Friday, 28 December 2012


Volunteering at Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project isn't just about gardening. Working with us is the perfect opportunity to learn about outdoor education - using nature as a way of teaching pupils, especially effective for those that struggle in the classroom.

Nancy Walker started as a volunteer with us five years ago when she was at the University of Sussex; within two years she was asked to be on our management committee and is now employed by the garden as a sessional worker at Moulsecoomb Primary and runs clubs for other primary school pupils across the city.

"I started volunteering at the forest garden in my first year of university. Part of my course at the time required us to carry out research outside of campus. The nature of carrying out ethnographic research is one that is based on getting stuck in, rather than being the observer. Luckily we found ourselves at a project that was more than happy to have more hands on board: be that digging out trenches, sowing seeds, coppicing for wood or just making pots of tea on an open fire. I continued to volunteer at the forest garden throughout university, it was a place where I could escape from an academic mindset and focus my energy practically and socially. I learnt more about what I wanted to do after university from the forest garden than I did at university – as I discovered a passion for gardening and working with people of different ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Two years on from finishing university a lot of my life has revolved around these two things: people and gardening, be it regenerating a derelict piece of land into a community garden or setting up an organisation that aims to engage young people in ecology creatively. I also run two environment afterschool clubs, one which is at Moulsecoomb primary and works as an extension of the forest garden project, I have also recreated a war time garden at this school, quite literally bringing history to life, where the year fours are digging there way to victory producing an abundance of potatoes and carrots that they would have grown throughout World War II. I still pop up to the forest garden on volunteer days when I can - mainly to catch up with the great friends I have made there and chill out ironically in the polytunnel."

Amyas Gilbert started as a student volunteer, joined our management committee, became chair then had to resign as we now employ him to run sessions with pupils on our workdays as well as getting him to run garden sessions at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy

"I started volunteering at the Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project in my second year of university, where I studied psychology. I think I just wanted to do something a bit more down to earth, in every sense of the term. I mucked in at the project on and off throughout my studies, and after graduating I attended both weekly work days every week for the next three and a half years. Bit by bit, I took on more responsibilities, was asked to join the management committee, and was eventually offered the position of chair of the board of trustees. This was all great work experience: learning horticulture and outdoor skills, helping to manage other volunteers and organise work, and finding out first-hand what it takes to run a serious community project.
Over those years I progressively got more involved with the youth work activities, assisting the highly experienced staff running outdoor education sessions with local school pupils at risk of exclusion. When an opportunity arose for the project work with more pupils and take on an extra member of staff, I was first to be offered the job. Since then I have been working full-time as a self employed youth worker, at the Mousecoomb Forest Garden and at several linked projects at local schools. In connection to this work I am also developing a school garden project of my own, am attending externally funded training courses, and am being offered outdoor education youth work by several other organisations."

Amyas takes a well earned break 


This article which appeared in the Brighton Argus Soapbox was in reply to one about Moulsecoomb being a food desert

So apparently Moulsecoomb is a food desert?

It’s true that if pop to the local shops you’re unlikely to find fresh baked bread or some decent fruit and vegetables. But does that make Moulsecoomb the Sahara?
Well I think Moulsecoomb is leading in the way in the City in producing fruit and vegetables.
A new orchard has just been planted at the Keep. What better to compliment the new historical records centre than an old fashioned orchard of Sussex fruit trees?
Nearby the vegetable beds at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy are full of autumn onions, garlic and broad beans and 50 raspberry plants have just gone in.
There are plans for an orchard behind St.Andrews Church and an edible pub garden at the Bevendean, with more Sussex fruit trees being planted in next year as well as vegetable beds being built. The cafĂ© will serve up decent food people can afford, have a community kitchen and why not the odd farmers market?
St.Georges Hall run a popular lunch club and are trying to revive the fruit and veg co-op, while across the Lewes Road Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project teach children and adults how to grow veg.
But the jewel in the crown must be Moulsecoomb Primary. Their awardwinning school grounds have an orchard, vegetable beds, a World War II and World Garden, chickens whose eggs are used in the breakfast club and cooking lessons. Right now an old tarmac playground is being transformed into an outdoor cooking area with herb, veg beds and fruit garden and maybe even the odd bee hive.
What Moulsecoomb has is land.  So food desert?
I don’t think so. 

