Last Rural Pathways session at Baulcombes Barn

By Emma Chaplin

We had our last session with the Plumpton College Rural Pathways students at Baulcombes Barn on Friday. First of all, the group fed the pigs and tended to the hens as usual. Then they came back to the pony field area to clean that (and meet Ben, the new pony) and remove some posts.

They had a break for a drink of Ringmer Community Orchard apple juice first because it was hot.

Emma and Mark Gilbert took students aside one by one to do a feedback exercise. Rhiannan from Bluebell House was kindly there to cook food for our end of term celebration over an open fire by the pond, because she's great at it. She recently did an Erasmus cookery course in France. Rhiannan fried onions and made a fantastic salad with finely sliced fennel and lots of other interesting and delicious ingredients.

Mark, who has excellent skills in this area, helped her with the fire and the meat cooking. Rhiannan has developed an interest in meat and butchery and is talking to Owena about it. Owena had provided sausages and burgers from her own animals, and bought locally made Mamoosh pittas.

First we presented the students with their certificates. Owena and Ivan have been very impressed by how hard the group have worked. So Emma created certificates which told each person what Owena and Ivan thought were their strengths, and then she read all of these out before giving them out.

Then we ate a delicious lunch by the pond. It was a beautiful setting. Niyati had brought Owena flowers and elderflower cordial. Emma had brought a carrot cake by Felicity Ann, sessional worker at Lewes Community Allotment, for afters.

Everyone thanks Owena and Ivan, and Rhiannan. What a lovely term it's been. We wish all the students the very best of luck in the future.

Last Rural Pathways session at Lewes Community Allotment

By Emma Chaplin

We had our last session with the Rural Pathways group from Plumpton College at Lewes Community Allotment. There were some challenges to navigate. The allotment had a wasps' nest, in the raised beds and Sarah was awaiting someone from Lewes District Council to sort it out. The students came later than usual because some of them had been taking part in a football match. Niyati and Pat brought Sarah some beautiful flowers.

But it was a lovely afternoon. We decided to spend part of the time doing some feedback with Niyati, Pat, Emma and Mark Gilbert. Then we had a celebration.

Emma handed out certificates to all the students and thanked them for their hard work on behalf of Flourish, then we all enjoyed some of Felicity Ann's delicious carrot cake and jam tarts. Pat had made some elderflower cordial which was lovely. Some of the students had brought treats to share, and we also enjoyed some apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, which was great on such a hot day.

Emma went through the students' workbooks that Niyati had brought along, and was really impressed by their work. Some allotment members came to say hello and join in, and it was a really nice. We wish all the students well in their futures.

New St Nicholas group at the Allotment - colours and wasps

Emma Chaplin

Today was a little challenging, because Sarah discovered that we have a wasps' next at the allotment, in the raised beds, so Sarah was very careful about working with the new St Nicholas Centre group away from that area until the Council are able to come (later in the day) to sort it out.

So, after taking the register half way down the plot, Sarah explained the Golden (safety) Rules to the group. These include being careful where they walk because the ground is uneven, not taking tools from the shed (Flourish put out the tools that are needed), wearing gloves when working with soil, washing hands, not running, being aware of the ponds etc, and reporting any injuries immediately to a staff member.

Then Felicity Ann handed out paper and pencils, and the group drew flowers, insects, birds, foxes. Whatever they wanted to. Sarah asked what colours they noticed. People mentioned red, green, white, orange, yellow and purple.

After that, Felicity Ann and Sarah took the group for a little walk to look at other allotments.

Michi's beautiful project poster

We asked local illustrator and cartoonist Michi Mathias to represent something about the positive impact Flourish sessions has on our clients, but in graphic form.

This is what she came up with, using quotations from members, and featuring Owena's brahma cockerel from Baulcombes Barn, Tallulah the pony, as well as some of the pigs and community hens.

We absolutely love it, it's so beautiful and says so much about what we do. It will feature in our final project evaluation for the Lottery.

michi poster.jpg

Tourist Information Window - celebrating three years of Flourish

We decided to celebrate three years of the Flourish project with a display in one of the Lewes Tourist Information Centre windows. The Lewes TIC is situated in the centre of town, so lots of people see it, and many service users can take a look as they pass by.

We wanted to involve users in the display, for it to be entertaining and engaging, to tell a story through pictures, in the most part, and to show what we do, offering positive images of people with learning disabilities and mental health challenges at the sessions that we run at our three sites.

We included quotations from service users about how they'd felt after their sessions in the 'clouds'.

The overall look of the display was designed by graphic designer Suzie Johanson. Photographer David Stacey helped with lots of the planning and thought processes, and did a fantastic job compiling letters of the project using photographs. Michi Mathias created the pictures of the horse and stable door as well as the apple tree and apples that you can see in the photos, representing Baulcombes Barn and Ringmer Community Orchard. Lewes Community Allotment is in the centre, represented by a hazel obelisk, as well as two watering cans, two trugs (one full of knitted fruit and veg on loan from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership), and various gardening tools.

A team of myself (Emma Chaplin, project manager), Suzie, Michi and Lois gathered at the TIC with handfuls of props to set everything up. The TIC kindly lent us the astroturf, and we used the struts and fishing line to dangle everything. We stuck the photos up with push pins, added apples with blu-tac (which I got upsidedown to start with!) and laid out all the other bits and pieces, adding straw and the knitted veg. 

We've included a number of wildlife creatures we see at the allotment in the window for people to find - including a blackbird, a caterpillar, a bee, a hedgehog, a lizard and two butterflies.

Michi also created a fantastic poster which features various animals from Baulcombes Barn as well as quotes from members of Bluebell House Recovery Centre, who attend regular sessions.

Huge thanks to everyone who helped! It was Maggie's idea to do it in the first place in the TIC. Thanks to Lois Parker, for the great butterflies and lizard, and for helping out with the window set-up. James McCauley, who heroically helped with sorting, editing and printing all the project photos (on the post on the left hand side). Arnold Goldman lent us a trug, as did Anne Turner. Janet Sutherland lent a watering can and old seed packets.  Billie from Leadbetter and Good, who lent us the pig.

And thanks to everyone in the Tourist Info, who have been so helpful and supportive. 

A wet, wild & fun wildlife walk with Michael Blencowe at The Secret Campsite

By Emma Chaplin

We haven't had the best of luck with weather in terms of visiting The Secret Campsite in Barcombe. It was unbearably hot last summer when the St Nicholas Centre group visited. And this time we had quite a lot of rain.

But Eleanor of St Nicks and the group (which was the usual Wednesday allotment group, plus some previous St Nicks allotment attendees) said they were happy to wear raincoats and come anyway, and neither Tim, who runs The Secret Campsite, nor our (Sussex) Wildlife friend Michael Blencowe, wanted to let rain stop play, so we decided to make the best of it. Tim and Michael know each other of old.

First of all, we all gathered in the reception building of The Secret Campsite where Tim greeted us, and Michael jokingly mentioned what we wouldn't be able to spot on this visit. Butterflies in particular. But what we could do was look under the snake boards to see who might be sheltering.

So we put up our hoods and headed out. Michael was sporting an excellent, waterproof poncho he told us he'd won in a raffle.

He explained that The Secret Campsite is well known for its wildlife. They have a Wildlife Festival every year. They have bat boxes, for example, and a pond. We began by looking up at various bird boxes tucked under eaves. Then we walked further into the campsite to find and carefully lift each of the snake boards (boards which warm up when it's sunny, which snakes and other creatures like to hide under).

First of all we spotted several wood mice scampering off, and saw their nest surrounded  by cracked acorns they'd been eating. We saw a friendly toad (which Michael picked up carefully to show us). In total, we saw five slow worms and a common shrew. A lot more than we expected.

We walked into the woods for a brief look at the bluebells. We noticed the the fire point on the way, which has a dampener in case camp fires get a bit fierce, then buckets of water and fire extinguishers. Plus there's a alarm bell you turn by hand, that a few members of the group had a turn on (there weren't any campers to scare!).

We had a look up at a tree tent, Michael and Miles had a little kick about with a football until everyone caught up, and finally we went back to the main building for elderflower cordial and biscuits. Plus a look at an animal skull and some handy pictures of animals that you might see at the campsite. For fun, Michael wrote the names of all the members into the tree-named plots on the empty camp plan, with some sketches of creatures we'd seen.

It was great, despite the rain, and it was lovely of Michael to come along to talk to us, and for Tim to host. 

Thanks all!

Rural Pathways at Baulcombes

By Owena Lewis

The Rural Pathways group worked again as a great team, catching the weaners in the trailer.

Some of the group mixed the feed while others prepared the trailer. The weaners were enticed into the trailer, and two members kept the gate closed. We sorted out the males and females and then drove the girls in the trailer to their new enclosure.

Straw was put in the ark to keep them warm, the gates were secured so they would not try and return to the boy pigs.

Follow up, no escapes until Sunday afternoon, one girl weaner had got out, but was very keen to return to the girl enclosure. The electric fence needs to be put up!

Chickens, lambs & a puppy. Our St Nicholas group visit Baulcombes Barn.

By Emma Chaplin

Our regular allotment group from the St Nicholas Centre really enjoy visiting the animals at Baulcombes Barn, so Owena agreed to host them on (mostly) sunny April day, so they could see the newborn lambs, groom the ponies, see the broody hen and much else besides.

It was lovely for us to see some old faces get off the bus with support worker Eleanor, as well as members of our current group. Volunteer Penny and sessional worker Felicity Ann came along too, which was great.

Penny and I made some drinks (tea, coffee, and homemade elderflower cordial), then we sat outside the therapy room, those who wanted to taking turns to hold Dottie the puppy, whilst Owena explained the safety rules of the farm - washing hands after touching the animals, not eating near the animals, and being quiet and gentle around them so we don't alarm them.

We watched some swallows fly down into the stable roof - Owena explained that they had arrived after their winter migration a couple of days before.

Then we went to see a broody hen on her eggs, fed the chickens, collected some eggs, held the cockerel and a hen, saw the lambs in the field, watched whilst Owena caught Tallulah the pony, stroked Buster, said hello to Frankie, and finally, those who wanted to, groomed Tallulah in the yard.

Lots of interesting questions were asked during the visit. Do horses prefer apples to hay? (Owena said they mostly eat grass now they can). Does the broody hen ever get off her nest? (yes, to eat, drink and stretch her legs). Owena also pointed out that Dottie had some fur shaven because she'd recently been spayed so she couldn't have puppies. Some people weren't sure if they liked that, so we chatted about it for a bit, and what it means to have puppies that then grow into dogs.

Everyone thanked Owena for a lovely morning then got back on the bus to head back to Lewes.

Safe Lifting Training with Plumpton at Lewes Community Allotment

By Emma Chaplin

On a beautiful sunny April day, James from Square Lemon Training came along at lunchtime to give staff and volunteers some useful information about safe manual handling (ie lifting things), so that Sarah could then use that knowledge for planning tasks at the allotment, as well as for making sure people that come to the allotment take care of their backs.

The word 'manual' comes from using your hands (moving people is a different proposition, and these days, care workers are taught to safely use hoists etc).

James told us that back problems can be both acute (sudden onset) and chronic (built up/last a period of time).

Our backs are naturally 's' shaped, there is a curve, so you shouldn't literally straighten your back - the curve is there to provide suspension.

Having slightly bent knees is a more stable standing position than having locked knees.

We are also more stable if our feet are not close together, and we all have a dominant foot that we tend to put slightly ahead of the other one.

Twisting often poses a high risk for backs, and should be avoided. 

James emphasised the importance of careful planning for all tasks. In some instances, this might lead to the tasks not being done, because you might assess that it is not safe to do them (because the objects are too heavy, or the ground is not stable enough, for example) or, on balance, that it is not essential that they happen.

Good inductions are really important in any "work place", including an allotment where volunteers, clients and members come along to carry out tasks.

He suggested that, as quickly as possible after a new group or person starts with us, we offer basic manual handling advice, along with a tour of the site.

