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

 

Problem-solving with the Rural Pathways group at Baulcombes

Friday morning our work experience group helped repair some fencing at the Stable Field, Hamsey.

They also fed and tended to the animals. But with the wet weather, we were slipping and sliding when we carried the feed for the sow, Penny and the boar Jeremy. So a few weeks ago we created a 'board walk'. It makes our life much easier.

The next task is to improve the area where we feed Penny and Jeremy. Suggestions so far have been to lay some large sleepers for them to stand on instead of sinking into the mud!

Owena Lewis, Farmer and Therapist

News from Baulcombes Barn

In the last week of January, we were puppy-sitting little Dottie, so she spent some time with us at Baulcombes Barn. She enjoyed her time on the farm, with all the smells and unusual and new things to explore. She was fussed over by the Bluebell House group, and both were pleased to meet each other.

At one point, she watched the hens through the gate, before going in the yard to meet them. We soon realised that she was less interested in the hens than their poo!

Later that week, the Plumpton College Rural Pathways group came for their work experience session and worked well at various tasks. These included: feeding and tending pigs, sheep, hens and ponies.

One student commented how clever the hens are, making the feed hopper work in order to feed themselves.

Another student found where some of our free range hens had been laying eggs, and helped to collect fourteen eggs.

Unfortunately, at the weekend after the groups had been, two chicken were killed by a fox. I suspect that the chickens did not get into the chicken house before the safety nighttime door closed, because the evenings are getting lighter and they may not have been ready to go to roost.

I have now set the automatic door to close an hour later. We need to keep an eye on the daylight changing and keep adjusting it accordingly.

Report by Owena Lewis, therapist and farmer

2018 Allotment Planning at the St Nicholas Day Centre.

On a very wet January day when we were glad to be indoors, we all met at the St Nicholas Day centre for our annual allotment planning session.

Sarah began by asking - why do we plan? We felt it was so that we don't buy too many seeds that we don't have room to grow. It also gives us a chance to think about what we like and what we want to eat. There's not much point growing things we don't like!

Sarah asked the group to try to remember, what plants need to grow?
We agreed they need rain, sunshine and air -  or oxygen.

We thought about what grew well last year. We thought that the runner beans, radishes, parsley, rosemary, salad leaves, squash, leeks, pumpkins, onions and potatoes all did well.

Sarah explained that not everything can be grown on the allotment. For example, it doesn't sustain cauliflower or sweetcorn growing well, because they need more regular watering than we can give them.

Some things we don't need to plant because they crop each year include: raspberries, apples, cobnuts, rhubarb and strawberries.

Sarah showed us a plan of the allotment we could use to help decide how many things we can plant.

Then we split into two groups.

One group looked at seed catalogues with Eleanor, and started thinking about what they'd like to grow. They cut out pictures and stuck them on a board, and wrote out the plants they wanted to see grown at the allotment. 

The second group looked at pictures of the past range of activities and thought about future possibilities with Penny.

Whilst this was going on, Felicity Ann and Emma took members of the group to one side, one at a time, to go through a 'what we like and have learnt' questionnaire to help Flourish to understand what we're doing well, and to plan better for the future.

Also, Sarah took group members aside, one at a time, to look at secateurs - checking everyone remembers how to use them safely.

At the end we all gathered together to look at the wish list of plants and activities that we had created. Plants included:

Mung beans
Sweet peas and edible flowers
Cabbage
Marrow
Rhubarb
Strawberries
Onions
Potatoes
Pepper
Beans
Coriander
Rocket
Courgettes
Cucumber
Broccoli
Turnips
Basil
Parsnips
Parsley
Sweet potatoes

Then we looked at the list of activities people are interested in doing. It included:

Music instruments
Storytelling
Willow weaving
First aid training
Bird walk
Flower walk
Visit to the Secret Campsite
Visit to Baulcombes
Visit by Michael Blencowe

We all felt it had been a useful and interesting morning.

