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.
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.
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