Wednesday, 21 August 2019

AN UNEQUAL PARTNERSHIP

A recent article 'Understanding the hidden costs of grant making' really got to the heart of the charitable sector problem. Its shocking revelations concluded that it often costs more to apply for a grant than the money you receive! That is of course if you are successful; with most applications it seems you've got more chance of winning the lottery than being given the cash.


So much work goes into even small grant applications; reading the guidelines, understanding the questions, making up another budget, getting three quotes for small amounts of work, speaking to funders. Then you are rejected but with no explanation as to why. Understandably many charities don't want to bite the hand that feeds them and an unequal partnership has developed where you tip your hat for any crumbs you can get.
The stark reality is, like so many small charities we will always need grants to keep going. Despite cutting our budget to the bone, it still costs £6,700 a month to keep our head above water. It's a tedious hand to mouth struggle which makes planning for the future impossible. That's why its so frustrating when you get someone telling us what we need to do to make us sustainable like tapping up business. Like we haven't tried! Many businesses are happy to give you a team building day but no cash for organising it. We’ve been hunting for years in totally wired Brighton for someone to revamp our website but with no luck. School funding has been shot to pieces, disabled people's services have been slashed, with new people being sent to us with the expectation that we can provide a free service. If we charged our true costs the people we set up to support wouldn't be able to access our services.
We've been busy in the summer holidays with visits by Moulsecoomb Primary youngsters, children from the carers centre and Into University. It's income, the sort grant funders love, but it doesn't really touch the sides.

That's not to say they are not important. It's why we exist! At our busy open day, parents from Moulsecoomb Primary booked up our free summer scheme course before we'd even advertised it. These are exactly the children we want to support, those who often miss out on these experiences for whatever reason. We organised a fishing trip for older ones that unfortunately had to be cancelled because of the weather. Getting parents to fill in consent forms was a logistical nightmare, so once again those that really need a break and the chance to do something different, miss out.
So while I’m filling in another monitoring report for another small pot of money I wonder why our annual report and accounts won’t do. I know the people on trusts means well, but they need to put themselves in our shoes and realise that they are often contributing to small charities drowning in paperwork and stopping them doing what they are meant to be doing in the first place. Just ask yourself, why so many questions and what do you really need all those monitoring reports for? 
As one young lad excitedly scoffed the raspberries, a fruit he said he had never tried before and hunted for newts, a pond creature he had never seen, we know that our work is needed more than ever. Funders need to rip up those forms and start again, go visit projects to see what they really get up too before there's no small charities left to support.

* Like what we do? One easy way to support our work is to become a Friend of the Forest Garden. Currently we earn over £400 a month this way and it really helps with budgeting.

* Don't believe us? Pop 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. We might even let you dig for some spuds.
 

Monday, 8 July 2019

GETTING READY FOR OUR OPEN DAY

Everyone is welcome to our open day this Friday.
The event is free thanks to sponsorship from Homity Trust and Brighton & Hove Food Partnership but please be generous on the gate. We are fed up of looking behind the sofa for pennies. 
We have lots of raffle prizes. Who doesn't want cream tea at The Grand, a trip on the i360, a remote controlled car, duvet covers and much more.
How about making a small monthly standing order ? And if you have made a standing order, check with us that you have ticked the gift aid so we can claim more on your donation.
Please ask for a tour at the gate and one of our volunteers will show you round. And don't worry, we won't then send you an email asking how you rate your experience. You can make your own pizza, enjoy homemade cakes and a cuppa, try out some primitive technology, check out our wildlife and our bees, even spend a penny in our compost loo. You might even get a selfie with the Mayor if you arrive at 2pm
See you all Friday.The welcoming committee awaits!
 

Thursday, 23 May 2019

MOULSECOOMB PRIMARY : AN OUTSTANDING COMMUNITY SCHOOL

The other week a woman who ran a puppet show at Moulsecoomb Primary said the school had a 'big heart.' The show was about children's mental health and one of the activities was getting children to write a list of things that help them with their well-being. At most other schools pupils said - X-box, toys, theme parks etc - but she noticed at Moulsecoomb it was ‘playing with my brother’ ‘going outside with my friends’ ‘time with my family.’