New Rural Pathways student group at Lewes Community Allotment

We were delighted to welcome a new group of Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College to the allotment. It was their first session in this academic year. Unfortunately Sarah the allotment coordinator wasn't well, so the group was led by a group of us. Myself (Emma, Flourish project manager), Mark, Felicity Ann, Penny plus Niyati and Maisie from Plumpton.

I introduced myself and explained a bit about the Flourish project. I checked out photo permissions and discussed the Golden Rules. These include safety measures, such as: being aware of uneven ground, not running, the fact that there are ponds, wearing protective gloves when dealing with thorns and brambles, using tools safely etc, and inviting thoughtful ways of behaving at the allotment, including awareness of allotment neighbours (ie not shouting), and being aware of others working around you - good teamwork etc. I also talked about the Flourish ethos. 

We were joined at that point by two allotment members, Sue and Carina, who came over to welcome the students. Mark invited them to say a bit about why they liked being members of a community allotment, and what benefits being part of a community can offer. They said that they enjoy the companionship, the fresh air, the exercise, as well as sharing the tasks and the produce that is grown over the year.

After that, everyone from Plumpton and Flourish introduced themselves and told each other what vegetables and fruit we either liked or hated.

Mark then took the group onto the Downs next to the community allotment for a game of 'bat and moth', as a fun exercise to get to know each other a bit better, as well as a way of thinking about our senses and how we use them. He began by asking us to form a circle, then to close our eyes and listen to how many sounds we could hear in 30 seconds. After we opened our eyes and checked in, some people heard a few sounds (birdsong was common), others heard lots of different ones, including voices, cars, dogs, children playing. 

Then Mark said we were going to play bat and moth. This involved one person being a bat, wearing a blindfold, several people were moths. The blindfolded bat was going to try to touch them, with the rest of the group standing around in a circle as 'trees'. The person being a bat could use echo location - the mechanism that actual bats use to catch insects. What that actually meant in the game was that if he or she said 'bat', the moths had to respond by saying 'moth' immediately. This helped the bat locate the moths using his or her ears. To make the game safe for the blindfolded bat, the people around the circle or trees would shout 'tree' if the bat got close to them.

If was a very interesting game, and it became clear that you are much more likely to be able to find your 'prey' if you use the echo location frequently. The bats did really well, but commented that it is disorientating losing one sense that you normally rely so much upon, ie sight.

After the game was over, Felicity Ann showed the group around the allotment - the raised beds, compost heaps, the ponds, the shed etc.

For future sessions, the students will be undertaking gardening tasks when they come, such as turning over the compost, clearing the ground and weeding.

We look forward to seeing them all again.

Emma Chaplin, Jan 2018

St Nicholas group go on a winter flower walk from the allotment

It was lovely to welcome back the St Nicholas Day Centre group for the first session of 2018, especially on such a bright, sunny day. The group came by bus with support worker Eleanor. Unfortunately Sarah the allotment coordinator wasn't well, but I was able to come (Flourish project manager), as was sessional worker Felicity Ann and volunteer Penny.

After we greeted each other in the shelter, we discussed what season it is (winter!), the fact that we'd had the shortest day in December, so the days were slowly getting longer, and how much we liked it when there was more light. We noted what the weather was like (sunny, with some clouds and gentle breeze. The temperature was 6 degrees according to Emma's phone). The Eleanor took the register. There were five in the group, with two absent. We realised it was Natasha's birthday, so we wished her a very happy birthday.

Felicity Ann then took all of us on a walk/hunt for winter flowers as well as a look at new life sprouting in the beds. We went around the allotment, noting flowers such as the catkins (male flower of the hazel), mallow and marigolds, all the winter veg and salads growing, and the measures put in place to keep cats off them.

Then we headed up the track to the old racecourse. It was a beautiful, bright, clear morning, listening to (and seeing birds - one in a tree had a beautiful, varied song - when we later asked Sussex Wildlife officer Michael Blencowe, he thought it might have been a fieldfare) and spotting winter flowers, such as gorse and violets.

