About The Project
It was in the autumn of 1994 when a group of friends decided to get an allotment. I got a map of all the different sites from the council and cycled around town until I came across this secret little site hidden behind Moulsecoomb railway station. The first plot we took on was a long thin strip overgrown with ash and brambles. In fact the council gave us it rent free for the first year because it had been derelict for nearly 20 years!
We set about clearing parts of the area and terracing some of the beds to stop soil erosion. Not that there was much soil to stop being eroded when we first started! Infact one of our regular and more exhausting jobs has been the carrying of heavy bags of compost and manure up the slope to try and improve the ground until the worms started to return.
Over time as friends drifted away we decided to put the project on a firmer footing - we started to have our regular `open to everyone - no gardening experience necessary' workdays, became a not for profit company and started to put on regular events.
Payment for doing a bit of work means you get to take home whatever vegetables are growing. While you’ll find the usual potatoes, runner beans and courgettes we also grow more unusual vegetables such as heritage tomatoes of different shapes and colours, salads to test your taste buds and odd looking cucumbers. To encourage people to experience all the varieties of vegetables we grow, we also put on popular events such as pick and cook where community cooks get people to go round the project picking the food that is then prepared and cooked in the clay oven or over the fire for everyone to try.
We've now got nine plots where you will find us doing everything from organic gardening, forest gardening, wildlife gardening and - the thing that gets people talking - outlawed vegetable gardening. Infact, this isn't your normal allotment site. There’s a large treehouse/shed, an outdoor clay oven, a wattle and daub roundhouse, turf sofa, traditional bee hive and bee garden. A compost loo, living willow tunnel and uncultivated areas for wildlife to hang out. As well as numerous school visits we also run the environment club at the award winning Moulsecoomb Primary school.
Thanks to our campaigning Queensdown Woods, directly behind the allotments, is now in the South Downs National Park. We have drawn up a management plan and use the woods to teach pupils about coppicing and woodland management. We also use a small part of it to put on events and run school holiday wilderness camps.
From the top of the site you can see the South Downs - a green desert of a landscape that looks like someone's taken a giant lawnmower to it and shaved off all the vegetation. Our site couldn’t be more of a contrast and the local wildlife certainly seem to have given it the thumbs up. No chemicals or pesticides, a double hedgerow of native trees, a big pond and lots of hidey-holes means that the whole site has become a wildlife haven - an important `green lung' for the town, backing onto wood and farmland and inhabited by badgers, foxes, moles, voles, frogs, lizards, slow worms, numerous birds, butterflies and insects (in fact the only wildlife we don't take too kindly to is the slug and snail, but then the site has become such a balanced eco system they aren’t such a problem now).
As local wildlife expert Dave Bangs described us “Moulsecoomb Forest Garden is a little nugget of hope amidst the wrecked and neglected treasures of Brighton’s natural heritage. It shows that people and wildlife and food growing CAN be in harmony. Today one allotment site…tomorrow our whole countryside.”
We have become embedded in the local community, an important resource offering horticultural, educational and social opportunities to residents and schools in these surrounding built up urban areas. We have won awards for Best Community Allotment in the UK 2007 and Best Green Project in Sussex 2008
Our project isn’t just about gardening but 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 and pleasant environment.
We offer horticultural, carpentry, woodland management, cooking, educational and social opportunities to EVERYONE. The aims of the project are to:
* Reduce anti-social behaviour by involving excluded pupils in the running of the garden.
* Improve community health by producing organic and locally grown fruit and vegetables.
* Enhance skills and employability by offering practical based training and volunteering opportunities.
* Involve children in planting, growing and eating healthy food and learning to respect nature and the environment.
* Create and enhance wildlife habitats and protect bio-diversity including old fashioned vegetable varieties.
* Promote sustainable lifestyles by encouraging and educating people about the benefits of organic gardening, locally produced food and composting.
Warren Carter October 2010