food Yes, this wasn’t uppermost in my thoughts - for once ! - but this has been a real bonus of the days. Jo, Daisy and their able helpers have churned out amazing, nutritious and tasty food (much of it grown and harvested from the allotments at the site), which they provide for the hordes of workers who’ve toiled that day at the Project.

The tasks that I undertook during my few days there included turning over soil and preparing areas for planting seeds, herbs and squashes and clearing path areas of troublesome weeds, in addition to helping out with serving food and clearing up after delicious lunches!

What I found most rewarding and positive from the three days was working with a real diversity of other volunteers and service users. These included a group of foreign students who’d volunteered via a local organisation named Concordia and many local people with varying additional needs, who use the project regularly with their key workers as a place to meet and develop their social/practical skills.

I hope that it has helped the project to have some extra hands and someone to muck in whilst I have been there and I also feel that it is positive for the University of Brighton, to have current links with such a close by and valuable organisation as the Forest Garden Project. It is a community based model, with links to schools and other groups – such as the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership, a very worthwhile local organisation. This seems to be a fine example of excellent partnership work, much of which occurs under the radar of most of our daily lives.

In terms of my own role and practise, it certainly has been beneficial to me to meet and work collectively with a diversity of other people in the local community, and I’ve returned energised and with a real sense of context and perspective to my SSGT post. I have made some useful contacts and further developed my knowledge of local service provision. Similarly, a number of students from the university undertaken voluntary work or participate in community based placements at the Project, and no doubt reflect upon similar personal development and skills growth as a result of this.

The Project has been on Radio 4, won awards and been nominated as a mayoral charity locally. It is clearly a successful and well-loved resource, which has been covered in many articles (see below). I have nothing but admiration for the dedication, compassion and energy shown by the myriad groups and people involved in the work on the hill behind the station, go and see the magic for yourselves !

As Warren Carter, the Garden Project Manager, who helped set up the site over 20 years ago put it…

Our project isn’t just about gardening. It plays an important part of the social glue that binds communities together, with all types of people, young and old, pupils having problems at school, people with learning difficulties, working together in a safe, pleasant, genuinely inclusive environment”







Wednesday, 8 June 2016

CUT TO THE BONE

Last week seventy people came to our regular community garden drop in days which are open to everyone two days a week for 50 weeks of the year. Some were local residents, students on placements and one refugee but the majority were people with learning disabilities. And all of them have talked about services being cut, centres being shut, benefit forms getting more complicated and general support ebbing away. One of our volunteers works for the council finding placements for people with disabilities and mental health issues. This service is also being scaled back, but if people are left to stew at home, then bigger more expensive problems will surface down the line.
We are only a small charity and our primary aim is to offer pupils struggling in the classroom an alternative education. The work with people with disabilities has evolved and we pride ourselves on being a place where anyone can come and volunteer for a hot meal, a cup of tea and a biscuit but most importantly a sense of being part of something. As well as the workdays, we organise socials and a user group meeting to find out how we can improve. Many of the people with disabilities want paid jobs but they are very hard to come by.
Charities are finding more need for their services and less money to pay for them. A look at the Brighton Argus one day last week, and half the paper was full of stories of people fundraising or charities looking for ways to fundraise. Grant funding is getting more competitive and is really tough if you want funding for the stuff you do every day while the media is full of stories that question charities work.
For us, this spike in use, might increase costs in a small way like buying more tea and coffee to keep everyone warm on a cold winters day or bigger things like employing an extra person to show people how to cook - but we never want to turn people away because of a lack of resources.
So when we ask you to stick your hands in your pockets to support us we can understand donor fatigue. But a small monthly standing order really will make a difference. It wont go on a shiny new office because we haven't got one. Or an advertising budget because we haven't got one. It will go on wages, because people have bills to pay and boring stuff like insurance, because without it we can't open.
If you want to see what your financial support could do, then come up to one of our workdays or our open day on Friday 8th July. We might even make you a cup of tea. 