It was a gorgeous walk, and we enjoyed the wonderful views across to sea and over the Downs. We even found an old horseshoe!

Thank you Felicity Ann and Penny

Emma Chaplin Jan 2018

Welcome to Baulcombes Barn, Rural Pathways students!

It was great to welcome the new group of seven Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College to Baulcombes Barn. They came with support workers Niyati and Kieran, and were greeted by Owena and Ivan, plus myself, Flourish project manager Emma.
We sat in the art/therapy room around the wood burner whilst everyone introduced themselves, said what experience we all had of both farms and animals.

Then Owena talked about health and safety issues such as:

  • Being aware that there are electric fences
  • Only eating/having food & drink in the designated areas where animals do not go - not even in your pockets or bag - the animals will want to get the food from you and it sends the wrong message
  • Being aware of animals that bite or kick (pigs might nibble your boot, which is fine, but you need to keep your hands away from their mouths - they have incredibly sharp teeth). It's fine to stroke their backs. Ponies might bite if they are anxious or think you have food, and they can kick too (be careful walking behind them)
  • You should not rub a ram (male sheep) on the front of his face or head - it's an invitation to fight
  • Being careful where you walk - the rain causes the ground to be muddy/slippery underfoot, and the ground isn't even in places 
  • Everyone needs to wash their hands with soap after being at Baulcombes Barn
  • It's important to always close the gate behind you

Owena then talked about the animals, their food, habits and bedding.

Ponies

There are three ponies; Frankie, Buster and Tallulah. They live in a field most of the time and eat grass, but are given hay in the winter too when there isn't enough grass, when it's muddy or the ground is frozen. The ponies need grooming and sometimes their horse dung is collected from the fields in wheelbarrows (to reduce risk of spreading infection) and kept in heaps to rot down for manure. The students can help with all of these tasks.

Owena passed around hay (dried grass - which is winter food for the ponies), straw (which is bedding, not edible, and can be barley or wheat stalks) for pigs, ponies and ewes when they lamb bedding, and explained the difference.

Sheep

The variety of sheep she keeps, Owena explained, are Shetland. They are various colours and she uses their wool to make rugs and cushions, and they become joints of hogget, which is lamb but older, which she sells at the market. She talked about the ewes, or female sheep, and how they are due to be giving birth to lambs in March. The usual number of lambs each ewe has is two, but the ewes are being scanned this week to check, and will be marked if there are more or less than twins. Ewes having more than two lambs will be given sheep nuts near lambing, to help them produce more milk.

Pigs

Owena's sow (female pig) will have piglets.

Once weaned from their mother, the pigs are fed milled barley mixed with water. The students are welcome to bring apples for them she said. because the pigs love to eat them and they are not bad for them. The Rural Pathways students will be taught how to feed the pigs.

Owena sells pork from her pigs at the market in the form of joints, burgers and sausages.

Chicken

Owena has two flocks of chicken, some that are pretty (the Brahma variety), and the brown community hens, who lay the most eggs! They are all free range, and they are fed with layers pellets. They need feeding, cleaning out and the eggs need collecting. The students can help with that.

The chickens produce eggs, which Owena sells. Sometimes they hatch eggs which broody hens sit on to produce chicks. Sometimes Owena will eat the chickens,

At this point, everyone then put their wellies on and went for a walk around the farm, to meet the animals that they will be working with in future.
 

Emma Chaplin, Jan 2018

Last session of the year: a walk to an ancient church and some thoughts about the benefits of fresh air, even in the bleak mid-winter

We enjoyed some festive food and drink at the last session of the year with members of Bluebell House at Baulcombes Barn. We drank delicious apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard. Owena made a delicious and warming lamb casserole dish with some of her hogget (using spices from Seven Sisters Spice), plus there were homemade mince pies. Owena had obtained permission and a key for us to visit nearby St Peter's church in Hamsey. Thanks to the church for allowing the visit.

We all set off, saying hello to the chickens and rams as we passed, down the track for what was a very enjoyable walk, over the bridge over the railway tracks.

