Monday, 19 December 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.


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. 


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



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:
Please vote for us! And ask your friends and families to vote too

Monday, 22 August 2016


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


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