Showing off our biggest ever pumpkins with some of the lads who grew them


 Cooking scones for afternoon tea


Matthew picks Heritage tomatoes for lunch

 
Worst Christmas jumper competition (Michael won; his lit up)

* Details of how you can support our work  

Monday, 21 December 2015

LOOKING BACK 2015

It's been another jam packed year with the most important development being the forest garden becoming an open college. Two pupils from BACA are the first students to take our GCSE equivalent course and more schools are contacting us asking about our work and in particular these qualifications.

But this isn't about being an exam factory but about the quality of the intervention for pupils, many of whom struggle in a conventional classroom. Much of our work is one-to-one so we can tailor their education to their specific needs with a high degree of mentoring. Our intervention not only helps with pupils schoolwork but the qualifications will help move these young people into employment, work experience, apprenticeships or further training. However, not every pupil will be able to reach the required standard and we are working on qualifications to cover that.

We have also been working with travellers through Friends & Families of Travellers in particular two lads who are making their own archery bow. We also welcomed Lily on a six month internship through Brighton and Hove Food Parternship/Brighton Housing Trust. 

Becoming an open college and offering qualifications is even more important as school budgets are cut and schools are penalised by government if pupils don't reach a required standard.

It has also meant continually knocking the place into shape with the green woodworking area becoming the new classroom for these pupils, the pond made bigger and better, the bee hive area and bee garden expanded and improved, the woodstore currently being revamped.

Our workdays continue to thrive, our compost bins turn and ooze – thanks mainly to Juice Revolutions waste – which in turn feeds the crops. And we had a pretty good one this year thanks to all the labour and compost. Special mention to our best ever strawberries and a tonne of potatoes. Thanks to a new half price polytunnel we also had our best crop of nearly blight free tomatoes in years.

We continue to have a wide range of groups visiting for one offs – student volunteer days, staff from Waitrose, Sussex Recovery College, Bedes College, Brighton Belles WI (learning bushcraft and cooking pizza during a thunderstorm!), a Low Impact course, and our annual two week visit from Concordia international volunteers. We also offer placements for University students as part of their community engagement module.

Our annual open day was the most successful yet with the most pupil engagement and lots of families from Moulsecoomb.

Behind the scenes our trustees work hard to make sure we are compliant with policies and procedures, while Duncan makes sure invoices are paid and Julie keeps an eye on our accounts while Susie roams round Brighton getting support for our work. We also welcome back Vanessa after a few years away. The trustees and staff meet regularly and from next year we will be holding forest garden forums where everyone will be invited. Along with our website, you can also keep in touch with our facebook cooking page, twitter and occasional mail-outs (contact us to go on the list).

As cuts really begin to bite for people with learning difficulties, we are seeing even more demand. On Tuesday Daisy not only looks after the gardens and volunteers but also manages to feed us all. On Friday we have Carly and Jo offering cooking as well as gardening as an activity, where the food becomes more outlandish and the washing up ever greater. With the cabin 90% finished, we managed to use the storage as a space for all the cooking utensils and food.

We continue to run gardening and cooking clubs at Moulsecoomb Primary and help look after their school grounds and work on ways to tie that work into the curriculum. We now have a heated greenhouse at the school where we can get our crops of peppers and tomatoes off to an early start.

We continue to work at BACA and be present at major events. We once again run a summer holiday scheme for Moulsecoomb Primary school pupils and Carly ran a 10 week adult cooking for beginners course at the beginning of the year.

We won third prize in Brighton's annual City In Bloom awards for best wildlife garden and best community charity garden (Moulsecoomb Primary won Gold for best school grounds).

And we won a gold award for education and lots of free food and drink at the People, Environment and Achievement award which focused on our on-going work in Queensdown Woods which we fought to be included in the South Downs National Park. 

The judges said ‘Queensdown Woods is a great example of how pioneering education projects – such as Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project – are giving birth to new offshoots that have real impact on the area and the people who live there.’ The woods have become an essential part of our outdoor classroom and part of our open college.

Our cabin is nearly finished, and we are just looking for the final funding to finish all outstanding works.

There will be financial challenges as ever as funding continues to get squeezed but as long as we continue to be able to offer a wide range of qualifications, look for other ways of raising funds rather than endless grant applications, be frugal, while keeping the ethos of the project as opening and welcoming to all, then hopefully we can continue to offer services to some of society's most marginalised people.