We all thought that the church is lovely. It's probably the best unrestored church in Sussex and featured in the recent film adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel, My Cousin Rachel. It has never had any electricity, but instead is lit by candles for services. This makes it particularly interesting in terms of atmosphere. We felt it to be tranquil and calming, even though most of the group are not church-goers. We enjoyed sitting for a while inside the old stone with thick, whitewashed walls. We loved the soft, natural light that streamed in via the stained glass windows.

For anyone interested, here is more information about the history of St Peters, if you scroll down this link

After we'd had a look round, inside and out, we left, first looking at the gargoyles on the tower. Then we walked back via a visit to feed and say hello to the ponies and piggies.

In her reflections on the term with the group, Owena talks about the sometimes negative impact wet and grey weather during winter can have on us, and how Christmas is often a emotionally challenging period for many people. Yet, the group tells us in our discussion with them, fresh air and connecting with nature, as well as the experience of looking out for and caring for the animals that they know at the farm, is always beneficial. This is what they said: "it feels good to learn about feeding and caring for animals" and "I feel better being focused and doing something which takes my mind away from my problems".

Emma Chaplin, Flourish project manager, Jan 2018

Last session with St Nicholas group before Christmas - herbs, scones & lots of fun!

It was the last session before Christmas for the St Nicholas allotment group. Because the weather was so wet and windy, we held it in the day centre. Sarah and volunteer Penny went up to the allotment to pick some herbs and brought those down to make herb bundles. Project manager Emma came along with some Ringmer Community Orchard apple juice to share. Sadly sessional worker Felicity Ann wasn't able to come because of family illness, but she sent along some magnificent cheese and pumpkin scones and mince pies for the group to eat.

Some excellent festive hats were worn - including a splendid Christmas pudding tea cosy!

Everyone identified their own herb first, and smelled them, as well as sniffing some pieces of fir Sarah brought. Then the herbs (rosemary, bay, thyme and sage) were split into a bundle for everyone. Helped by Eleanor, Sarah and Penny, members of the group tied their own bundle with a piece of string and Emma helped them add a name tag. There was some lovely knot and bow work going on!

Then we played a Food Chain game, identifying what eats what. Then Sarah brought out an exciting box. Flourish had found everyone a little Christmas gift relating to wildlife. There were finger puppets and keyrings of bats, mice, rabbits and ladybirds, plus some bees.

Next we had some apple juice, scones and mince pies - and had a lovely surprise visit by John Parry who knew lots of members of the group from his time at the Railway Land. Also, Robert, who had been an allotment group member joined us for a little while.

Sarah showed a slideshow of  photos of 20 years of Lewes Community Allotment that Emma had compiled of photos taken by Sarah, herself and other members over the years.

It was a lovely morning.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and happy new year from everyone at Flourish.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and happy new year from everyone at Flourish.

Job Spotlight: Job Coach

This is the first of a series of interviews in which we speak to people about the work they do. Mark Gilbert tells us about being a job coach.

Mark Gilbert.jpg

What’s a job coach?

It’s someone who supports a client to get a job and keep it.

Primarily my role tends to be supporting young people with learning disabilities or mental health issues.

This means helping them to navigate the process of preparing for an interview, supporting them to: acquire a job, navigate induction and help do the role, addressing technical and social skills they might need.

We work together to solve problems, break down barriers and increase independence.

How did you come to be a job coach?

After leaving uni, I got a job as a special needs assistant in several schools and it stemmed from there. I’ve always been drawn to helping people move forward in their lives. I like to enable people to fulfil their potential.

What skills are required to be a good one?

Patience, problem-solving abilities, the ability to communicate with a range of people well and to understand the right level of support to offer.

People with learning disabilities can be over-supported by those that love and care for them. There is a risk that, over time, this can erode their independence. In order to grow, you need to be challenged, in a sensitive way. This will help to build confidence and independence.

What are the challenges?

Our culture undervalues and misunderstands people with learning disabilities and many people can be fearful of things they don’t understand.

