Everyone who has visited the garden this year has commented on how great it is looking, and that’s thanks to all our volunteers. Infact, we are often so busy with volunteers on our workdays that its hard to find enough jobs for everyone to do! It no doubt helps that Carly and Jo cook up such fantastic food at lunchtimes so many of our guests leave with a full belly and a great impression. From councillors and MPs to chief executives and funders to one woman who saw an article in The Guardian about us and came down from Edinburgh to see what we get up to.
We work with a host of disability charities and have really strengthened our work with St.Johns College and are looking to move students onto further training and work placements. One mum whose son regularly attends told us ” L loves going and his longest sentences are all about Moulsecoomb – we’ve seen so much development and growth in him since he’s been able to come and spend time with you, it’s brilliant.’ We also continue to offer placements to university students as part of their community module.
We like our volunteers to be fully involved and in the past year we have held two user group meetings where we listen to how we could improve what we do. One ended up with a fish n chip supper at Buddies, our AGM included curry and karaoke and our Christmas Party had the usual feast around the fire! We have improved access, rebuilt our cooking area thanks to funding from East Brighton Trust, and put in a water harvesting system while Daisy got everyone working on a stunning new herb garden and drought resistant wildflower bed. Thanks to Peoples Postcode Lottery we now have funds to provide off-grid heat and lighting for the cabin and a new seating, while the Co-op have funded a new polytunnel and Awards for All funding will enable us to build a sensory garden. Brighton and Hove City Council meanwhile helped us with our core costs and Baily Thomas and Sussex Community Foundation help fund the cooking, while Brighton and Hove Food Partnership continue to support our work.
It was great to be chosen as one of the Mayors 27 charities. Brighton and Hove Mayor Pete West broke records for the number of events he attended and the amount of money he raised. He even joined the litter-pick we organised with Brighton University and Santander and came along to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch we held in January, where we spotted a record 15 different species with the help of local ecologist Rachel Bicker. We also worked with Team Pollinate from the University of Sussex to record pollinating insects that use the garden.
While our workdays continue to thrive it’s not all been good news.
Unfortunately the increasing pressure on school budgets has meant we have lost around 70% of our school work with pupils. This is not only frustrating for all the work built up by Pat and Phil but also extremely worrying when it is needed more than ever for an increasing number of pupils. As one school head teacher told us “Patcham House has used the Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project for the past 7 years. The nurturing and adaptable approach of the whole project team have improved the outcomes of some of our most vulnerable and challenging pupils, giving them a space to grow and discover new skills. Two of our pupils who attended the project to undertake extended work experience, both learnt and developed construction skills, which ensured they secured an appropriate post 16 pathway at college. A more recent pupil, who is terrified of failure and refuses to sit any tests or exams, has managed to complete their Bushcraft qualification, and has been able to view this as a stepping stone to further accreditation and experiencing success. Having worked in special education for the last 20 years, the Forest Garden project is exactly the sort of project that is needed to support young people as part of their curriculum.”
One of the pupils who recently completed his OCN Level 1 with us said ‘I’ve learnt life skills to take into jobs, and learnt about trees, fruits and what is edible. It’s been fun getting to know people and what it’s like working together as a group. I enjoyed being treated as an adult and Pat suggests ideas and asks us to make grown up choices which shows trust. We have proper intelligent conversations.’
We are now looking for alternative funding for this vital work with pupils to not just continue but expand. If you can help please let us know!
Thanks to funding from The Pebble Trust we once again ran a summer scheme for Moulsecoomb children to have fun learning about bushcraft, play games in the woods and of course make pizzas in our clay oven. We continue to run the lunchtime gardening club at Moulsecoomb Primary and have helped build a new garden space for pupils needing respite, which has a heated greenhouse and hotbox where we grew so many plants we sold them in the playground and at The Bevy to raise funds for seed compost. Pupils from the school also regularly visit us – as part of a Little Green Pig literacy project while Hijack Children Festival organised a Halloween event using materials from the garden to help explain the origins of the festival. Reception and Year 1 planted garlic and learnt about animal skins and fire while Pat went foraging in the schools award winning grounds with children to find plants that could be made into shampoo as part of the Science Festival.
Pat Beach and Carly North continue to work at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy one day a week delivering gardening, woodcraft and cooking sessions and pupils come to the project on Thursdays, all part of the schools alternative provision strategy. As well as hosting groups on our workdays like Concordia International Volunteers, Youth Employability Team, Brighton MIND eco-therapy, and BEDES, lots happens when we are not open to the public. Gladrags held their AGM, Woodchips, a young Woodcraft group came up after school in the summer, Sensing Friends, an organisation for blind and partially sighted youngsters hold regular activities at the garden, and we recently hosted The Wild Network a group that want to encourage youngsters to get out and enjoy nature more. We’ve also been to the Theatre Royal for their summer ‘Forest!’ festival, the Mayors Parlour and i360 to promote our work while our bumper rhubarb crop fed the old folk at the Bevy’s seniors club. Our annual open day run by volunteers and pupils was another roaring success with over 150 coming to see what we get up to.
So if you’ve never been to the garden why not pop up one Friday lunchtime for a tour and some food, or come to our open day in July. And if you want to support us financially why not use us as a venue for your event or make a monthly donation and become a Friend of the Forest Garden, so we can continue to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.