In planning terms, for any activity involving lifting, you take into account TILE - or

  • TASK what you're doing
  • INDIVIDUAL the strength, fitness and abilities of the person
  • LOAD how heavy/awkward the thing you are thinking of moving is
  • ENVIRONMENT the space around- do you have access? Is it firm underfoot and clear of obstacles?

General points

Think about any task in advance and do a risk assessment - ask why are we bothering moving it? Is it really necessary? 

It's a good idea to ask a group in advance of doing any tasks if anyone has back problems.

Think about how to manage each job safely. Split the task up - have a rota so no one person is doing all the lifting. It's much easier to move an empty object such as a plant pot than a full one. Or dry soil rather than wet. 

Use a wheelbarrow when you can. Position it as close as possible to the load.

Take a step rather than twist (eg as you put soil in). So position yourself so you are straight on. 

  • don't lift something that is too heavy or awkward to lift safely
  • reduce the size of the load if you can
  • clear the route of hazards, check if ground uneven, muddy, icy or slippery, remove barriers, tell people what you're doing
  • it is always best to get close to the object (principles of leverage)
  • stand in a stable, legs-apart posture
  • avoid twisting, be straight onto the load
  • you should bend your knees to get low down before lifting, so using thigh muscles rather than your back
  • keep your head straight
  • you should grasp the object low down and securely
  • do the lift in pairs where necessary - with two people of roughly the same height - with clear communication, and one person in charge (who agree in advance what the "move" command is - eg "1,2,3, LIFT")
  • keep the load close to the body 
  • follow the same principles in reverse when you come to lower the load down

James then left, and a little later, the Plumpton College Rural Pathways group arrived. After welcoming them and asking one student to take the register, Sarah talked through the principles of safe manual handling and back care, whilst I demonstrated using a pile of empty pots.

Then one group planted seed potatoes, whilst the other planted seeds, then the groups swapped tasks.

Later in the session, a load of top soil bags were delivered near the allotment gate, and the group brought the bags into the allotment in pairs, using wheelbarrows and the principles of safe lifting that they had learnt.

Grapevine post repairs at Lewes Community Allotment

 

By Sarah Rideout

Our grapevine posts needed replacing and Tom Kirkby has put new ones in using rammed earth and chalk. First he had to dig very deep holes - three of them!

Luke from Rodmell Food Forest very kindly brought some posts over, but they weren't quite long enough for this job, will be useful elsewhere though.

Lots of repairs needed at the moment...

Bluebell at Baulcombes. Lambs, a therapeutic puppy & some naughty weaners

By Emma Chaplin

The group from Bluebell House enjoyed some hot cross buns and a bit of puppy love from Dottie at their last session before Easter. There is a new weather vane outside the therapy room made from a pheasant feather.

We fed the chickens, took a look at the new-born lambs with their mums that were having extra care in the stables, then headed out along the muddy lane to feed the pigs and see the ponies.

The ponies were pleased to see us, and enjoyed their hay. Unfortunately, the awful weather had caused the battery to go flat for the electric fence keeping the weaners in, and we found them making a determined effort to escape by digging. We distracted them by mixing and giving them food whilst Owena put a new battery in place. Then we headed back to the therapy room. 

Farm update from Owena, 16 April 2018: Lambing is now over. 54 lambs have been born. No ewes were lost, although a couple needed some extra care. Penny has just had her piglets, but unfortunately, due to the difficult weather conditions, the extreme mud and some bad luck, only two have survived. 

Lambing news from Baulcombes Barn

 

By Owena, March 2018

Photos: Emma and Owena

 

We've been busy with lambing at Baulcombes.

The first two sets of twins went outside after being inside for twenty four hours to form mother and lamb bonds.

The ewe who had thought she had had lambs, eventually had triplets! She has done very well especially because she had become very stressed looking for her lambs all the previous day. Also, she had been scanned for twins, so hadn't received extra food rations! We tube-fed extra colostrum to the new born lambs to give them a boost, it seems to have worked, today mother and three lambs out in the field.