So challenges include:

  • Building confidence in someone that is likely to have been bullied
  • Engaging with employers and convincing them that a person with a learning disability could be an asset to the business
  • Convincing some parents that they might need to let go a little and allow their son or daughter to become more independent

Who employs you?

I currently work for Won’t Ever Be Ltd, a small organisation that helps people with learning disabilities find and retain work.

What are the main challenges facing people with learning disabilities in the job market?

There isn’t enough funding to get the support they need to become contributing members of society.

They are often undervalued and underestimated.

In general, employers do not have the awareness or experience to make adjustments to the work place that might be needed for someone with a learning disability. These adjustments often cost very little or even no money.

What can help overcome those?

More funding for more resources so that positive and appropriately challenging interventions and support can be delivered. 

Education for society, including positive stories, inspirational role models and better representation in the media.

More opportunities for work experiences. More support and information for parents of people with learning disabilities. 

Do you enjoy it?

Yes, I love it! There aren’t many jobs that are as varied, interesting, challenging and rewarding.

To contact Mark about job coaching, drop him an email markgilbert@live.co.uk

Interview by Emma Chaplin
 

Making bunting with the St Nicholas group

It was a bit too windy for making leaf bunting at the allotment, so we made some instead at the St Nicholas Centre. We also decorated some sugar paper bunting that Maggie had brought with chalk designs. We also got to practice our knot-tying skills! Then hung it up in the sensory garden outside.

We looked at how land artists Chris Drury and Andy Goldsworthy make their leaf sculptures. People really responded and liked their work. Then we made a leaf picture of our own. 

Thanks to Maggie for leading the session and for the great support from Felicity Ann and Penny.

Words and pictures by Sarah Rideout

Juicy! Final session of our 2017 apple course with Plumpton supported interns

For the last session of our three day 'apple course' with Plumpton College supported interns, we visited the Elephant and Castle pub on White Hill, Lewes. Huw Jones the landlord is a terrific person for the group to talk to. He's a local business person/employer who has always been keen to support our work.

The fourteen interns began by having lunch in the pub. Then we all headed upstairs to the function room, where Huw began to talk about his job. He used to work for Harvey's Brewery, he explained, and at the Pelham Arms, but has been landlord of the Elephant and Castle ('the Elly') for fifteen years. The Elly is a strong community hub. Lots of groups meet there. the Folk Club, the Headstrong Club, the Boardgamers group, a choir, a dad and baby group. Plus they have big screens for sporting events and are the HQ of Commercial Square Bonfire Society.

He told he used to have his own microbrewery where he made his own beer in the cellar, which was fun, but that all the sterilising  before and afterwards became a bit of a chore.

One of the things he told us was that he plans to sell up in the next year. Not because the pub isn't doing well, but almost the opposite of that. He and his wife Hannah (who runs the pub kitchen) have a daughter about to start school. The problem with running a pub is the antisocial hours, he told us. It's not a family-friendly business to be in. It was hard, he explained, for the whole family to spend time together.

The interns asked him lots of interesting questions. Huw talked about when he needs to employ bouncers (for big games and Bonfire), how long his days can be, the different jobs in a pub (bar staff, cleaner, kitchen porter, cook), what they pay, and the qualities he is looking for in his staff (reliability, punctuality, honesty, enthusiasm, good communication skills, basic numeracy).

One intern asked "how has the pub industry changed in the last 15 years?". Huw said it has changed a lot - pubs have become more food-orientated. The price of beer compared to wages has increased a lot, comparatively. He also said, in terms of staff, the advent of smart phones mean that, in quiet periods, his staff might want to be checking Facebook or Twitter. But he has a list of chores that need doing (a cleaning rota or wrapping cutlery for pub meals, for example), and his best staff get on with those jobs when they're not busy serving.

Huw talked about some perks of the job - tasting new beers, you get a meal when you're working a full shift. He talked about managing customers who are difficult or who have drunk too much. Overall, he said, he feels he will miss pub life when he leaves it. Being such a crucial and valued community hub, as the Elly is, means a lot to him.

