common cause

Bird-box making at the Allotment with Jim from the Monday Group

The Plumpton College Rural Pathways group spent a frosty but beautiful afternoon recently with us at the Lewes Community Allotment making bird boxes with Jim from the Monday Group  The students learnt new skills, about helping wildlife, and we saw some great teamwork on the other tasks too.

Sarah Rideout, Allotment Coordinator, January 2017 

Plumpton Supported Interns - selling their apple juice at the Christmas Fair

After all their hard work, picking apples at Ringmer Community Orchard in September 2016, juicing, bottling and pasteurising it, designing the labels for the bottles and getting feedback from some professionals - the Plumpton Supported Interns finally got to display and sell their produce at the Plumpton College Christmas Fair. We think they should be very proud of themselves. We very much enjoyed working with them.

Emma Chaplin

Ceramics in Nature at Charleston

This blog post has been written by Lewes Community Allotment member Karine Wright. She and three other Allotment members are taking part in a two-day community involvement project at Charleston Farmhouse. Another member, Clare Rudeback, took the accompanying photographs

We are travelling through beautiful downland scenery on a sunny morning. Destination: Charleston Farmhouse, at the foot of the South Downs, famous home of infinitely creative members of the early/mid-twentieth century Bloomsbury Group. And the work of Quentin Bell, passionate Charleston potter -  among other talents - will be our inspiration for a day of nature-connected pottery.

As members of Lewes Community Allotment we are well aware of the wonderful benefits of working in nature with like-minded people. And Flourish, the umbrella project for the Allotment, has made it possible for us to extend this experience into a two-day course of Ceramics in Nature, facilitated by Lucy Bailey, Community Engagement Coordinator at Charleston Farmhouse, and led by artist and teacher Ruby Taylor (Native Hands).

Ruby, we soon discover, is a great talent in her chosen art, but also in the way she makes us feel comfortable in the group and inspires us to delve into our creativity to transform a natural material into our own work of art.

After briefly introducing ourselves and our expectations of the course, we are invited by Ruby to share a few minutes of meditation, a much-appreciated way to settle into action.

We are sitting around a table in Quentin Bell’s original pottery looking intently at a number of open kiln fired clay objects displayed before us. Our eyes and minds are making an exciting journey from fresh clay to finished shape ready for firing.  And the ball of local clay we hold in our hands is almost set to be sculpted. First it will need to be mixed with grog: pieces of fired clay, which we grind. It’s quite a noisy job and we move our working equipment through the studio doors into the garden to continue the grinding there in the open air. Next stage: grogging and wedging. Ruby guides us through this preparation of the clay, a relaxing, rhythmic movement, gradually incorporating the grog into the fresh clay until evenly mixed and air bubbles removed and the clay has the right consistency. All very important to reduce possible cracking during drying or in the open kiln.

For our finished work we decide on either pinch ball (thumb opening up the ball of clay and fingers of other hand guiding the wall into shape) or slab sculpting (we use a paper pattern on the rolled out clay to cut out components of a flower pot). All aided by a large number of tools offering the imprinting of an astonishing variety of shapes. A number of colours is on offer in the form of slip (liquid clay) for us to add paint effects to our sculpted object. And in Quentin Bell’s pottery there is inspiration of form and colour and design to add to our own creativity if we choose to.

Time to add last touches before we place our work gingerly on a board to dry in time for Day 2. Then we will be spreading further out into nature to forage materials for the group to build the kiln and prepare for the firing of our ceramic pieces. And, of course, our fervent hopes will be for our work to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

It has been an exciting and fulfilling day. So many things to enjoy and learn. The freedom to roam in inspiring and calming surroundings when we felt like it; a delicious lunch and cups of tea and coffee or a glass of water, and much admirable support from Lucy Bailey and her colleagues. To have had the good fortune to work with an outstanding teacher and artist like Ruby Taylor is something to celebrate. Her unique input created a wonderful experience for all of us.

Plumpton supported interns at Ringmer Community Orchard, year 2


The Flourish project began in September 2015, and one of the first things we did was to set up a three-day apple course working with a group of supported interns from Plumpton College. This took place at the beautiful Community Orchard in Ringmer. This is scheduled as an annual course, and we were pleased when Plumpton College said the year one group enjoyed it so much, that this autumn (2016), they wanted us to run the course for both Supported Internship classes.

So on 26 and 27 September, Flourish project manager Emma Chaplin and apple expert Peter May hosted two different groups at the Orchard for a day each of learning about apples; picking, grading, weighing and storing them ready for day two, juicing, of the Flourish apple course, which will take place at Stanmer Park in October hosted by Brighton Permaculture Trust*.