Finally, its always nice to receive positive feedback. This is from Andrew Cheeseman whose brother volunteers with us

'In today's world of Austerity, it's particularly wrong to keep ignoring and cutting the finances of special needs children, special needs adults and the elderly and vulnerable, by closing their schools, colleges and day centres and schemes, restricting their travel needs and in some cases taking away their one hot meal per day, we are failing them. Fortunately there are some great schemes run by dedicated people who do care.

One such project is Moulsecoomb garden project which looks after an array of people with special needs to troubled children and young adults. My brother Matthew goes to the Gardens and enjoys every minute, from digging the gardens to planting then eating his rewards, through this process

Matthew has learnt to handle food and integrate into a group, which he has not always managed to do, with other like-minded friends and colleagues.

If it wasn't for genuine people like Warren and his small team, Matthew would be at home forgotten by the local and national politicians in the care of my parents who are themselves are not well and in their mid seventies, but through their love give great care to their son.'

 Best photo of the year. Paul cooling himself down
Winners of the Christmas Party jumper awards
                                                            
 
Cheers, see you all next year

Thursday, 8 October 2015

WINNING AWARDS FOR OUR OUTDOOR EDUCATION

It's been an award-winning couple of weeks for the garden culminating in national acclaim for our educational work. 
We won third prize in Brighton's annual City in Bloom for best wildlife garden and best community charity garden (Moulsecoomb Primary were we run gardening clubs won Gold for best school grounds) winning a national award was the icing on the King Alfreds cake.
The People, Environment and Achievement award (PEA) focused on our on-going work in Queensdown Woods backing onto our gardens (turn left at the compost loo, just before the bee hives) which we fought to be included in the South Downs National Park. The judges said ‘Queensdown Woods is a great example of how pioneering education projects – such as Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project – are giving birth to new offshoots that have real impact on the area and the people who live there.’
The woods have become an essential part of our outdoor classroom and part of our open college. But this isn't about being an exam factory but about the quality of the intervention for pupils, many of whom struggle in a conventional classroom. Much of our work is one-to-one so we can tailor their education to their specific needs with a high degree of mentoring. Our intervention not only helps with pupils schoolwork but the qualifications will help move these young people into employment, work experience, apprenticeships or further training. Two pupils from Brighton Aldridge Community Academy who have passed their woodland studies exam with us will now start their NCFE in Level 3 in creative crafts. This is an equivalent to an A level and will take them a year to complete. 
The once unloved Queensdown Woods is now a fantastic place to have on so many people's doorstep – without the need to drive anywhere – introducing so many young people to the joys and magic of woodlands.

* Find out what we can offer pupils http://www.seedybusiness.org/education.shtml 
* The South Downs Society have funded us so we can update the current Queensdown Woods management plan  





Tuesday, 30 December 2014

LOOKING BACK 2014


It was a busy end of year as staff and volunteers attended various award ceremonies. We were nominated for best Green Project in the Argus Achievement Awards, Small Group – Big Achiever in the Voluntary Sector Star Awards received a commendation from City in Bloom and we won a BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey Community Heroes Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to Education.'

Now the garden is twenty it's funny to think back to a few mates working on a half derelict allotment to a project that now boasts an amazing eco-cabin built almost entirely out of locally sourced wood and recycled materials. A place where over 50 pupils a week visit from seven different schools and which will soon become an outdoor college. We're we've built up great partnerships with Homewood  College, Moulsecoomb Primary, Brighton Aldridge Community Academy and the Cedar Centre.

Our work with pupils is highly regarded. Recently a senior social worker was telling someone how helpful our work has been with a pupil we’ve been working with. People don't see all the work that happens behind the scenes; the reports to enable pupils to get their qualifications and all the meetings staff attend with schools and other outside agencies to discuss the progress of the pupils we work with. Our work also gives pupils the space to talk as well as giving them opportunities for work experience and too broaden their horizons taking them to award ceremonies, festivals, camping trips, museums and swimming.

We continue to have a fantastic mix of volunteers with referrals from many different agencies which sometimes brings its own unique problems – including finding enough work for everyone to do in the winter. We have increased the number of students who come as part of their University community module and now have Plumpton College pupils working with us. We particularly liked the Eastbourne physiotherapists, the strongman was especially helpful when we got a massive delivery of compost.