The interns then showed him their label designs, which were fun, then thanked him for his time. It was a really interesting and stimulating visit.

Best of luck in all you do Huw, you're a legend!

Emma Chaplin, project manager

Bluebell at Baulcombes. Rams, vets and piglets

Project manager Emma Chaplin went along to meet Owena and the new Bluebell House group at Baulcombes Barn on a lovely Wednesday afternoon in early November. Sue from Bluebell House had made a beautiful new Baulcombes Barn sign.

As everyone introduced themselves, Owena explained that the vet was due to look at Frankie's sore skin on his tummy during the session, and asked if everyone was ok with that. If anyone wasn't ok with it, they could stay out of the way, but everyone said they didn't mind meeting the vet.

Sandra mentioned that her ponies were in a recent movie that was filmed locally, Goodbye Christopher Robin.

We ate our lunches together, and Owena discussed health and safety issues for new people (washing hands, not eating food outside the shelter area, being aware of the mood of the animals etc), then we went outside. There are three rams in the field near the shelter. Owena mentioned a few things to be aware of when entering their field, including:

  • don’t rub between horns, because they take it as sign to fight
  • if you get chased, turn round and spit at them, because they hate it

Some people went to see the rams, some fed the chickens, a few groomed the horses, and helped when the vet arrived by helping keep Frankie calm as he was sedated and treated. The vet shaved his tummy, washed the skin with a special treatment (Frankie has very thick hair and might have been overheating in the mild autumn temperatures), then rinsed that off with a hose and applied cream.

Then we all walked along to feed the pigs and meet the piglets. When we got back, one new member of the group said after his walk and time with the animals:

"I've calmed down and woken up. I feel better now"

Here are some photos of our afternoon:

Photos from almost two decades at Lewes Community Allotment - from early days to Flourish!

Lewes Community Allotment began life in 1998. It's gone from being an unused plot to the wonderful, accessible resource now enjoyed by many local groups and individuals. We have raised beds, a covered shelter, a pizza oven, ponds, children's area, fruit trees, herbs, flowers and an abundant array of vegetables. 

We will be celebrating 20 years in 2018, and we'd like to thank everyone who has supported the project. All our wonderful members, Common Cause Cooperative directors, Lewes Town Council, the National Lottery, plus all the people, young and old, who have come up to lend a hand, muck in and help, or simply enjoy the space.

Sarah Rideout,

Photos by Sarah Rideout, Emma Chaplin & others

Apple Course with Plumpton Supported Interns

On a sunny day in early October, a group of 13 Supported Interns from Plumpton College came along to Ringmer Community Orchard, where Peter May, Stephan Gehrels (from Brighton Permaculture Trust) and facilitator Mark Gilbert greeted them and put on a day of learning about apples; picking them, grading them and weighing them. The group worked very hard and managed to pick lots of apples, mostly Red Falstaff with some (green) Edward VII. They also tasted some juice from the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park.

Here are some photos (taken by Mark Gilbert):

One week later, the same group went to the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park where Stephan of Brighton Permaculture Trust showed them how to wash the apples, cut out the rotten bits, then crush them in the macerator, put the pulp in the hydropress, and press the pulp into gallons of lovely raw juice.

The group then tasted it, poured some into glass bottles and some into plastic containers. The glass bottles went on to be pasteurised, the group could take the raw juice containers away, one each, to drink (within three days).

A passer-by came over to buy some raw juice for her grandson, which was fun.

Here are some photos of the day (taken by Emma Chaplin):

In the afternoon, after a lunch break, Bryn from Brighton Permaculture Trust (BPT) joined the group to give a tour of the orchards at Stanmer. He talked about how orchards were planted in order to produce food and drink, for people to enjoy and learn in, to support wildlife, and to provide blossom for bees to produce honey. He showed us the bee hives.