*Brighton Permaculture Trust "work with nature to sustain achieve a sustainable lifestyle". They are extremely knowledgeable about apples, have their own orchards, organise a huge Apple Day event every year and run lots of apple and fruit related courses. They also have apple pressing and pasteurising equipment.


Emma welcomed the groups at the Orchard on both days and talked a little about Flourish being a Lottery-funded project, managed by Common Cause Co-op. Everyone was shown where the toilets were and asked to wear a name label. Emma then said one thing she felt about apples (that she likes crumble!) and invited the group to introduce themselves one at a time with something they like or dislike about apples. On the first day, quite a few interns said they weren't keen on apples. On the second, most of the group liked both apples and apple juice - with several saying they particularly like cider!

Then Peter addressed the interns, explaining that the Orchard growing season has been different from last year, and the apples are two weeks behind in terms of ripening.

The interns asked if each group could pick different varieties, so that they could compare the taste of each once they are juiced at Stanmer Park in October. Peter said that would be fine - the first day would be picking Ashmead's Kernel, the second, Red Falstaff.

Peter gave a tour of the apple store and the Orchard. He said the Orchard has rich soil from when horses grazed here in the past. He explained the differences between a tree nursery and an orchard. An orchard will feature lots of apple varieties which are grown to last for years.

dsc_1656When the Orchard was being planned, he explained, each bush apple tree was planted 5m apart, with 7m between rows, to allow the trees room to grow. They allowed 10m for larger varieties.As we walked round, he pointed out several trees that are leaning, and said that is partly because they grew so vigorously and strongly the roots couldn't keep up - plus the added factor of the wind. He also mentioned that the Orchard also has some pear trees as well as a new quince and some plum trees.

"You have to think about thirty years' time when you're planning an orchard"

He then talked about his career, and how interesting an apprenticeship was - trying various jobs in different departments, learning new skills, getting a sense of what worked for him. He explained that working for a commercial orchard might include working with equipment or in glass houses or polytunnel indoors.

"What employers are looking for", he explained, "is enthusiasm and lots of energy and for people who are prepared to work outdoors in all weathers"

Peter said that pesticides and chemicals are not used on the trees in the Orchard so many of the apples are lumpy and bumpy - unlike fruit you get from commercial orchards.

Some interesting apple facts that Peter pointed out:

  • This is a post that Peter wrote last autumn about the different varieties of apples at the Orchard. Ones we looked at include: Newton Wonder, Edward VII, Lord Lambourne, Scrumptious, Ashmead's Kernel, Red Falstaff and Salt Cote Pippin.
  • There are 10,000 apple varieties in the world
  • There are 2,500 varieties in the UK alone
  • A number of varieties are named after places and people
  • Apples originate from Kazakhstan
  • New varieties are always being developed - designed to be disease-resistant etc
  • Apples probably arrived in the UK when the Romans invaded
  • Some varieties ripen early, some late
  • Some have a lot of apples every year, others alternate years
  • The texture and taste of all the varieties varies. Some are sweet, some sharp. Some are eaters, some are good for cooking
  • It varies as to how well they store



He offered members of the group different vintages of juice, from various varieties of apples picked in previous years. One intern said it was "Like drinking liquid sunshine".


Then the group were shown safe lifting and handling techniques, and they began work - with one group picking apples, one group grading them, with others taking them to the apple store in the wheelbarrow.

After lunch, the groups made up several 'orders' of apples, as if for a shop, using weighing scales.

Peter then showed the group how to hang small cement weights on the ends of the boughs of some young apple trees, a technique which bends the branch down and encourages the tree to produce more fruit.


Peter finished the afternoon off by demonstrating how to graft a new apple tree.


Next stop, Brighton Permaculture Trust to juice, bottle and pasteurise the apples - and taste the juice of course.

Emma Chaplin, Sept 2016

Willow Weaving Workshop at Baulcombes

Flourish sometimes invite specialist trainers to work with our groups, as a way for them to learn new skills and for us to use our natural resources - in this case Owena's willow.

Owena Lewis tells us about an excellent willow weaving session run by Sarah Lawrence at Baulcombes Barn

On Wednesday 28th September, four members of Bluebell House attended a willow weaving workshop run by Sarah Lawrence at Baulcombes Barn, Hamsey.

Sarah taught the group how to weave a Catalan tray. She introduced everyone to the willow baskets she had made and the Catalan trays. She spoke about the history of these willows, which she planted at Hamsey. One of the participants had actually cut the willows in February 2015, since when they had been stored in the stable.

