Monday, 4 February 2019

RUNNING ON THIN AIR

Over 30 people came to the forest garden last Friday – a melting pot that included people with learning difficulties, students and a youngster in care who we are working with to achieve an Open College Network qualification.
The winter sun shone, people worked hard, had a laugh and tucked into a home made pie cooked over the fire.
It was perfect, and this happens week after week (just not always in the sunshine). You can see from our annual report how much of a punch our small charity packs on a shoestring. And you can see the positive impact our work has to all involved.
And yet the night before at our trustees meeting we scratched our heads and asked just how are we meant to function on thin air. 
 
Thanks to school budget cuts, the education work we had built up for years, collapsed and now we have to fundraise to offer subsidised places.

Disability services are decimated, so more people are being sent to the project with no funding attached.

Funders want fun, excitement, something new – not boring old core costs. No one wants to pay for the essentials like insurance, rent, wages that support the charity’s continuity and longer term sustainability.

This is nothing new, but it’s the perfect storm that so many small charities are facing. Increasing demand, with fewer funds available - and greater competition between charities for each funding opportunity. No wonder so many are going to the wall.

But there is a very simple way you can help. Become a Friend of the Forest Garden for as little as £2 a month. Currently we earn £330 a month this way and would love to get it to £500. This would cover the boring stuff and stop us having sleepless nights.

If you need convincing, come up one Friday to see what we get up to, share a meal with everyone and see how our little charity tackles some of the big issues head on - like loneliness, food poverty, education and feeling part of a community. 

* Details of how to become a Friend of the Forest Garden are here

 

Monday, 31 December 2018

LOOKING BACK 2018

Another year at the garden where we went from a very wet winter to a boiling hot summer. While we can never predict the weather, one thing that is constant is the number of visitors that come and see what we get up too. This year one very welcome development was that more and more potential funders have been coming up – Sussex Community Foundation, Fonthill Foundation, Ernest Kleinwort, Big Lottery, Homity Trust and Peoples Postcode Lottery along with companies who are our near neighbours such as UK Power Networks and Paxtons. Local councillor Tracey Hill also generously awarded part of her ward budget to support our work.

Our workdays continue to bristle with activity fuelled by lunch cooked by Carly and Jo. We encouraged long term volunteer Andrew to start working in The Bevy Pub and he is now the omelette as well as table tennis king – just not at the same time. We continue to work with St. John's and the council to make sure we support any adults with learning disabilities who want to move on to more training and paid work. Once again the weather was kind at our Open Day where volunteers and pupils showed people what we get up too.

We put up a new polytunnel thanks to First Tunnels (where an ash tree branch duly fell through it) which helped, along with the sun and the hotbox at Moulsecoomb Primary to produce our best tomato crop ever – with hardly a blighted leaf in sight. Above the new poly we have been busy working on a new sensory garden that will be somewhere quiet to pot up plants and have your lunch in peace. This is also where we are building Matthew's Corner, a permanent reminder of one of our most loved volunteers who sadly passed away at the beginning of the year.
We welcomed Moulsecoomb Chomp and Concordia while hosting MIND eco-therapy workshops, Woodchips, The Wild Network and some mental health first aid training. Sensing Friends, an organisation for blind and partially sighted youngsters now hold regular activities at the garden. We continue to offer placements to Universities for students as part of their community partnership module and Paige gained work experience with us through her course at the Brighton MET. We have been working with Paige since she was 5 and she now works at Spiral Sussex. Thanks to Peoples Postcode Lottery funding Brighton Energy Co-op put solar panels on our cabin.

Pat and Carly continue to work at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) every week delivering gardening, woodcraft and cooking sessions as well as their pupils coming to the project, all part of the schools alternative provision strategy. We are building up our educational work again thanks to funding from The Fonthill Foundation enabling us to act quickly, rather than a lack of finance being a barrier to pupils accessing our services. Already we have been able to offer a BACA pupil one to one sessions at the Forest Garden, enabling him to pass his OCN Level one in Woodland Skills. We showed the new Head of BACA around the project and he has introduced better systems for pupils to be able to access the type of early intervention we can offer. 
Thanks to The Pebble Trust we ran another summer scheme for Moulsecoomb children to have fun learning about bushcraft, playing games in the woods and of course, make pizzas in our clay oven. However, we do need to change the format for older ones as it's getting harder to compete against computer games! 
Daisy is now working with Warren a day a week at Moulsecoomb Primary to help maintain their award-winning school grounds, helping with the lunch time environment club and working 1:1 with 3 girls who are really benefiting from the extra support. Pupils from the school regularly visit us – planting garlic, camp building, storytelling, hunting for treasure in the woods. A few also helped with a plant sale at the Bevy selling plants grown at the school and at the garden, raising funds for the Friday Friends seniors lunch club. Our runner beans and rhubarb helped feed the seniors club. This year we adopted Moulsecoomb train station as part of the Sussex Community Rail Partnership programme with the school and have started planting up a bee and butterfly bank. 
At our recent strategy meeting Rachel Bicker a biodiversity officer at Gatwick presented her draft wildlife plan. Rachel is responsible for the reptile mats at the garden helping us to increase the number of slow worms, and to make it easier to find and identify them. We are really pleased that Rachel is now one of our trustees. Beth from Team Pollinate at Sussex University has also been busy recording pollinating insects. In fact you could see them both having a Bug Off at our open day. 
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 can improve what we do as well as an AGM at The Bevy  which featured light show accounts, curry, karaoke and dinosaurs!
And finally its always nice to be acknowledged for your work and we came first in Brighton and Hove City in Bloom Best Community Charity Garden. So what better way to celebrate the end of the year with over 50 people enjoying what former Mayor Pete West described as 'the best alfresco Christmas dinner in Brighton.' 


* Support what we do? Then why not become a Friend of the Forest Garden with a monthly standing order. We'll make sure you get extra toppings on your pizza and an invite to our Christmas Party

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

OPEN DAY 2018

Any trustee worth their runner beans should always ask the question 'why are we doing this?' And so Forest Garden secretary and regular volunteer Duncan quite rightly asked – what is it we want from our annual open day?
 
It's not to make money, if it wasn't for the generous grant from Homity Trust it would cost us to put on the event but we do hope new visitors will see the value in our work and support us financially.
It's not just about numbers, although 150 came through the gates and about the same number of pizzas flew out of our clay oven.
For those with learning disabilities that volunteer regularly it is a chance to show their friends and families what they get up too. For some it is tinged with sadness. The Cheesman family have always been massive supporters of the project and Matthew Cheesman was a much loved regular volunteer who died suddenly a few months back. It affected everyone at the garden and we are busy working on 'Matthew's Corner' to remember him.
Another volunteer brought up his family. Since working with us, he's lost weight, been able to cut down on his medication and most importantly make new friends.
We also had seven students from Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) who come to the project on Thursdays while Pat and Carly work with them and other pupils at BACA other days of the week. They showed off the skills they had learnt, some put on the bee suits and checked out the hives, and of all of them made pizzas – and while people hunted for wildlife one used his camouflage skills to hide in a big apple tree and dangle a giant rubber beetle down to startled passers by! A group of adults who were failing to light a fire using natural techniques were shown how too by a Year 7 pupil in one strike. These pupils struggle at school and yet are thriving in an outdoor classroom environment. One lad in particular has benefited from funding we have received from the Fonthill Foundation which has enabled us to offer 1-1 booster sessions. Working a couple of hours extra with Pat each week has enabled him to pass his level one in Woodland Skills. We also had lots of families with younger children at Moulsecoomb Primary, familiar with us from our work at the school and the visits to the garden. 



Another former pupil is now working for Spiral Sussex. We have been working with her family for years at Moulsecoomb Primary and BACA and she has helped Carly cooking crew food at festivals but it has been her work at the garden where she realised she has real rapport working with adults with learning disabilities which has led her to paid work.
We also had our first Bug Off with Rachel Bicker, the biodiversity consultant at Gatwick and Beth Nicholls from Team Pollinate a Sussex University project collecting data on pollinators in the city. They worked with visitors and scoured the garden and ponds finding 96 different species all entered into iRecord website. Both Rachel and Beth are regular visitors to the project and have tapped into our volunteers passion for wildlife. We will be using their expertise to see how we can increase wildlife habitats including a new bee and butterfly bank we will create with Moulsecoomb Primary school as part of our partnership with Moulsecoomb train station. 


While Carly's pizzas are always popular Jo's cafe was doing a roaring trade of home made sweet and savoury snacks made and served by our volunteers. We also held our first raffle thanks to support from The Grand, Brighton Open Air Theatre, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, M&S, a nail manicure, an amazing home-made vegetable themed cake and Brighton and Hove Buses, with access officer Victoria Garcia and instructor Kim popping up to the garden.

 

So what is the open day for? Well it's not just a window into our work but an opportunity for the wide variety of people who come to the garden to feel part of a community and proud of the work they do.

* Why not become a Friend of the Forest Garden and make a regular monthly donation ? 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

MATTHEW CHEESMAN


Matthew Cheesman 1968-2018 


We are sorry to announce the passing of Matthew Cheesman. 

Matthew had been coming to the garden every Friday for seven years. With his big smile and cheerful disposition, Matthew was a joy to have around. He was a very good gardener and he loved to cook – as was also partial to the odd biscuit that we have with our endless cups of tea,
Rushing excitedly up the hill asking what jobs we had to do today he was also very canny. The other month he said he wasn't feeling very well – this of course had nothing to do with the massive pile of woodchips that had just been delivered, ready to be pushed up the hill! 
We like to socialise at the garden and Matthew was really content when after an event we would all sit round the fire with a beer or when we all went to the Bevy Pub for a pint. Him and Pat once got a sharing platter at the Bevy, unfortunately for Pat the only thing Matthew wanted to share was one onion ring. He also had grand plans for turning our cabin into a bachelor pad, with a comfy sofa, stereo and TV. 
Matthew loved to cook with Carly and Jo but could come back with some interesting cooking impliments. One time when he was asked to go and get a bowl but he came back half hour later with a golf club ! 
He got on really well with people, and was a great ambassador for the project often helping show visitors around. 
Everyone at the garden has been saying that its not the same without him so later this year we will be creating 'Matthews corner' with his own bench and a fruit tree. We are working on finding a chocolate biscuit bush to grow next to it 
So thank you Matthew for everything you brought to the garden – it just isn't the same without you.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

LOOKING BACK 2017

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. 
 

 




Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF THE FOREST GARDEN

Our work doesn't stop at the allotment gates but carries on every day of the week across Moulsecoomb and beyond.

Last week we helped forage for ingredients to make home made shampoo at Moulsecoomb Primary and the Bevy community pub for an event run by House of Cultural Curiosity as part of the British Science Festival.



We entered fruit and veg, cakes and jams at the Bevy garden show and cooked a Harvest Feast at Moulsecoomb Primary while Stephan from Brighton Permaculture Trust got children to squash the apples and pears grown and harvested by the children at the school to turn into juice.


Now in its 8th year, the Harvest Feast has become part of the school calendar with children serving up the food for parents and carers at the end of the school day.

We ran our first lunchtime gardening club of the new academic year with Year 4 discovering a newt, a frog, some anemic carrots, coriander seed and slug eggs which the children fed to grateful chickens – all while harvesting a bed of garlic. The chickens eggs go to the breakfast club (but not the slug eggs).

The after school club made a pasta dish using yellow courgettes from the school and our giant tomatoes – or zombie tomatoes as the children named them - which were grown by pupils in the heated greenhouse. Carly also uses the veg for the family cooking club she runs.
At the Bevy we help look after the edible pub garden and a lot of the fruit and veg was used by Friday Friends to make jams and pickles to raise money for their seniors Christmas party – as well winning lots of prizes in the garden show. Apples from the school also went to the Friday Friends for their puddings while the rest where taken by the Permaculture Trust to their juicing shed at Stanmer Park.

While Carly was teaching pupils to cook at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy Pat was delivering lessons that included tool safety and techniques, microcosm of wood land ecology using magnification and microscopes, horticulture and the hidden language of trees!

Over the weekend Pat also ran another session at the garden and in the woods with Sensing Friends – a group that works on building stronger more meaningful friendships between blind, partially sighted and sighted youngsters.

This is on top of welcoming over 60 people a week to our workdays including organisations that work with adults with learning disabilities such as St.Johns College, Autism Sussex, Outlook House and Brighton Mencap.

And after such a busy week, it's always good to sit round the table with everyone and eat some of the amazing food that is cooked up at the garden every week 


* Support what we do? Then why not become a Friend of the Forest Garden with a monthly standing order. We'll make sure you get extra toppings on your pizza.