Signs of spring & other news from the Community Allotment

By Sarah Rideout, 14/3/2018

Saw lots on our 'signs of spring' walk today - wild violets, bumble bees, lambs, skylarks, and the tiny delicate jewels of hazel flowers. A common lizard was warming itself on the tyre by the pond.

Leeks, kale, Japanese salads, herbs and brussels sprouts were all picked today in the sunshine - but look out for a cold snap again this weekend...!

Rural Pathways do some strategic thinking about.... mud

From Owena at Baulcombes Barn, March 2018

BB RP mud.jpg

Wall of mud

The Plumpton College Rural Pathways students were working very well at the farm on Friday morning.

They are all learning to mix and feed the pigs, collect the eggs, clean the hens out and fill hay nets for the ponies.

One student wanted to clear the yard and suggested using the sludgy mud to create a wall.

Good job they wear such sensible overalls and boots!

Sarah visits Rodmell Food Forest

Sarah Rideout, Feb 2018

I went along to Rodmell Food Forest in the snow. It was great to see what's going on at this wonderful project just down the road, and up the Downs...

I met the team, volunteer coordinator Luke Manders, plus volunteers, Sandra and John.

Rodmell Food Forest is at the top of Mill Lane, Rodmell, on privately-owned land. The space has been partly permaculture designed, and Luke is starting permaculture training soon to develop this path further. 

Although they have financial support at the moment, all involved were interested in discussing the different ways the project could go. 

Luke cooked a lovely veggie lunch and we talked about:

aims, outcomes, outputs - who's it for, what's the main purpose, what could be produced.

assets, limitations - great existing financed site with shelter, loo. Little public transport, non-accessible currently.

practicalities - risk assessment, public liability insurance, DBS etc.

connections - Brighton Permaculture Trust most logical, WWOOFers (Working on Organic Farms), local people (perhaps hold an event with food)

Other topics we discussed - the site aspect, crop rotation advice, growing methods, pond benefits

We walked around the whole site, it was very interesting to see how they are growing using Hugel beds (earth is piled on top of dead branches, organic matter, manure and soil on top). have been meaning to try this method for some time at Lewes Community Allotment!

It was a pleasure to visit, and I'm pleased to say they said that they found the visit very helpful: "Full of care, support and appreciation - lucky us!"

Baulcombes in the snow

Farmers never get a snow day! Their animals always need their care and attention, especially in bad weather. So here's a short report on her sow and chickens from Owena at Baulcombes Barn, during the snowy weather, 1 March 2018:

"I convinced myself that Penny the sow was going to farrow! I separated her from the boar, cleaned her ark and gave her lots of fresh straw, which she spread around using her mouth to place it on the floor of the ark. When I returned home to check the dates, I had muddled the dates, the boar did not arrive until 7th December, not 7th November. She still has another three weeks to wait.

On Tuesday the hens stayed inside until the snow stopped and when they ventured out, most of them headed to the patch of grass to scratch and peck."

Scott Walker, inspirational speaker

Part of the Flourish ethos is about creating challenges for the people we work with and supporting our service users, where appropriate, towards getting jobs. As part of this process, we arranged for a special guest speaker to go to the St Nicholas Centre.

So it was our great pleasure last week, to welcome 18 year old Scott Walker, our first 'inspirational speaker'. The idea was he could tell us about his life, and his journey to getting a job. Then we could ask him any questions about that. Our hope is that this conversation could inspire others to think about their own lives, and what they might like to do with them.

Job coach and friend to Flourish, Mark Gilbert had initially made contact with Scott and brought him along. Scott now works for the Special Assistance team at Gatwick Airport, helping support passengers who have disabilities or special needs get to their flights.

We began with myself and Mark introducing ourselves and Scott to the group, then we went round so everyone in the room could say their name. Almost everyone who came had attended sessions at Lewes Community Allotment in the past, and it was lovely to see so many familiar faces. There were 16 members of the centre, plus staff members Brian, Eleanor and Caroline, and myself (Emma) from Flourish.

