common cause coop

Last Bluebell House session at Baulcombes Barn

By Emma Chaplin

It was a hot day and we all knew it was going to be a poignant session with the Bluebell House group at Baulcombes Barn, because it was the last one to be held here.

Flourish funding comes to an end in August 2018, and Bluebell House is moving to Horsham.

As Owena pointed out, members of the group have gone from being anxious around the animals, to being confident and assured, and that has been a pleasure for all of us to be part of. 

Lunch was going to be a late one, so I made drinks and shared courgette cake to tide everyone over.

Since Rhiannan has done the Erasmus cookery course in France, and has developed her skills and confidence as a chef, she kindly agreed to be in charge of cooking over a firepit for the celebration meal, with myself in a supporting role. Before we lit the fire, we brought two buckets of water over, just in case there was an issue with the ground being so dry.

From her farm, Owena had provided hogget burgers, sausages and boiled eggs. Rhiannan had made rose harissa koftas from hogget mince and made pittas to put them in, with yoghurt dressing and pomegranate seeds. Also, she'd made halloumi and watermelon skewers for the vegetarians, and a lovely salad made from fennel and other delicious things. Sue had brought courgettes and beans from her allotment, and we cooked those in foil in the fire. I brought apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, which is special and went down very well indeed. 

Whilst Rhiannan and I cooked near the pond area, everyone else spent time with their favourite animals, saying goodbye.

Then we gathered to share a delicious meal, before going inside for a final check in. I gave out the gifts of mugs, tea towels and framed prints of the cartoon of the farm Flourish had had made, and the group gave Owena a wonderful pyrography picture of a pony as a thank you for being such a great group leader.

Owena praised everyone for coming to what we all knew would be a painful session. Endings are never easy.

It has been a pleasure working with the wonderful members and staff of Bluebell House, and Owena has been a wonderful person to work with. We've all learnt so much. 

Thank you to Rhiannan for her amazing cooking!

Owena will be doing two weaving sessions at Bluebell House in August, and Emma will come to the second one.

Twenty years at Lewes Community Allotment

By Allotment Coordinator Sarah Rideout

How it began

Lewes Community Allotment was originally known as Lewes Organic Allotment Project, or LOAP. It was created by Common Cause Coop in 1998, through the hard work of a group of local people. We've had help from Lewes District and Lewes Town Councils as well. We've had funding from different sources, for example, from the Lottery to create the raised beds suitable for people with mobility problems. We have a membership of people who work with us to manage the allotment.

What we have done

We developed workshops for children called The Lottie, working with Lewes schools for 10 years.

The Compost Doctor scheme and Wild in Lewes springboarded from here.

Current and future work

We have evolved to work with groups of people of all abilities who look after the plot, learn about growing through our social and therapeutic horticulture sessions, and take fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers home.

We are lucky to have a fantastic Sessional Worker, Felicity Ann, and a wonderful volunteer, Penny, who support our work. We also bring in other specialist trainers at times, such as James from Square Lemon Training, who demonstrates safe handling techniques, and Peter May, an expert on apple trees and pruning. 

We continue under the management of Common Cause Coop, and are currently Reaching Communities Lottery-funded through the Flourish Project, and hope to continue working with groups of people with learning disabilities from the St Nicholas Centre, Plumpton College, as well as other groups and individuals in the coming years.

 

How we grow

We use organic methods for pest control and feeding plants. Barriers such as wood ash and wool pellets deter slugs and snails, netting keeps cabbage white butterflies away from brassicas.

There are three small ponds which help to support the team of natural pest controllers -  frogs, toads, slow worms, lizards and birds which come to drink.

Around new seedlings, we may use organic certified slug pellets to get them started. We also start seedlings off at members’ homes to give them a chance to harden off.

Native wild flowers and some ‘weeds’ are left to grow, along with green manures to help foraging pollinators. Many different types of solitary bee visit the plot, including masses of red-tailed bees.

In the winter, we all get together to discuss the successes and failures of the year, and plan our next round of growing on 'big ideas' sheets. We also choose other activities to try, such as local craft skills, art projects, wildflower walks, but particularly things connecting to wildlife.

Get in touch

If you are interested in coming to sessions, we currently meet on Wednesdays.

More info on LCA here

Sarah Rideout, LCA Coordinator

07502 608929 flourishloap@gmail.com

 

 

Summer Session at the Allotment

Luckily there was a bit of cloud cover on this particular mid-July Wednesday morning, because very hot weather can make it tricky for the St Nicholas group at the allotment. Sarah and Felicity Ann had prepared some activities in the shade, including digging potatoes, looking at some of the reference library and making/decorating name badges for the Allotment Open Morning on 25th July.

Some people did some trimming back of brambles and clearing, tidying up the entrance area to the Allotment.