Carly North continues to cook up a storm on a Friday and is now working at Moulsecoomb Primary as well as Brighton Aldridge Community Academy. We received a two year grant to build a new community garden in Moulsecoomb Primary on a disused playground, and to fund Carly’s cooking with parents and pupils.

Our immense compost bins are now producing endless black gold, with more organisations dropping off waste to get the bins all hot and bothered, and our crops are really benefiting from this.

The bees flourished this year thanks to Sonny and his assistant Daisy and we will be improving that area in the future to make build its educational value.

We ran very successful Easter and summer schemes for Moulsecoomb children with about 70 youngsters coming along and 3 very successful team building days with Southern Water, the Carers Centre and Santander.

We now produce a regular (ish) newsletter for our supporters as well as organising local talks, including Brighton Green Drinks and a packed Godless Churchless Church one Sunday morning, who were moved by the short clips of some of our pupils that our on our website. These are always good places to get more people to become Friends of the Forest Garden and increase our monthly standing orders. Susie is one of our trustees who along with Duncan, Julie and Nick worked behind the scenes to make sure the garden can carry out all this work and comply with the all the legal requirements. Email us if you’d like to sign up to the newsletter.

We are developing great links with The Garden House who raised nearly £3,500 for the cabin at their open day. They invited us for tea and cakes recently - and Paul had a fight with a chicken. Thanks Bridgette and Deborah!

We've had to say goodbye to quite a few people. Russell Kingston who turned up unemployed and left as a qualified carpenter. Nancy Walker has now got a job at a city farm in Bristol, while the two Adams – Beer and Keeves are working on organic farms.

Finally our 20th birthday party open day summed up all that is brilliant about the project as 300 people from all over Brighton and beyond came to see our work, and the Argus and Latest TV fought over the best pictures of the cabin.

All in all it’s been a great 20th year for the project, and we’re already working on plans for another great year ahead.

Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks for all for your help and support over the years.

Monday, 6 October 2014

WE ARE 20!

On a beautiful autumn day we celebrated our 20th birthday party. 300 people came along to see our new eco-building, have a nose at our vegetables, make a hat, see the bees, eat some cake, drink a smoothie, even use the compost loo and enjoy the last of the sunshine

Loading up the smoothie bike
Compost John deep in compost thought

Teresa making sure we've been looking after her flower garden

Party hat time!

Father John of Moulsecoomb comes to bless the new build!

Phil and Pat getting the outdoor classroom ready for business

Some of the lovely people that make the garden so special


Michael, Maureen and Suzie meet and greet

Thank you to Holly and her team from Santander for serving up refreshments all day

What a view!

Carly, Jo and Courtney and Paige from Brighton Aldridge Community Academy serving up burgers all day

Russell our apprentice shed builder, now a qualified carpenter, cuts the birthday cake, donated by Forfars.

* All money raised on the day will be doubled by Santander, but we still need a few thousand pounds to finish the shed. If you can help or would like to become a Friend of the Forest Garden and make monthly standing orders, please get in touch.











Thursday, 11 September 2014

CELEBRATE 20 YEARS OF THE FOREST GARDEN




Well, can you believe it. We are 20 years old and will be celebrating with a party and the grand opening of our 'shed' on Sunday 5th October 12 noon till 5pm.
There will be tours of the garden and a chance to chat to the people who have built one of Brighton's greenest ever buildings. 
You will also be able to find out about bushcraft, bees, make party hats and go on a treasure hunt (the last two are probably more for children but we understand if you like looking for woodlice and old bits of flint).
Food and drink will also be for sale.
Entry is free, but all profits will go towards finishing off the building. Santander have also said they will double the money we make on the day, so please be generous!
There might even be a few of our outlawed tomatoes still growing!
RSVP hello@seedybusiness.org


Thank you to all the people and organisations that have contributed time and funds to our new building.
These include Comic Relief, Sussex Community Foundation, East Brighton Trust, Southern Water, Body Shop Foundation, Santander Foundation, Sussex Police Community Cashback Fund, Eleanor Hamilton Educational Trust, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, The Garden House , Cat Fletcher & her Waste House and everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign.