Saturday, 25 March 2017

EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITY

As a governor at Moulsecoomb Primary School for over a decade I’ve seen the chipping away of school budgets. It's got to the point where it is national news; with all headteachers complaining that they haven't got enough money to deliver the education that all our children deserve. At our school we have lost nearly £200,000 in the last four years – with another £210,000 to follow.
I was invited to help out at Moulsecoomb Primary when former head, Mr Davies, was transforming the school grounds. He strongly believed that the outdoor environment was as powerful a way of teaching children as inside the classroom. The school have won countless awards whilst giving Moulsecoomb pupils an amazing space to learn and have fun. His legacy continues and thanks to a change in the history curriculum, primary schools from all over Sussex are now paying to come to the school for the day to learn about pre-history.
But these grounds and ageing school buildings cost money. We are also in an area where thousands of students reside in what were once family homes, which means less pupils for our school and so less money. So what do we get rid of? Community worker who is worth her weight in gold finding grants for all the extras that happen in the school, the family worker and support staff who help children in and out of the classroom. Teachers? After school clubs? Trips?
For the past couple of years governors and staff have been working on ways to not just shout about the school's work to encourage more parents to choose Moulsecoomb Primary, but also to help plug some of these funding gaps. Recently East Brighton Trust agreed to give £10,000 to the school every year for three years. This 'enrichment' grant will help support activities like the breakfast club, after school club, trips and paying for organisations to visit us. These are some of the activities that enrich our pupils education and give them a better start in life. Last week building firm Rivers Birtwell came in for a week and transformed our tired old computer room. Little Green Pig have run free story telling workshops, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership run cooking demonstrations and Brighton University painted a mural in our Reading zone. 

 
Rivers Birtwell, Mr.Sutton and children in our freshly decorated computer room

Our parents group PAGE continue to fundraise and in the past few years have bought books for the whole school, outside play equipment, drums for the Samba band, had the hall painted and decked out with new curtains and had an outside building put up to remember Mr.Davies. Parents also help with everything from fixing the flat tyres on the wheelbarrows to taking professional photos for our website. We had an anonymous donation so a year six class could go ice-skating, while the other year six class were treated to the i360 and free lunch - thanks to a generous offer from The New Club restaurant along the seafront. We've had grants from British Science Association to run Science Week events, National Lottery Awards for All to run cooking clubs for children and parents and to buy new computer equipment, and Heritage Lottery Funding to help maintain our unique houses as well as free rail tickets for art week winners to visit galleries in London. 

Summer fayre in our stunning school grounds

We're lucky to be so close to the AMEX stadium and Albion in the Community seem to be in the school everyday. Promotion to the Premier League will be even better! We are also lucky to have become one of Sustrans flagship bike schools with children learning to fix bikes, cycle and of course making fruity drinks from our very own smoothie bike. It was parents, staff and some pupils who built our bike pump track. 
Painting with crushed up charcoal during Science Week

We look for companies to sign up to Team Building days to help with painting or maintaining the garden and every year Brighton College students come and do a days volunteering while Concordia volunteers spend two weeks in the school every summer voluntering.
Thanks to a number of grants from Peoples HealthTrust, Sussex Community Foundation and Southover Manor Trust we've been slowly transforming the old tarmac playground behind the Learning Mentors building. It now has a pond, raised beds and a heated greenhouse and hotbox where we have just sown what surely must be the first ever melons grown in the school as well as tomatoes, peppers and squashes. 
Seed sowing Sweet Banana peppers!

So as you can see, we work hard to bring in money and resources that the school can't afford – and that don't come from the main schools budget.
I don't want the school leadership team worrying about broken toilets and not being able to afford the best teachers but concentrating on making sure pupils get the education they deserve. So if you think you have something to offer pop in and see Lucy or Lana or me – with more cuts around the corner our school needs parents to get involved more than ever.

Warren Carter
Moulsecoomb Primary School governor/parent

* Save our Schools have organised a meeting this Thursday 30th March to organise against these education cuts https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/save-our-schools-launch-party-tickets-33044491965

Monday, 2 January 2017

KEEPING FIT ON MAYORAL DUTIES

It's hard to keep up with Mayor of Brighton and Hove Pete West as he flies past on his tandem, off to yet another event, hoping not to catch the mayoral chains in his bike chains.

It put a few peoples noses out when he decided to break with protocol and support 27 different charities, but for small groups like ours to be chosen was a welcome shot in the arm needed in this climate of never ending cut backs and being asked to do a hell of a lot more with a hell of a lot less. Working with so many different organisations has been fantastic although with so many opportunities sometimes a little overwhelming!

Pete popped along to our open day in July and joined us for Christmas dinner. Was the guest of honor at the Run Forest Run fundraiser, has encouraged John O'Connor to run in the Brighton Half Marathon for us and given us so many other opportunities to raise our profile and our bank balance.

Now this is where you come in.

On 23rd April there is going to be two fundraising Cycle Ride where you can either go for an epic 50 mile cycle ride around the Biosphere boundary starting and finishing at Hove Lawns, or a family friendly 12 mile ride from Hove Lawns to Saltdean and back.

On the 30th April there's going to be fundraising Health Walk along Brighton's boundaries starting at Saltdean Lido. So if you looking for some New Years Resolutions these are the perfect opportunities for you to enjoy yourself, keep fit and raise funds for the forest garden. What more could you want?

* Please contact us if you are interested in fundraising for us at these events 

* Help support our work by becoming a Friend of the Forest Garden and making a monthly standing order

No this isn't the Mayors office but our eco-cabin, which Pete paid a visit to in July

The Mayor with long term volunteer Michael




Monday, 19 December 2016

LOOKING BACK 2016

Eco-cabin finally complete, first pupil to get a qualification in Creative Craft, being picked as one of the Mayors charities – its been another great year for Moulsecoomb Forest Garden.

However, the background is that life is becoming increasingly difficult for small charities.

I recently attended a meeting held by Sussex Community Foundation with Vanessa, one of our trustees. Sussex Community Foundation, who have been long-term supporters of our work, were launching their new report 'Sussex Uncovered'. In just 10 years the foundation has become massive players supporting the local charity sector by dishing out a staggering ten million!

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know why the room was packed – as they pointed out, we have a perfect storm. Thanks to government cuts, charities are needed more than ever, while funding is harder to come by and the media is full of stories that question charities’ work.

As many of our volunteers know only too well, disability services are being cut, centres shut, benefit forms getting more complicated and general support ebbing away. Anything that isn't statutory will go. That's why I welcome Mick Ardron as our newest trustee. Mick has been working with the council’s disability team for a number of years and will help make sure that we continue to shape our work around some of our most vulnerable volunteers needs.

We run a nimble forest garden ship but I can’t tell you how depressing it is to be on the constant hunt for small pots of money. I recently made an application to Comic Relief for core funding – you know the boring stuff that keeps us ticking over like wages, insurance and rent. They turned us down saying they had received 1,541 applications and could only fund 100. Not that we know why we didn't get it as we just received a bog standard rejection letter.

If you read the Brighton Argus you will see that half the paper is full of stories of people fundraising or charities looking for ways to fundraise; and social media is no different with endless calls for sponsorship. Our trustees do sponsored runs, chat up rich people, make deals with companies while I spend Monday and Wednesdays at my computer wearily looking at grant tip-offs and trying not to bang my head against the nearby wall.

So if you have a good fundraising idea let us know. One of volunteers grandad convinced the Co-op Funeral Service to buy us nearly £300 of equipment while Santander gave us £250 for us hosting a team building day meaning not only did they clear around the bee area, but meant we could buy new tools for the garden. Secretary Duncan's father in law bought us a couple of new if slightly squeaky wheelbarrows. We've had wood donated from Kingdom Landscapes and Wood Recycling Project; and got deals on manure and woodchip. And if you know someone who might want to become a Friend of the Forest Garden and make a monthly standing order, no matter how small, then please give them a nudge. It makes a big difference.

It also helps that we became one of the Mayors chosen 27 charities and I like to thank the Mayor Pete West not just for choosing us, but for his ongoing support for the forest garden for many years and all the hard work he's put in supporting charities across the city since May. That's not to say we aren't continually looking at ways to wean ourselves off grants with 49% of our income self-generated and 6% from donations.

The Mayor tries out the smoothie bike during our open day
 

We hit the ground running with our work with schools at the beginning of this academic year, and have a full timetable - which says something as school budgets are themselves being squeezed. Our instructors Pat and Phil are well-respected across the city, not just in schools but social services, support agencies and the council. We now work with 11 different schools, and 5 pupils managed to get qualifications with us this academic year including one lad who came up during the summer holidays to make sure he passed his NCFE Level 2 in Creative Art (Heritage and Traditional Crafts) As well as at the forest garden Pat works a day a week at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy, whose outside space is finally maturing

Blake receiving his award from Pat at BACA presentation evening
 

As anyone who has ever visited the garden at lunchtime will know, the food being dished up just gets better and better thanks to Carly, Daisy and Jo. Carly also works at BACA and Moulsecoomb Primary where the continuity between us and students is key to our work. I run a lunchtime gardening club at Moulsecoomb Primary and we have helped build a new garden space for pupils needing respite from the classroom. As we're talking about cooking, I must also say thanks to Andrew and Will who often cook up a storm on a Tuesday; and who both attended a food hygiene course, along with Lianne, a bubbly volunteer whose been coming up since April when Tower House, a day centre for people with learning disabilities, was closed. I'd also like to thank Pilchard for eating all the biscuits.

Feast!


Thanks to the tenacity of our chair Susie Howells and funding from the Peoples Postcode Lottery our eco cabin is finally finished, fully compliant with retrospective planning permission and we can now look at options how to use it to generate income. Susie spent endless hours on the planning application, and persuading people to work for us for free or at cost, including incredible support from Royal Town Planning Institute volunteer Emma, local architects ZSTa, brilliant local builder Pat Plumstead and many others who wrote to support the planning application. Infact after finishing work on the building Pat wrote 'I wanted you to know that we have all very much enjoyed working on your lovely project. We have also been genuinely touched by what we have experienced during our time at the allotments. The effort you guys all make to bring some enlightment too, and enthusiasm out, of the people that attend has been both humbling and very inspiring in equal measure.' 

Testing out the new balcony at our Christmas Party
 

We held our first user group meeting, where we listened to peoples ideas on how to improve the garden, and we've been busy putting in handrails to make it easier to get around. We continue to clean up Queensdown Woods and surrounding area, and talk to students and the university about their inconsiderate parking. Thanks to funding from the The Pebble Trust we also ran another summer scheme for Moulsecoomb children to have fun learning about bushcraft, playing games in the woods – and of course, making pizzas in our clay oven. 

We're going on a Bear Hunt
 
                                           
We have welcomed the usual wide variety of groups such Moulsecoomb Primary School Year 1 planting garlic, Bedes College, Brighton Housing Trust, Concordia and ongoing placements for University students as part of their community module. Our annual open day was the most successful yet with the most pupil engagement and lots of families from Moulsecoomb and the surrounding area. 


Firelighting

We came joint second for best wildlife garden in the Brighton and Hove City in Bloom awards, and 2nd for best community allotment. Carly even wore a dress to the awards.

So thank you to everyone who helps. In the scheme of things, we might be a small charity but I reckon we pack a very big punch. And as the Chief Executive of Sussex Community Foundation said – 'you might not be able to change the world, but you can change somebodies world.' 

Warren Carter, Project Manager 



Wednesday, 2 November 2016

VOTE FOR US

WE CAME SECOND IN BAGS OF HELP SCHEME WINNING £10,000 AND RECEIVED £500 FROM AVIVIA

We need your votes 

Can you spare a few minutes of your time and help support our work teaching people with disabilities how to cook. Vote ten times so we can win £5,000  (voting ends 17th November)



We are also up for funding thanks to Tesco’s 'Bags of Help' scheme.
The money will make a real difference to us, and will go towards improving our eco-cabin and cooking area. If we get the full £12,000 we will be able to install solar panels and a heating system so we can
use the building all year round and help us to become as sustainable as the fruit and veg we grow.
Tesco has teamed up with Groundwork on its ‘Bags of Help’ initiative. The scheme will see three community groups and projects in our area awarded grants of £12,000, £10,000 and £8,000 – all raised from the 5p bag charge.
Voting takes place in the following stores until 13th November:
•  HOVE
•  LEWES
•  HOVE EXPRESS
•  HOVE DENMARK VILLAS EXP
•  DROVEWAY HOVE EXPRESS
•  WOODINGDEAN EXPRESS
•  WESTERN RD BRIGHTON EXP
•  WEST ST ROTTINGDEAN EXP
•  JUBILEE ST BRGHTON EXP
•  BRIGHTON ST JAMES EXP
•  BRIGHTON QUEENS RD EXP
•  WESTWAY HOVE EXP
•  PEACEHAVEN EXPRESS
•  SEAFORD EXPRESS
Please vote for us! And ask your friends and families to vote too


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