It’s the stories that paint a picture and make a place special.

Where people use the garden as a stepping stone to further training and work, building their confidence and skills: “Forest Garden has helped me so much, giving me a purpose, somewhere to go during this pandemic, a few hours away to embrace this little haven.”

Where we can support youngsters struggling in mainstream education: “It has made a huge difference to C’s self-esteem and confidence. It would be wonderful for other students to have the same opportunity as I don’t think we can underestimate the impact this has on our young people by giving them new skills and experiences outside of school, as well as achievements in an area which is not necessarily academic.”

Where we look beyond people’s disabilities and get everyone to work to the best of their abilities. An older ex builder and a younger lad with DS building a fantastic matey relationship, with the lad being encouraged to work hard and get stuck in while learning new skills from a pro.

We’ve been lucky that we work outside, with trustees and staff making the decision that people’s mental health, especially those living alone, was too important for us to close again. So we rewrote risk assessments, limited numbers and have only supported those who been referred to us by other services.

Where our work in the local community for nearly 30 years means we can make sure that no one misses out. Where we can support youngsters who might not shine in the classroom but are fantastic outside it. One young lad I’d worked with for over 4 years at Moulsecoomb Primary as my head gardener is now at the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) and working 1-1 with Pat at the garden. ‘A has a great sense of mechanical comprehension; he gets how things work. This in turn gives him a great sense of problem solving that goes beyond his years.’

We continue to offer pupils qualifications. G is currently taking his OCN Level 1 qualification in Woodland Skills. This includes elements of natural history, woodland plants, trees and animals along with fire skills and woodland tool use. “G has the classic cheeky chap funny personality, which can sometimes mask the fact he really knows what he’s talking about, particularly when it comes to the natural world.” Our new member of staff Ash, Pat’s apprentice has now completed his Forest Schools qualification and is supporting Pat’s work at BACA.

Thanks to funding from the Pebble Trust we ran two summer holiday schemes for Moulsecoomb Primary School pupils, and one Easter scheme. We managed to get most year groups to visit the Forest Garden during the school day, which is so important when so many have missed out on school trips for the past couple of years. We also welcomed Moulsecoomb families to see the hundreds of frogs that were mating and spawning in our pond. One young pupil then immediately set about building a pond in her own garden and we supplied plants – and frogspawn – before most of it got eaten by the greedy newts!

We have continued to work outside at Moulsecoomb Primary School helping to maintain the spectacular school grounds, as well as enjoying the benefits such as harvesting and cooking the sweetcorn over a fire in their forest school. The school has the first raingarden in the city – and the best chicken coop to go with it, thanks to The Aquifer Partnership. With Mark and his chickens weaving their magic, calming even the liveliest pupils. Once again Mark managed to conjure up a horse to visit the children for Christmas with children feeding the horse, visiting Santa in his iron age grotto – and Year 6 even got a ride or two on the cart! What I would really like to see is gardeners adopting their local schools, helping with the planting and maintenance, especially of vegetable gardens, when teachers are working flat out in the classroom.

We brought our AGM forward so we could have it in the Bevy pub garden. The Bevy is always so supportive – they even let a school chicken come along.

Jo has continued to serve up a fantastic range of tasty food, all cooked outdoors and at the same time helping young people develop cooking and prep skills. Take a look at the Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Cooks facebook page. Daisy has kept the garden productive and looking good, as well as providing a great space for nature. We were also very lucky to find the best ever Kickstart intern, Anna, supporting our work for six months.

We had to restrict numbers to staff and volunteers again this year for our Christmas dinner but this one photo sums up what a laugh everyone had

We now have a report on Home Farm Field thanks to ecologist and trustee Rachel. She spent the year with wildlife experts and locals mapping the area to see what’s growing and living there; and coming up with a plan on how best to increase the field’s biodiversity.

We are working with the Restorative Justice service to help teenagers out and we have hired out the Garden to various groups including Band of Brothers and the council’s fostering team who run art workshops for children in care and their foster families. One carer responded: “Thank you again for a wonderful afternoon. It was wonderful doing things we just wouldn’t think of doing. Thank you again from some happy carers and some tired children.”

It’s frustrating that we can’t help more people, but we have to make sure our volunteers feel safe. However we have welcomed a number of other community gardens to help them with their plans. Every neighbourhood should have one!

So despite all the challenges we have stayed busy and flexible and ready to take on challenges – all on a shoestring – and (mostly) with a smile on our faces.

* If you know anyone who might be persuaded to support us financially, please persuade them to become a Friend of the Forest Garden with a monthly donation. It really does make a massive difference.