I had soaked them in a water tank for ten days before the workshop. On the morning they were taken out of their ‘bath’ and laid out under a tarpaulin to stop them drying out.

As Sarah had prepared hoops for each person, they could start weaving immediately.

Starting was a little tricky as the willow struts across the hoops were hard to keep in place. When the participants had got the struts in place they were then able to weave their platter.

Sarah advised people to use the thinner pieces of willow as weavers, because they were easier to bend around the small structure.

While people were weaving Sarah told us various stories about willow.

She explained the meaning of ‘Sally Gardens’ being a willow bed.

She also told us about the dance ‘Strip the Willow’.

‘The cut willow rods were stood upright in a stream until their leaves started appearing - then the bark was looser and could be stripped off easily, producing the white willow rods needed for selling dairy produce.’

When the platter was finished, the ends of the willow were trimmed.

Sarah then showed us how to make a hoop by coiling the two willows around. One participant successfully made one in the last ten minutes! These hoops can be used to make more wreaths or Catalan platter.

Participants were introduced to some of the language associated with willow work.

Butt: the thick end of the willow

Tip: the thin end of the willow.

Taking out the Spite: easing the bend in the willow.

At break time there was a reluctance to leave the weaving!

Everyone seemed pleased with their efforts.



Summer Fire & Feast with Sophie Orloff

We combined two events in one on Wednesday 27 July at Lewes Community Allotment. Local chef Sophie Orloff came to show the group how to cook vegetables from the allotment in an outdoor setting. But since this was also the last session before the summer break, we combined this with an end of year 'fire and feast' celebration with all of those who have been coming throughout this first year that our project Flourish has been running.

We'd been having lot of lovely sunny weather, but on this morning, the sun hid from us and it was a bit breezy, with an occasional shower. But Allotment Co-ordinator Sarah had set up the tarpaulin to enable partial shelter, and we got the fire going in the firepit no problem.

The group from St Nicholas Day Centre arrived with their support worker, plus some members came. We were pleased to meet a new person, Mary, who wanted to see what we do.

Common Cause director Topsy fired-up the recently repaired bread oven. As she did this, Sophie sent the group to pick and pod peas, so we could make pea bread (literally, bread dough she had brought mixed with fresh peas! The idea had come  from something Sophie had seen about ancient bread recipes using peas). Allotment member (and bread maker) Susan helped make the rolls.DSC_1498

Some people picked edible flowers with Sarah for the salad, plus some herbs for some potato salad. In the meantime, Sophie showed the group how to make two kinds of fritters  - one from grated courgette, and one from grated carrot and parsnip. In both cases she asked the group to help her mix the veg with flour, eggs and salt and pepper to season.

DSC_1490 - CopyTopsy put the bread rolls into the oven and Sophie started frying the fritters in oil over the open fire. She also made a chard omelette. Emma worked with some of the group to mix fresh herbs and dressing into the potato salad, carrot and parsnip salad and green salad. We added the flowers to that and they looked beautiful.


More visitors arrived. We were delighted to welcome friends and family of the St Nicholas clients, as well as other Allotment Members.

Lots of people brought food to share including a pizza pastry, a tray of wonderful cupcakes and a moist beetroot and chocolate cake.We all enjoyed our delicious shared lunch and the weather even perked up!sophie event

There were about twenty of us in the end. It was a lovely event, and wonderful to see everyone enjoying themselves.Thanks to Sophie for an excellent job under challenging circumstances and for some delicious food. Thanks to Topsy for excellent fire-tending, and to Sarah for organising everything. And thanks everyone who came.

Emma Chaplin, Project Manager

Read more about Flourish here

Bug hunting with Michael Blencowe

pooter lWed 29 June 2016

We had a special event for our Wednesday allotment morning group (which includes clients from the St Nicholas Day Centre in Lewes, as well as other allotment members). There were fifteen of us in total.

Community Wildlife Officer for Sussex Wildlife  Michael Blencowe came along with a bag of tricks to help us hunt for and identify bugs on the allotment. He also did a walking tour looking for signs of summer, and told us a bit about his job.

bug talk june 2016.jpgMichael's Talk

First, Michael told the group about the history of the landscape around us, how the South Downs came to be as we know them now, with the variety of wildlife that we now have. Grazing sheep have played a part in it - but millions of years ago, Lewes was under the sea. The chalk under our feet is made up of the crushed bones of long-dead animals - including dinosaurs. He showed us pictures to help us understand.

Bug Hunting

Because this was a summer visit to our allotment, Michael said he had hoped to show us butterflies and hoverflies - but the cold, breezy weather meant there weren't many to be seen.