He explained that BPT help schools and communities to plant orchards. Each orchard will feed three or four generations of people because apple trees can last to be over 100 years old. Trees get less productive as they get old. Pruning helps refresh growth. Sometimes older branches fall off and leave holes. These are good for insects and birds. Blue tits and great tits love them, and they also eat green caterpillars. 

The orchard we first looked at holds the national collection of Sussex apple trees, and each had a beautiful ceramic name label, made by Anne-Marie Bur.

We looked at the moss and lichen -  Bryn said that there are 60 species at Stanmer - and told us that lichen is an algae and a fungi living together. 

Members of the group asked lots of questions as we walked around. Bryn asked us to think about why trees produce fruit in the first place - and what we concluded, was that it means the tree spreads its seeds - after the apples are eaten. These happened by means of horses, pigs and bears in Kazakhstan, where apple trees originated. 

We looked at some Golden pippin apples. It's thought the Romans might have eaten apples similar to these. The Romans were skilled at grafting, and we know they cultivated orchards. Surviving Roman mosaics certainly depict apples.

Bryn showed us the Sussex collection, which has a row of trees planted at an angle so that they stay small - also, Bryn explained - branches trained to grow sideways produce more fruit. 

We looked at the Knobby russet - which tastes nice but has rough skin, like a toad.

Bryn showed us a large lump at root of tree which he told us had come from the grafting process. 

We discussed why there are so many types of apples, and we thought it was because they all taste different, their ripening times vary, and each has adapted to grow in a particular place. 

We talked about the Great Storm of 1987 and the fact that it led to a lot of damaged and destroyed trees in Stanmer.

After this really interesting walk and talk, the group headed back to the Fruit Factory, where Stephan had finished pasteurising the juice. The bottles were warm but ready for the group to take back to their base at the Linklater, where they can design their own labels. These they will show Huw at the Elephant and Castle pub, the last part of the apple juice project between Flourish and Plumpton. Then their juice bottles can be sold towards a charity of the students' choice. Here is a link to the work done by last year's students.

Thanks to Stephan, Bryn, Peter and Mark for all their hard work - and thanks to the interns for all of theirs too.

Emma Chaplin, Flourish Project Manager

Seeds and nuts session at the Allotment

We had a great session with our St Nicholas Day Centre group at the allotment, talking about seeds. How they protect themselves, how they encourage birds and animals to eat them so they get spread. Felicity Ann had collected trays of seeds and nuts, and the group looked at them one by one to decide what each one was and where the seed was. We also cracked the nuts and ate them - delicious cob nuts and sweet chestnuts. Emma arrived with some raw apple juice to try that the Plumpton supported interns has pressed the day before from Ringmer Community Orchard Red Falstaff apples. Sweet and very delicious.

Bench cushion at the Allotment

Since we've got such a fine new bench at the allotment from a Transition Town Lewes donation, we felt it would be really lovely if interested allotment members created a cushion for it, made from wool from Owena's sheep at Baulcombes Barn.

So Owena came up to the allotment with bags of her wool and her peg-loom, to demonstrate how to make a peg-loom 'cushion' (which could just as easily be a rug). They are relatively easy to make, once you've got the technique, and every one is different, which is particularly nice - it depends on the colour of the sheep, and Owena's sheep are Shetland sheep, which have different coloured wool, from pale to dark brown. 

Owena showed us examples of ones she's working on and explained that wool, once so valuable, has largely lost value in this country - and is mostly exported. The top she was wearing has been made from soft, fine merino wool. In New Zealand, they have developed fine wool products such as merino, which are still commercially valuable.

She told us that you can weave with either unwashed or washed wool. The former is somewhat smellier and the outcome more random, but can be washed in a machine after it's been woven. Washed and combed wool, on the other hand, is fluffy and cloud-like. She handed round examples of combed/washed and uncombed/unwashed wool and explained that you can wash the unwashed wool in a tub with a hard olive oil soap bar. Or, you can get it washed and combed by an expert she knows with suitable equipment, which does make life easier! She had taken some of the Shetland wool to Diamond Fibres to be processed into 'slivers' which we can use for peg loom weaving. 'Slivers' - the first stage of raw fleece. Roving - is when you get a long cord of it.