Beautiful new sign for Ringmer Community Orchard

By Emma Chaplin

Owena from Baulcombes Barn brought three Bluebell House members along to Ringmer Community Orchard for a very special reason. Baulcombes regulars Ash and Sue, along with Paul, have developed a keen interest in pyrography, also called poker wood, or wood burning, which is creating art in wood by burning a design with a hot tip.  

I was hugely impressed. It's a wonderful piece of work, with beautiful apple designs. The lettering must have taken a lot of work to be so accurate, neat and well-spaced.

Ash told me about how it come about:

"Last year Ben, Bluebell House Occupational Therapist, asked us if we'd mind creating a sign for Ringmer Community Orchard, after Flourish asked if it might be possible, having seen one we'd done for Baulcombes. "

"It took about two and a half months, which is nine or ten sessions. We all had pyrography machines and worked on it together, three at a time. We bought the wood online. We wanted something to last. This is birch ply. It's nice and thick, which is good for  pyrography. "

"It's the first time we've tried something so big. We have tried pine in the past, but it was too soft." 

"In terms of the apple designs we chose, it was a joint effort. Sue drew the designs on paper. We all chose the font. Natalie from Bluebell House printed the letters off for us. We wanted it to stand out. Paul did all the measuring to fit the letters in. We traced the lettering because we found that using graphite paper didn't work."

"We did the burning together. Then we put on about three coats of varnish - and the varnish does pong! You've got to be careful about breathing it in. We kept it in a separate room."

"The last piece we made was a 5th birthday design for Bluebell House."

"We've really enjoyed it and us doing pyrography has inspired other people to do it at Bluebell."

Owena took a look at the sign to see if she could put it up there and then, but, looking at it, we all felt it needed some extra bits of wood to fix it properly to the gate without putting holes in the sign in a way that would spoilt the design. So that will happen at a future date.

Owena had bought some art supplies for Emma to present as a thank you from Flourish to Sue, Ash and Paul for all their incredible hard work.

Katharine and the Orchard members will be hugely delighted to have such a wonderful sign.

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!

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.

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!"

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

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
 

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:

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.

Taster session with the Download Group

We were delighted to welcome the Sussex Partnership Recovery College Download Group to the Allotment in July.

They came for a taster session - and taste is what they did! After we'd done some introductions and talked about our favourite seasons, we went round the allotment tasting different fruits and vegetables. These included: Japanese wineberries, cloudberries, raspberries, plus fennel, parsley and nasturtium flowers (which are quite peppery!).

We also looked for wildlife at the allotment.

After we'd done the tasting and looking for wildlife, we went into the shelter for some drinks (Sarah had made some delicious blackcurrant cordial) and some wonderful blackberry crunch bars and raspberry buns made by Felicity Ann with berries from the Allotment.

Find out more about the Recovery College on their website here

Pruning fruit trees at the Allotment with Peter May

We held a special event at the Community Allotment monthly Saturday session in July (2-4pm, last Saturday of the month, May-November). We had invited apple expert Peter May to talk to us about how to prune fruit trees, and several regular Allotment members as well as some visitors came along to learn from him. One had a dog with her.

Peter said that fruit trees need pruning twice a year, in summer and winter. He then demonstrated how to summer-prune some of our cherry trees and apple trees in a way which allows the fruit to grow most successfully and gives the overall tree a good shape as it grows. 

When it started to pour with rain, we went under the shelter where Peter showed us how to take apart and clean secateurs, and sharpen pruning knives. He demonstrated wetstone sharpening with carburundem. We all had a go, but felt we probably wouldn't be brave enough to take our own secateurs apart without fear we'd never put them back together correctly afterwards!

After a hot drink and a biscuit, we braved the rain and took a tarpaulin out to stand under whilst looking at the pear tree. It has been blown into a rakish angle - and Peter advised how to train it as a cordon. 

Last Bluebell session at Baulcombes. Marshmallows & felt!

By Flourish project manager Emma Chaplin

It was a sunny, muggy day for the last Bluebell House session at Baulcombes Barn of this project year (which for Flourish, runs September-August).

Sitting outside under the shade of a tree, we began by 'checking in', each person saying how they feel about being there.

We then shared some lovely refreshments. Rhiannan had very kindly brought her delicious fluffy homemade marshmallows to share, including banoffi flavour, coconut ice flavour and pretty pink and yellow marshmallow, rhubarb and custard flavour. We wondered where the word 'marshmallow' came, because it's the name of a plant. Rhiannan thought it related to throat lozenges - and indeed it does. The sugary marshmallow we know derives from the medicinal confection originally made from the marshmallow plant.

There was apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, and tea for those who wanted that.