Michael gave out plastic tubs and spoons to everyone to pick up insects. He also showed us about his new toy, a glass tube or 'pooter' he had brought along for sucking up bugs for us to examine. We all felt a bit horrified at the idea of sucking up a bug and swallowing it, but he said that didn't happen :).

He talked about different habitats for insects - there are lot of insects in long grass, and in the nettles. He had a net he wafted in the long grass to collect insects.

pooter 3

These he tipped into a white tray on the table in the shelter, and everyone picked the bugs he'd caught with their spoons and put them in their tubs. Michael then sucked them up in his pooter so we could identify them. We saw a hopper (Michael explained how amazingly far they hop - if we could do the same, we could hop from the allotment to Lewes!), wood lice, flies and a brown-lipped snail.

MB net lca

Rather to our surprise, Michael leapt onto the compost heap and wafted his net in the nettle bush behind. The bugs he caught, he then tipped into a tray in the shelter. Everyone scooped them into their tubs and he sucked them up again in the pooter. We saw an ant, flies, and more snails.

Michael showed us what he explained was another new toy - a fold-out 'beating net' - which looked like a big, square umbrella.We pretended it WAS an umbrella for this photo:beating net

The beating net is for finding insects who live on leaves in the trees. He held it up under a tree, banged the branches, and various insects fell into the net.

He then tipped these into the tray for identification as before. We spotted a young harlequin ladybird and a pupating ladybird, some beetles, plus some flies.

Michael answered questions anyone in the group had.

We then released all the bugs we'd caught.

Signs of Summer

LCA june 2016.jpg

Then we did a walk around the allotment to look for signs of summer. Michael admired our new lovely new shed.

shed mb.jpg

The signs of summer that we all spotted and recorded on our walk were:

  • Lots of flowers blooming, including marigolds, poppies, lavender, fox gloves and ox-eye daisies. Allotment members Felicity Ann and Susannah helped us identify some of those
  • We saw some bees buzzing around the flowers, and Michael told us that bees waggle their bums to keep warm when it's cold
  • We saw and identified different fruit that is not yet ripe - including apples, gooseberries, redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries
  • We saw and identified shallots, peas and broad beans
  • We saw and heard some birds and Michael talked about how some birds come from below the equator in the summer in search of a warmer climate with insects to eat. They fly thousands of miles.
  • We saw an ants nest - yellow meadow ants - and Michael told us that ants move their eggs into the sun to keep them warm - when there IS sun

MB allotment

Being a Community Wildlife Officer

Then we went back to the covered shelter for a drink.

Michael talked a little about his job and what he likes about it. He said:

"To do my job I need to be able to engage with different sorts of people, children and adults. As a little boy, I spent lots of time in the wild. You have to like working outdoors - there is a lot of walking - which keeps you fit - but you have to like that."

Michael said he doesn't work alone, he sometimes works with Park Rangers and National Park Rangers, which he enjoys.

What We Learnt

At the end of the morning, we asked people what they had learnt:
We learnt about daisies Michael told us about bugs Micheal told us about wildlife We saw that you can bang on trees to get bugs
We thanked Michael for coming and for a lovely morning, even if it hadn't really been a very summery day!
Emma Chaplin

Apple blossom time at Ringmer Community Orchard

Peter May dropped into the Flourish office to discuss our annual three-day apple-based training course with Plumpton College interns at Ringmer Community Orchard. This takes place around apple-picking time in the autumn.

Peter gave us an update on orchard news.

  • There are 24 types of apples varieties growing at the orchard, plus five pear and four plum.
  • Planting cherry trees has been discussed with the members, but decided against, because the birds would get most of the fruit. Having apricots and peach trees has also been discussed - some growers have planted these on the High Weald, but it's felt that the community orchard is not the right place for them.
  • Nearer the carpark, apple trees have been planted whose rootstock is better suited to the damper conditions there.
  • A new quince tree has been planted this year.

Becoming a member of Ringmer Community Orchard


 Volunteer Orchard co-ordinator Katharine Finnigan tells us a bit about the orchard:
"We've been running since 2005 at Broyle Place Farm, on land kindly donated by Anthony Tasker. We manage the orchard organically, encouraging wildflowers and native grasses.
We offer free training to members on how to look after the trees to increase people's skills which will protect the orchard longer term.

There are currently about 30 members, with more joining every year. We always welcome more people and their families.

Membership costs £25 per annum if people put in six  hours work at the orchard per year, or £30 to adopt a tree - with no requirement to help out.