She got that the school is the beating heart of the community and really is a 'compassionate, learning community.' You can read the school prospectus here

Over 40 organisations work in the school, all of them helping to enrich the pupils lives and support the children’s learning. Just look at what was happening in one week alone! Brighton and Hove's Reading Centre is based here, the library has been turned into a jungle, its a bike hub of excellence and pupils from across Sussex are taught the pre-history curriculum in the stunning school grounds. We are home to Little Green Pigs space station, bringing literacy and storytelling to life while Albion in the Community use the power of sport to provide high quality interventions improving children’s English, maths, communication skills, teamwork, resilience and physical literacy. Moulsecoomb Forest Garden uses outdoor learning and the power of nature to teach all children, but especially those that struggle in the classroom. Finding a leech in the pond led to conversations about it and maggots healing powers! Outdoor learning might be the new flavour of the month, but the school has been ahead of that game for over a decade. 


 

We are the only primary school in the city where our brightest pupils have the opportunity to go to Christ Hospital Independent School while Into University provide after school homework clubs.

Sussex University will be moving one of its student teaching modules into the school, that will help us evaluate these interventions, along with Brighton Table Tennis Club moving into the back buildings using sport and Ping Maths to teach pupils.

Where many schools would show the front door to some of our more challenging pupils, the school bends over backwards to be inclusive going above and beyond to find a way of reaching and teaching them. There's opportunities for parents to learn as well as regularly be in the classroom finding out how they can support their children at home. When the Bridge Community Centre suddenly closed, it was the school that hosted an emergency meeting to find a way to keep activities going and now hosts some of the adult education facilities that would have been lost.

As a parent now community governor I work hard with others to make sure the school has the ability to keep this level of community support going. This is despite losing a staggering £388,000 since 2015. We have found funding from organisations like East Brighton Trust and the Fonthill Foundation so we can continue with school trips and are working with the Youth Hostel Association to give Year 6 'transition' holidays as well as looking at giving families who never get the chance to have a break a chance to go away with their children.

I haven't got the data skills or numbing crunching that OFSTED obsess about, but being in the school so often I see how hard the teachers work and care, and how often governors are in the school observing, supporting, questioning and challenging to make it a better place - and what's often left out in the measurements - seeing how happy the children are. 

I understand OFSTED are changing; looking for schools that offer a rich and varied curriculum. Moulsecoomb Primary has this richness in bucketfuls and on this measurement is outstanding and a school where I am proud to say my children attended.

Warren Carter
Project Manager Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project

Community Governor, Moulsecoomb Primary

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

PLANT SALE THIS SATURDAY

We've been on a seed sowing, potting up frenzy over the past few months with our volunteers and pupils at Moulsecoomb Primary School along with some of the people that run Friday Friends and keep the Bevy community pub garden looking stunning. We've now got plants coming out of our ears and this Saturday 4th May is our annual plant sale 10am till 2pm.
Profits will be split between the Forest Garden and keeping the Bevy garden looking good. We will also be selling cakes to make money and The Bevy will be serving breakfasts till 1pm and beer from 12. You could even push the boat out and become a Friend of the Forest Garden with a monthly standing order. 


Plants for sale 

Tomatoes 
Black Russian and Italian Heart (Heritage) Alicante, garden delight, moneymaker, stripie, red alert.
Herbs: Parsley, chives, sorrel, basil
Veg: Runner beans, cucumber, kale - ragged jack (heritage) yellow and green courgette, cape gooseberry, celery, peas, french beans, sweetcorn, leeks  
Flowers: Morning Glory,  red toadflax, mallow, geranium, sweet william, montbresia, pink cosmo, acanthus, French marigolds, calendua, echium, chrysanthemuns,, nasturtiums, pansy, lobelia - blue upright and trailing dolly mixture, carnation, asters, daliah, busy lizzie, antirrhinum, alyssum, Californian peppers, sweet peas, passion flower, pinks, coleus, petunia.   
Two oak trees 

 

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 ?