Scott then told us about himself and his childhood, which hadn't been easy. He talked about the first signs of his disability, the tremor in his arm and leg. When he first went to school, he found it really hard, especially writing, understanding and numbers. The teachers were not helpful, he said, they didn't really understand his disability, and would force him to write, even though this would mean it hurt him. His parents struggled with it as well. He then attended a different mainstream school, but "They didn't understand my disabilities either, so I would get put in detention. So I would call in sick. They promised me a laptop or iPad, and I didn't get either. Aged 14, I went to another school. They also promised equipment I never got. They kicked me out. I went to another school, which was no better. I wanted to be a PE teacher, but they said I needed English and Maths, and I couldn't do them."

Mark invited the group to talk about their own experiences of schooling. One person said she was dyslexic. The school she went to had tried to help her, but weren't able to do enough.  "School made me feel emotional, teary and worried."

Scott told her he related to that.

Another group member said they had to leave aged 9 because the school didn't give them enough support. It didn't really feel as if the people that spoke had a very positive experience of being supported and encouraged at school. Someone who went to St Anne's school for people with special needs thought it was good, but sadly, that closed down.

Scott said: "They labelled me a failure, and didn't see what I could do. It drove me to depression. The things I dreamed of, the teachers said I had no chance. I was forced to go to Crawley College to do bricklaying - even though I wanted to study Media. I hated it. The school careers advice wasn't good. They didn't listen."

But then Scott met Richard Lamplough - a job coach for people with learning disabilities, where Mark sometimes works. Richard has companies called Won't Ever Be Ltd and A Potential Diamond, working with people with learning disabilities, helping them to get jobs.

Richard was working with Crawley College to increase work opportunities. Scott was about to quit, but then Richard talked to him. Scott told him he most wanted to help other people. Richard knew the Special Assistance team at Gatwick, and arranged for Scott to go for taster course, then helped him with an interview for a job there, which he now has, and loves.

We talked about the number of challenges for people with learning disabilities for getting work. St Nicholas has a Skills to Employment course that a number of the group attend.  Someone commented that "most of us want to get a job". 

One group member said he works at County Hall, washing up and cleaning, someone else volunteers in a charity shop.

Mark then explained to us what being a job coach means. He said he works with people with learning disabilities to agree with them what they are capable of. He then supports them in seeking work.

Scott told the group that the manager at Gatwick didn't really look at his CV, but said she gave him the job because of his personality, and the fact that he was so enthusiastic. "She didn't care about my Maths and English. But there are some unkind employers who don't understand - and you wouldn't want to work with them. I used to be a plasterer and bricklayer. Even though I explained, my employer didn't understand my disability - issues such as not being able to remember all the tools he told me to fetch. 

Then Scott talked about the job he does now.

"Airports can be busy, confusing and complicated. For anybody, it can be confusing. But for people who can't read or have sensory issues, such as autism, they can easily find it overwhelming. My company has desks which assists people to get around the airport. We provide customer service, to make sure they feel relaxed, not stressed and can get to their flight safely. We help them all the way to their plane if necessary. One example of what I do was helping a little boy on the autistic spectrum. My job was to keep him company, so he didn't run off. I put him in wheelchair to start with, and that wasn't right. By listening, I learnt what he did need. And learning from experiences makes me better at my job."

Scott dresses very smartly and professionally. Mark pointed out that this sends a positive message about him to other people. 

Scott says he polishes his shoes and takes a lot of care to look smart. "My boss says she wants to recruit 100 of me!"

Mark pointed out that Scott "doesn't look like a guy with challenges". Scott told us his parents didn't used to believe in his disability - they only understood about it quite recently.  "You have to do it for yourself. Ask for help, and push yourself."

Questions

Mark asked the group how much they think Scott earns per hour.

There were guesses that ranged from £2000 to £2. In fact, he says, he earns £8.25 per hour, the same as everyone doing that job. He is currently contracted for 46 hours a month, but is often asked to do more. Scott told us he is learning to drive at the moment, which is expensive, but he still lives at home.

The group then asked the following questions:

Do you work night shifts?

Not at the moment, but I will do when I get more hours.

How many staff are there in a team?

Loads! Zone G has 5 people at a time, 20 on the air side. So maybe 50 working at any one time, over both terminals.