Putting compost on the leeks at Moulsecoomb Primary School

Picking French beans in the polytunnel at Moulsecoomb Forest Garden

Sorting out the Moulsecoomb Primary compost bins full of well rotted chicken poo and leaves

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Brighton's green credentials have received a fresh boost with Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project (MFGWP) becoming the regional training hub and demonstration site for community composting. 

Local award-winning charity MFGWP is one of twelve ‘Hubs’ in a training network across England for the Community Composting for Local Food project. MFGWP won the contract to deliver training, advice, equipment loan and support services to local groups in the area who are growing fresh fruit and vegetables and want to grow more sustainably by developing composting and soil fertility at their own sites.

The scheme was set up by the Community Composting Network with funding from the Big Lottery Local Food programme to become the country’s leading provider of composting support to local groups.

The free training courses and support will run in the following months supported by on-site advice visits and loans of composting machinery and equipment. Follow-up training on and off-site will be offered to complete the training package.

Brighton’s composting ‘hub’ will be based at Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project and will become a focal point for the developing composting community in the local area, which already includes groups such as Whitehawk Community Food Project, Brighton and Hove Organic Gardening Group and Brighton Community Composting Centre.

The course is on Saturday 10th November, Saturday 17th November and Saturday 24th November 9am-5pm and is free. 

* To apply for a place on the courses or for more information about the courses and support please phone the Community Composting on 0114 258 0483 or email

* For more information about MFGWP please call John Horsfield on 07903 713382 or email

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


Press Release

A management plan for a forgotten woodland hopes to bring the local community and school pupils together to enjoy the unique resource on their doorstep.

Westlain Belt woodland shelters the new Brighton Aldridge Community Academy, the Bridge Community Centre, and part of residential East Moulsecoomb.

The Belt also marks both the boundary of the new South Downs National Park and the boundary of the built-up area of Brighton.

 ‘...The fallen hulks of two century old beeches; ghostly white root plates of upturned gale-struck trees; slime moulds and shining fungi dating from the primeval swamps; tower blocks for jackdaws, woodpeckers and bats; fossil sponges and shells from the tropical oceans of the dinosaur age; the dens and paths made by generations of local children... ...The tranquillity of green glades; the paint box colours of autumn leaf fall; the small wood, timber and twine that nature renders up for our use; the hidden places where we can peer through into the other worlds of nature...’

The woodland of Westlain Belt has grown for over two centuries on the open Downs half way between Brighton and Lewes, planted as an outer part of a galaxy of woodlands centred on Stanmer Park, by its past owners. Many Moulsecoomb and Falmer people will have walked and played there, especially as children or young people.

Dave Bangs, local naturalist and author said “It is time we properly recognised and managed this old and lovely place for what it is truly worth...a place to learn, to have fun, to wonder, to enjoy tranquillity, and to appreciate nature. It is for that reason that this Management Plan has been written. We hope all Westlain Belt’s neighbouring communities will benefit.”

Wilf Nicholls from The Prince's Trust who funded the report said "The Prince’s Trust is proud to be supporting increasing numbers of disadvantaged young people in the area and this is a fantastic project that offers so much, not only for the young people that have led the project, but for the Academy and its pupils, the environment and the wider community. It will leave a legacy of lasting improvements and increased access to the woods as a natural, leisure and learning resource for the whole community."

Natasha Silsby from Brighton Aldridge Community Academy said: “The Brighton Aldridge Community Academy is thrilled to have been part of this process. The surrounding woodlands present such rich learning opportunities and health benefits for our students and the local community; we can't wait to get started.”

Ben Sherratt from Sustrans said: “The Sustrans Bike It Project runs bike clubs in Moulsecoomb Primary and BACA, the young people in these clubs are keen riders and are really looking forward to using the local woodland for their back yard adventures on their bikes.”

There will be a celebratory walk on Wednesday 19th September 3pm

You can see the management plan here

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


Over eight hundred children from different schools across the city came to the sixth Heritage and Environment Festival at Moulsecoomb Primary School. Pupils got to do everything from making WWII potato pancakes from ration book recipes (made a lot more edible with a dollop of jam from the schools cherry plum trees), brass rubbing, bug hunting, weaving, archaeological digs, fire making, neolithic hut reconstruction, wattling, carving, sheep herding and dressing up as a Lewes Priory monk. There was also a session attended by over 150 teachers and school staff about how to include outdoor learning into the curriculum. We took pupils from the Swan Centre to have a look around the festival before they came to the forest garden for a bit of bush craft and pizza making.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Our last session with pupils from the Swan Centre ended in the kitchens. Thanks to funding from the Big Lottery funded Harvest project we have been busy since February transforming the outside space at the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy and it was time to try out the produce. We boiled two different varieties of potatoes, added some sliced green onion tops and mayonnaise and then decided which variety we liked best. We even offered some finely chopped chocolate mint to sprinkle on for the more adventurous. Our side dish was grated beetroot and radish (red as well as white mooli ones). After we’d eaten, the leftovers went back onto the compost heap. Now we’ve got to decide what to do with the rabbit that’s taken to nibbling the veg…

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


At the beginning of every school year Moulsecoomb Primary Year 1 pupils visit the forest garden to plant garlic and hunt around for bugs and food. But this isn’t a one off environmental message, the school ethos is all about outside learning. Both Year 1 teachers have a small space outside their classes where they grow food and one has even planted a wildflower meadow which is fighting with the dandelions for attention. They’ve had lessons on everything from composting to chickens as well as taking part in the fantastic Heritage and Environment Festival. In fact the school grounds need to be seen to be believed and when I hear about parents scrabbling for school places in Hove I reckon they are missing a trick not considering the school (ok i'm biased, my son goes there and i’m a parent-governor but it really is fantastic; just get over your prejudices about Moulsecoomb). The fact is many children learn best by doing and who wants to be stuck in the classroom all day when you can have a Maths or English lesson in the Fairytale Forest? Or learn about geography in the World Garden? Or World War II in the Anderson shelter? It’s about bringing learning to life. Yesterday those same Year 1 pupils came up to harvest their very fine looking garlic, cook pizzas in the clay oven, pick fruit and pod peas. Today the fruit will be turned into a milkshake thanks to the new smoothie bike built by the dads and their kids in the Super Dads club.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


We have been running a lunch time garden club for Year 4 at Moulsecoomb Primary for eight years and the one thing that nearly all children will eat is garlic. So their first lesson in the environment garden (which is totally surrounded by the school and is home to the chickens) is planting garlic. And their last? Harvesting the garlic and then making garlic bread. Really strong garlic bread. With cheese and even pesto if their feeling adventures

Saturday, 30 June 2012


In half term 15 students from City College came along for a pick and cook day. A tour of the gardens and what was growing, they then got to pick broad beans and salad and go and look at our bees. They then set to work rolling out dough with Anna from Harvest
adding toppings for the pizzas fired in our outdoor clay oven. City College Lecturer Grace Rapa told us “I feel I need to say thank you again for such a wonderful couple of hours today, it was just the most perfect way to end the year for our students and seeing children playing and enjoying being in the natural environment was an extra bonus. Some of the students we had with us today never put themselves forward or speak out but that all changed today. Could you say a special thank you to all of your team as well as they were all able to work with our students at their level in a supportive and friendly manner. I hope we can repeat this really special treat next year.”

Saturday, 16 June 2012

People have really been getting stuck into building the new 'shed' which has involved amongst other hightlights pickaxing out tonnes of chalk and moving massive chestnut poles up the hill

