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.'
Cheers, see you all next year
Cheers, see you all next year