She then demonstrated how to use the loom, which is quite simple once you've got the wool prepared. You use strong strands of wool to run through the rug as you weave it, that get tightened as you press each woven layer down. Differences in tension make for variations in widths of the woven rug/blanket. Once you've filled each peg, you pull the pegs out of what you've woven, one by one, and push them back in to the holes again, so you can start weaving again. So the length of the weave increases bit by bit. 

Emma and Sarah went to measure the bench so the allotment weavers could decide how many pegs to use to make the cushions to fit the seat ie the right width. In terms of length, Owena pointed out you can make one long weave to make a cushion, or several smaller ones, which you can then join together.  

The group began to weave their own cushion, with Owena's supervision.

Update - early November

Everyone that wanted to (including volunteers, staff, allotment members and project users) has contributed to increasing the length of the peg-loom cushion over the intervening weeks, so it's a lovely patchwork of all our efforts. Owena returned to work with the St Nicholas Day Centre group in order to show them how to finish off the cushion, ready to go on the bench. So now we have the finished product, and it's comfy, warm and lovely. Thanks everyone, wonderful joint effort.

Apples! Flourish User Group outing to Ringmer Community Orchard

Flourish were delighted to be able to hold a meeting of project users at the Ringmer Community Orchard. Orchard coordinator Katharine Finnigan had suggested it would be a good time to come, since lots of apples are ripening at this time of year. 

We welcomed the St Nicholas Day Centre group, who normally attend Lewes Community Allotment, and a group from Bluebell House, who usually go to Baulcombes Barn every week.

None had visited the Orchard before, but they have tried the juice, and it's been very popular.

The groups had been warned to wear sensible footwear, which was a good idea since the grass was long and wet. Emma and Felicity Ann welcomed everyone and Peter May then took the group on a tour to explain about the history of the site, how it had come to have so many varieties of Sussex apples as well as other fruit, as well as explaining a bit about the differences between each apple variety, how they grow and when they ripen. 

People were able to meet each other, learn about apples and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.

Felicity Ann had brought some wonderful apple cake, bramble jam and crab apple jelly tarts she had made from Allotment produce.

Everyone picked some Lord Lambourne apples to take home.

Emma spoke to everyone about the newsletter and planned project-wide exhibition in June 2018, with the hope that people can think about what they'd like to be included, or what they might like to contribute.

Emma said she'd be pleased to arrange another opportunity for people to visit.

Photos from the Farm

Robert Robertson has been taking photos at Baulcombes Barn for a while now. He kindly sent us some, so we thought we'd put up a gallery

Allotment news - Conservation Volunteer-mended steps and pathways & a new bench

NEWLY-MENDED PATHS AND STEPS

There's been some hard work going on by a team from TCV (The Conservation Volunteers), led by senior officer Tim Hills. They have fixed the steps leading down to the tap. Lewes Town Council have been kind enough to help fund this.

The TCV team have also been mending and improving our paths, which, alongside Lewes Town Ranger's regular strimming of them, has made them safer and more accessible. They've made the slope much safer, with a chestnut frame, widened some paths, flattened the camber.  We're very pleased that our Lottery funding allows us to do this.

Thanks guys!

NEW BENCH

We have a lovely new and beautifully long bench at the allotment! It's thanks to a very kind donation by Transition Town Lewes, and the timing couldn't be better, because our old benches, having provided long service in the almost 20 years that Common Cause have run the community allotment, are reaching the end of their lives.

This sturdy new bench will benefit all of the groups that use the site; the weekly groups from the St Nicholas Day Centre and the Plumpton College Rural Pathways students, as well as others.

Members and project users come along and work very hard, so having a really good place to sit and rest, and enjoy the beautiful view, is important.

We're hoping to fashion seat cushions of some description, perhaps from wool from Owena's sheep at Baulcombes Barn. She's made some for her own benches with her peg loom, so that might be an excellent winter project.