Friday, 15 June 2012


It might have only been a dozen mixed radishes but it was the first food ever grown at the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy Thanks to funding from the Big Lottery funded Harvest project, we have been working since February on transforming an area at the back of the school with pupils from the Swan Centre. During our weekly sessions we have been building raised vegetable beds with the pupils, planting potatoes and a small herb garden. We have visited Stammer Nurseries where we gave each pupil a small budget to buy plants after doing research on what plants were wildlife and bee friendly. We have had deliveries of soil from the Brighton Community Composting Centre and spoken to the workers about how they produce their compost. We have kept pupils continually engaged with a wide range of tasks from measuring, sawing and building the raised beds to hammering them into place; planting, weeding and barrowing the compost to planting and watering the seeds. We have encouraged pupils to take ownership of the space, do research and come up with ideas such as how to create a wildlife pond. One of the Year 9 pupils asked about getting waterbutts for the plants and we encouraged him to talk to Southern Water. Future plans include putting up a geo-dome for propagating and potting up which will also give us a warm, dry space to work in during bad weather. We plan to extend the raised beds, build a compost bin and a small bog garden while continuing to plant different flowers and shrubs on the bank. We are also working with Brighton Permaculture Trust on enhancing the orchard and soft fruit area and replacing the numerous trees that have died. We have been working closely with Natasha Silsby who has been fundraising to make the above possible. Natasha has also been working on making the Lemon Community Garden a reality. This was a BACA pupil led idea voted the best one in a school competition and we have identified a piece of derelict land at the back of Moulsecoomb Primary where we can put in raised beds, fruit and nut trees, a pond, herb garden and beehives. Natasha is looking for funding to be able to pay for a worker to maintain these gardens and run sessions with pupils from both schools and the wider community to increase food production in the area and people’s skills base. Thanks to funding from the Prince’s Trust, naturalist and author Dave Bangs has produced a woodland plan for Westlain Plantation, the woods behind BACA. We hope the school will come to recognize this space as a fantastic resource on their doorstep, an outdoor classroom that can be used not just as an extension of gardening sessions but also lessons from geography to history as well as an excellent opportunity for the school to work with the wider community. We have also met the city council and developers about planting a small orchard of old fashioned varieties on a piece of land by The Keep, the new historical records centre in north Moulsecoomb. This would be led by Brighton Permaculture Trust who are experts in orchard planning. We want this to be a joint venture between Moulsecoomb Primary and BACA, with pupils planting and looking after the trees with apple days and cooking sessions and a chance to bring history to life, for example by planting the extremely rare and local Stanmer Pippin. At the forest garden we are working with 10 BACA pupils who struggle inside the classroom on a wide range of woodland, gardening, cooking and bushcraft lessons. Five of these pupils now have Open College Network accreditations. We also hope to be running a garden summer holiday scheme to maintain the gardens throughout the holidays and use any produce available. We want pupils that enjoy gardening to be able to take on their own veg bed as well as establish a garden monitor scheme for pupils to help maintain the area. Ultimately, we would like to see the outside space as impressive as BACA’s indoor facilities and one which the whole school has an opportunity to use and be proud of.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


While the majority of our work takes place at the forest garden we are also busy planning, plotting, transforming and running gardening clubs in Moulsecoomb and beyond. On one day last week we continued to transform a space at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy building raised beds and planting vegetables with Swan Centre pupils. At the afterschool garden club at Moulsecoomb Primary pupils visited Stanmer Nursery to buy wildlife and bee friendly plants as well as some more colourful ones to brighten up the nursery and reception beds. Working with Brighton Permaculture Trust(BPT) we met the council and developers about planting a small orchard of old fashioned varieties on a piece of land by the Keep, the new historical records centre in north Moulsecoomb. This will be a joint venture between Moulsecoomb Primary and BACA helping to plant and look after the trees, as well as take part in apple days and cooking sessions. Bryn from the BPT then visited BACA to advise us on planting more orchard trees, raspberries and cordons.

Monday, 5 March 2012


The hard work has begun of clearing and leveling the foundations for our new shed.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Around 80 people braved the cold to stare through telescopes as part of the BBC’s stargazing events. A roaring fire with pumpkin soup and hot drinks kept everyone warm and when the clouds broke we could spy the moon and its craters, Jupiter and its five moons.
Thanks to Dr Darren Baskill from the University of Sussex and Jo lewis from Science and Technology Facilities Council for bringing their telescopes and making it happen.

Monday, 2 January 2012


A few days before Christmas, the roof went up on the temporary structure while the council put up a new fence. In 75 work hours, we cleared the site, the old fence line and put up our tin shelter. Hey, they should make a Changing Rooms programme about us.