Well that was a year we won’t forget. A year where we can be proud of how the garden adapted to an ever changing situation.

If there’s one thing this pandemic has highlighted is that you can get a lot more done when you work together. As the first lockdown loomed, we joined a meeting of organisations across Moulsecoomb and Bevendean to discuss how we could support the most vulnerable.

So when we had to make the tough decision to close the garden a skeleton staff began growing as much food as possible to supply the Bevy community pub’s meals on wheels service, which has delivered over 6,000 locally, including to some of our volunteers. Rhubarb, runner, broad and French beans, onions, potatoes, courgettes, shallots, peas, black and red currants, lettuce and rocket have been used in meals or delivered directly to people so they can cook with fresh, locally produced, organic food.

Our cooks Carly and Jo swapped the garden for the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) kitchens, helping deliver meals on wheels to the most vulnerable – not just for families that go to the school but anyone in the local community. It’s no coincidence that the first outside agencies that were allowed back into BACA to work with pupils were Pat and Carly. Students from BACA, Homewood College and Moulsecoomb Primary have also been coming to the garden for lessons.

As lockdown eased, we knew that the garden had a massive role to play in people’s mental health. At first, we ran small groups a couple of hours early evening to do some watering, weeding, harvesting – or just to enjoy being at the garden. Long term supporter Elaine said “It was a lovely evening and coming back on the bus I felt so well, it did me a lot of good. One of my nicest days out this year.”

The Ernest Kleinwort, Allington Trust and Woodward Charitable Trust gave us flexible funding despite this ever changing situation. A grant from the Sussex Crisis Fund meant we could help supply plants and seeds for nearly 100 growing kits delivered to Moulsecoomb Primary pupils and identify families who don’t have a garden to come and have some time outside with us.

Thanks once again to the Pebble Trust we were able to run another free summer scheme for Moulsecoomb Primary pupils to give parents some respite. It was like a mini outdoor festival where for a few hours children could make art from materials they found in the woods, pond dip; make pizzas, scoff fruit, hunt for slow-worms, have water fights, make wooden wands and camps. One lad, covered in mud and busy pouring water into a leaf filled hole next to his woodland camp told his mum proudly ‘I’m proper natured.’ Me and Daisy are now back working at the school with Year 4 with instructions that we can only work outside, which suits us. It was also lovely to welcome Year 1 and 4 to the garden for their first visits since the end of lockdown – planting garlic, hunting for vegetable and wildlife and testing out our new pizza oven.

Our workdays are now a bit different. No longer a drop-in, we are limiting numbers and only taking referrals for new volunteers. We even managed a volunteer only Christmas Party.

We have been helping maintain the flower beds on Queens Road and creating a wildlife bank at Moulsecoomb train station using plants grown by Dave from the Bevy’s Friday Friends. Dave has been key to distributing the veg we’ve been growing at the garden to local older residents. Pat ran a Connecting in Nature course in a collaboration with Brighton MIND and the South Downs National Park Authority. We continue to build on our wildlife records and made a series of short wildlife films but apart from the Big Bird Watch had to cancel all our planned events.

Money from the nearby Preston Barracks development meant that our pizza oven has been totally rebuilt and has a new roof. We now have running water to our compost loo, swanky new seats round the firepit, more covered dry spaces and tools that aren’t all bent and rusty.

A word too about our trustees – Susie, Rachel, Duncan, Julie, Mick and Ross. I’m not sure you could find a more hands on bunch. While people don’t see the work behind the scenes, or Julie keeping our books in order, our volunteers certaintly see them on workdays getting stuck in.

While Moulsecoomb and the surrounding areas face many problems, it is also rich beyond the index of multiple deprivation. There is a growing network and sense of possibility and opportunity emerging. One person described it as “an ordinary estate doing extraordinary things” and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden is at the heart of it.

We can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store!

* Like what we do? Why not become a Friend of the Forest Garden with a monthly donation so we do even more of it (without filling in endless forms justifying what we do).