What are your travel-to-work costs?

£50 for a four week bus pass.

Do you have a security pass? 

Yes. You have to have a background check, for security clearance. They take up references, I work in the aircraft field, and go right up to the planes. There is a lot of health and safety involved.

How old were you when you started?

17. I was young for a lot of responsibilities. But they saw my potential, despite a lack of qualifications.

How old were you when you were diagnosed with a disability?

Seven or eight.

The last two questions were:

What's your favourite part of your job?

Helping passengers!

What's your least favourite part? 

The way passengers can treat you when they miss flights.

End of the session

At this point, our special session came to an end, with the centre kindly providing refreshments. But first we did some thank yous: Brian for having us, Mark for contacting and bringing Scott, everyone for coming, listening so attentively and asking such thoughtful questions. But most of all, we thanked Scott for being such an amazing inspirational speaker. He told us he'd never done it before.

Finally, we asked the group:

Did you find it useful?
Everyone agreed it had been really helpful.

Has it driven you on?
The answers were a resounding "yes!"

Emma Chaplin, 26 February 2018
 

VizAbility shadow puppet show at Westgate Chapel

A few months ago at Lewes Community Allotment, when the group from St Nicholas Day Centre were looking at the floppy, frosted leaves, they commented to Allotment Coordinator Sarah that they thought the leaves looked "like puppets" as they moved them, and the group playfully made the leaves 'speak'. As a consequence of that, sessional worker Felicity Ann and I found wildlife finger puppets as little Christmas gifts for the group. And, having done an interview in January 2018 for Viva Lewes magazine with Hannah, who runs the VizAbility drama group at Westgate Chapel Lewes, part of the Oyster Project. I asked Hannah if VizAbility could put on a performance on their new shadow puppet play Birds Nest for the St Nicks group. She kindly agreed.

So, on a particularly bitter February morning, instead of meeting at the allotment, we met at the Westgate Chapel.

VizAbility is a group which meets every Wednesday morning at Westgate. The group come up with ideas for plays, and once they've decided what they want to do, they then create their own costumes, decide on what music they'd like, and do lots of rehearsing. Then, when they're ready, they perform for different community groups in Lewes, who might not otherwise be able to see many shows. Day centres, for example. At Christmas, VizAbility put on a performance of The Infant King It's a lot of work, but they enjoy it, they told us.

Hannah, with help from Lucy, leads the group and they all come up with ideas, then decide how to turn those ideas into a shadow puppet play.

The play they were performing for us was called Birds Nest after a Chinese proverb:  “That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent." 

We all sat down, then the performance began with music and some actors doing shadow puppet work inside a blue tent, using lighting to create the shadows.  There was a clever way of showing words for the worries we sometimes feel - panic, paranoia, worry, fear. Then, someone came to help "take the worries away", hold the person's hand and bring more positive, calming words.

The costumes were great, and all the different clips of music that went with the play were really powerful. We enjoyed the dance, the music, the drama and the costumes. Everyone had clearly worked very hard.

After the performance, they kindly shared some delicious food and drink with us. 

Then we watched some films that the Oyster Project have made over the years.  First of all we saw Time slip, Journey of the Coin, with actor Sarah Gordy, which won the 2013 OSKA Bright International Film Festival (Carousel).  This looked at historical attitudes people with learning disabilities have had to face, and it did this by going back in time. John Russell of Oyster recorded and edited it. The film had a powerful and challenging message and conveyed it very effectively. We discussed this afterwards, and how it has taken people challenging those attitudes to bring about change.

We also watched a shadow puppet film based on Mary Shelley's dreams. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.  She once visited Lewes and went to see Dr Russell about her strange dreams. He recommended she bathe in the moonlight sea, and she ended up having happy dreams!  

Finally, we saw a film called Love and Peace, set in Newcastle.

Then we all had a chat. For their next project - the group told us that they would like to help doctors learn how to communicate better with disabled people. We thought that was a brilliant idea.

They hope to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2018 too.

We thanked them so much for the warm welcome and a really interesting morning for all of us.

Emma Chaplin. Flourish project manager Feb 2018