Members get a share of the apples, pears and plums and are encouraged to enjoy the lovely space at the Orchard with friends and families or on one of the organised group activity dates.
Most of the apples picked by members on harvesting day are taken to Ringden Farm near Flimwell to be pressed, bottled and pasteurised. Members can then buy the bottles for £2 each. Juice is also sold to the wider public for £3 a bottle to generate income.
The orchard produced about 400 bottles of apple juice last year. Fresh apple juice is produced by hand press on Harvest Day. It's is not the most efficient way of juicing, but it is great fun, and makes for a nice harvesting day."
More information here. And if you'd like to become a member, email Katharine,


Our three day course with Plumpton College Supported Interns

  Ringmer orchard plumpton group sept 2015

Ringmer Community Orchard, under the guidance of Common Cause director Katharine Finnegan, has become a thriving orchard over the years, with many varieties of apple trees and other fruits. Flourish came into being in September 2015, and one of the first tasks of project manager Emma Chaplin was to create and carry out a three-day course based around these apples for the class of fifteen Plumpton College supported interns.

This Emma did in consultation with apple expert Peter May, Plumpton supported interns course leader Mel Simmonds, and others.

Day one

This took place at the end of September at Ringmer Community Orchard. The day was run by Peter May, supported by Emma and several Plumpton support staff, including Mel and Nikki Sanger. During the day, Peter talked to the group about how apples grow, how many different varieties there are, plus offering advice on safe handling of heavy items. From Peter, the interns learnt how to pick, grade and weigh the Red Falstaff apples. There were also discussions about what working in the fruit picking industry might entail and what qualities you might want for such roles.

Day two

This took place at the beginning of October at Brighton Permaculture in Stanmer Park. Peter May and Emma Chaplin brought along the apples the students had picked at Ringmer Orchard. Stephan Gehrels of Brighton Permaculture led the day, demonstrating and supporting the interns in how to wash, macerate and press the apples using the hydropress. He also answered any questions the students had about the process.

Everyone tasted the freshly pressed juice - and said they thought it was delicious. The interns poured half of it into cartons. A passer-by bought a carton of it from intern Gemma.

Stephan talked about bottling apple juice, adding flavours, what labels are added. He also showed the interns the cider press. Then the interns bottled the rest of the juice into 19 bottles, which they then pasteurised, to make the juice longer-lasting. The interns took these home with them.

The day ended with a Stanmer orchard tour by Peter May.

This was some of the feedback we got after days one and two: "Grading of apples, picking and storing was really interesting." "The orchard tour was really good". "The fresh apple juice was much better than shop bought". "Learning the different names of the apples was interesting". "I liked learning how to make juice and tasting it".  "The people were passionate about their project, this was contagious".


The interns went back to college to design labels for their bottles with their resident expert graphic design tutor. They had advice and examples from Stephan and Emma about what the bottle labels needed to include, and graphic designer Neil Gower (who has designed beer bottles, amongst many other things) contributed advice on good label design.

Day three Plumpton interns arriving in Lewes by bus

This was split into two. The interns came by bus to Lewes at the beginning of December with Nikki Sanger and Mark Gilbert as support staff plus others, where Emma met them off the bus.

They visited the Elephant and Castle pub, went upstairs to the function room where landlord Huw Jones spoke to them about running a pub, how he came to be a pub landlord, what jobs there are in pubs and what qualities you need to do them.

The students had prepared a large number of questions for Huw, which he was able to answer very helpfully.IMG_20151202_135823 Sara Grisewood from Pleasant Stores came and joined the group and told them about her local vegetarian cafe/shop business. Then Huw and Sara tasted the apple juice, gave incredibly positive feedback about the taste and how good a product it is. They said there were so many factors that would work for them as buyers – the fact that it's made by Plumpton interns, is limited edition, from a single variety of apples grown locally, that no chemicals used in the process or used on the apple trees. They said they would definitely stock it if they could.

They also explained how much they’d pay for a bottle, and how much they’d charge if they were selling it on.

They gave feedback on all the label designs the students had come up with.

Sara talked about products she stocks and, on the way back to the bus stop, the interns dropped into Pleasant Stores, where she showed them some labels of her drinks.

Final half day

The next day, Emma went to Plumpton College and talked to the students about Twitter – what it is, how to use it effectively, how to be safe on Twitter. She answered questions about tweeting, then gave a handout on this. She also presented the interns with certificates of attendance for the whole three days of the apple-based course.


The final outcome of this project will be that the interns will work with the wine department at Plumpton to produce the labels, based on the best bits of an amalgam of designs. Watch this space for that.

The juice will be sold at the Plumpton College Christmas Fair, with all money raised going to Chestnut Tree Hospice.