Owena explained that one activity for the morning, for those who were interested, was felting. Felt is made out of wool. And felt-making, she told us, is an ancient art. In Mongolia, for example, they make yurts with it, using horses to tread the felt. It's both waterproof and warm.

Owena had a basket of wool from her sheep. She demonstrated 'carding' the wool, then teasing it out into squares (or any shape you want) in order to make a flat, fine shape. You end up with a pile of about 8 pieces, and you alternate the direction of 'threads'. 

She said the method is to place these on a large piece of tarpaulin in a place it's ok to get messy, Then you pour washing liquid over your pile (it's soap that makes the wool stick together), followed by boiling water. You pull the tarpaulin over the top, put wellies on and stamp! Felt is formed when there's been friction, Owena explained. You can also use a rolling pin to do this.

The felt ends up very wet, so you can then put it in spin dryer or whack it on the ground, if you're outdoors, to get the water out.

Also, Owena said, you can make felt pots, by wrapping the wool around a boulder or pebble, soap using a bar, add boiling water as before, then cut it open to make your pot.

Sue, Rhiannan and Di helped make a felt rug, teasing out the carded wool so that the fibres would bond together to form felt. It quickly turned to felt with the boiling hot water and soap and friction from them walking on the mat! It was too wet to take back to Bluebell, so Owena took it home to spin dry and will deliver it to the centre next week. The group would also like some wool to do their own felting at Bluebell.

And for those interested in seeing to the animals, their job was to get the ponies in. They had been moved to the field near the cabin. Owena explained that too much sugar in the grass had been causing laminitis (painful hoof inflammation) in the ponies, so she'd moved them to a field with less rich grass. They'd been struggling a bit with the flies and the heat. Frankie needed a fly sheet to protect his skin.

Some of the group caught them all up to come in the stables for a bit of shade. Frankie's fly sheet was removed, and they were given a drink and some hay.

So the ponies were attended to, the hens fed, including the chicks. Plus we had a look at the two unexpected new lambs that had been born after the ram escaped.

We finished the morning with feedback from each group member. There were comments about having learnt a lot about the animals during the year; feeling more confident handling the ponies and enjoying being outdoors. We all felt sad to end the sessions for this project year, and spoke about next autumn.

Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife on bugs & butterflies

Today the St Nick's group came up on a sunny but blustery day for a bug and butterfly session with our old friend, Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife.

We walked around the allotment with him as our guide, looking for bugs, catching them sometimes to see them, then letting them go. We also walked up the path outside the allotment. He pointed out various birds as we walked around, including a wren, and wood pigeons.

We saw a dock bug. We learnt that some bugs and beetles take on the look of a wasp to protect themselves - including the wasp beetle and the hover-fly, both of which he showed us.

We saw a hawthorn shield bug.

We were surprised to hear that there are 3,000 varieties of beetle in Sussex alone. He showed us an asparagus beetle, a wasp beetle,  a long horned beetle,  a pretty swollen-thighed beetle and a rose-chafer beetle.

He told us that foxgloves, which we have by the ponds, are good for bees.

Sarah mentioned that the broccoli is covered up to stop pigeons and cabbage white butterflies from eating it all.

Michael showed us a mullion caterpillar on the plant of same name. We saw an ichneuman wasp. We also spotted a rare small blue butterfly.

Finally, we were delighted to get our copy of his wonderful new Sussex Butterflies book, which he kindly signed.

Plot 22 visit: Flourishing at Lewes Community Allotment  

A guest post from Angela, one of the lovely Lady Gardeners from Plot 22, who recently visited Flourish recently

"Seven of us made our way from Hove to Lewes Community Allotment in early April (near the Nevill estate), where the Flourish project run regular sessions. As we were walking along by the other allotments, we were spotted by Emma, Project Manager of Flourish, standing up high, waving at us from Lewes Community Allotment. We could not miss her bright red coat and warm smile. She called us up the verge and we entered the allotment.

We were treated to hot cross buns and refreshing drinks. Sitting there under the large shelter, built from chestnut, we received an informative illustrated talk about the 19 year history of the allotment. Also the current usage of what grows well. Several herbs really like the chalk soil.

The view of the brow of the Downs that sunny glorious day was incredible. We saw a sheepdog herding sheep and a procession of horses riding by the perimeter fence.

Sarah Rideout,  the Flourish Allotment Co-ordinator, gave a very interesting and detailed tour of each small area of planting beds, sheds, picket fence story, pizza clay oven refurbishment project, willow fencing made on site... 

The blossom was about to burst on the trees. She showed us where the lizards like to stretch out on a disused tyre when it gets very hot.

We were meant to visit in February the same time Storm Doris hit the UK. So after being disappointed, our group re-arranged to come on this day which turned out to be more than perfect!  Everyone enjoyed themselves very much!"

Photos by Yvonne