Outside Voices

By | October 28, 2021

I was very pleased to work on this valuable project – an anthology of lived experience and stories of connections with the outdoors.

The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) has some amazing spaces in amazing places and ensuring access to them – for all – is their charitable purpose. They are working towards this goal and know it is not enough to just open the doors and wait for ‘all’ to walk through.

The personal stories in the Outside Voices publication show that many people do not feel comfortable, welcome or safe in outdoor spaces, and they each tell us something about how the outdoors can become inclusive.



For my contribution to Outside Voices I was lucky enough to visit the awesome Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project. You can read an edited version of my visit report in Outside Voices, or the full report below:

Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project, Visit Report


  1. Introduction

The Moulsecoomb Forest Garden was established 1994 and became charity in 2005. Located on the outskirts of Brighton it sits adjacent to the South Downs National Park in an area of high deprivation.

Their activities are described as connecting people with gardening, food and nature through:

  • Working in primary and secondary schools to provide an alternative for pupils who struggle in a typical classroom setting;
  • Running a therapeutic garden project for people of all abilities;
  • Having inclusivity and diversity at their heart, with everyone welcome;

The Garden works alongside local schools, social services, pupil referral units, the youth service, and other organisations, supporting young people to make progress in mainstream education to achieve their potential. They offer eco-therapy and outdoor education to complement the school curriculum.

The Garden’s stated aims are to:

  • Reduce anti-social behaviour by involving excluded pupils in the running of the garden;
  • Improve community health by producing organic and locally grown fruit and vegetables;
  • Enhance skills and employability by offering practical based training and volunteering opportunities;
  • Involve children in planting, growing and eating healthy food and learning to respect nature and the environment;
  • Create and enhance wildlife habitats and protect biodiversity including old fashioned vegetable varieties;
  • Promote sustainable lifestyles by encouraging and educating people about the benefits of organic gardening, locally produced food and composting.

I visited the Garden on a Tuesday which is a when volunteers with learning disabilities attend the allotment. It was at the end of Covid Lockdown Three, so numbers were limited to aid social distancing. On other days of the week the Garden could be full of school children.

The first impression of the Garden, which is tucked away around a narrow corner, under a bridge, behind Mouslecoomb train station, and nestled between an electric substation and a housing estate is how steep and how big it is. And it is actually bigger than it first appears as at the top of the hill, behind the clay pizza oven which rests under a wooden framed shelter with a corrugated tin roof, are woods which lead directly to the South Downs National Park. And the site may yet increase in size as they are in talks to take over a field behind the woods, directly on the South Downs.

The activities at the Garden reflect the broad nature of their intended aims. There is so much going on, many local organisations rely on it, many local people are involved and the Garden’s links into the wider community are many and strong. Key links include Mouslecoomb Primary School and The Bevvy, a community led pub, that supports families and the elderly on the local estates.

The benefits of the Garden are many and the work they do is varied and it all relies on: connections to nature and the outdoors; connections with the local community; and connections between individuals.

  1. A place of work

The second thing I noticed about the Garden was how busy it was. Even with reduced numbers for social distancing, people were in all corners, working away on their designated task. First, I met a young man digging out one of the compost bins. Sweating and a little breathless, he took enormous pride in his work. Other volunteers were readying the soil for planting potatoes, chopping firewood, pruning blackberry bushes, and preparing food in the outdoor kitchen.

Volunteers are typically placed with the Garden through the Council’s disability team or via local disability support organisations, and they attend once or twice a week. Many have learning disabilities or neurodiversity such as Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Dyslexia and ADHD.

Jobs for the day, required to keep the allotment productive, are written on a board and the staff allocate jobs to volunteers that are within the volunteer’s capabilities. The volunteers are helping the allotment grow, there is genuine purpose to what they do, the volunteers are proud of what they do, and feel that their role is important and genuinely contributing:

  • “I love to help out” – Volunteer
  • “My carer and I came up together to see what it’s like, working outside, and I like it so much. I always come here every Tuesday” – Volunteer
  • “… and that’s how I came to work here.” – Volunteer
  • “Last week one of the volunteers was making a bar-b-que and he wouldn’t stop until it was perfect.” – Visitor
  • “I’ve been to many garden places. I tried a recycling place, they didn’t want me – too much machinery. Not too much machinery here.” – Volunteer
  • “I started coming here just to do volunteering, to help out with the garden, doing this and that.” – Volunteer
  • “Every job I do, I start it, I finish it, I’ll carry on after lunch. Today I’m chopping wood up for the fire.” – Volunteer
  • And for the volunteers the Garden feels different to support services:
  • “I used to go to day centres, they’re so boring. They charge me a pound to watch TV, I can do that at home.” – Volunteer

The staff walk a fine line that keeps volunteers on task to ensure the jobs are done but are also patient and supportive and respect the wider needs of the volunteers. In turn volunteers respect this authority and seem to feel part or the team. The Manager said:

  • “Half of here is social, I want them all to do a couple of hours work because we’ve got a lot to do. And if they don’t then sometimes we have ‘contracts’ with people, this is your job.”
  • “When they are not here some of them are at home with their parents, they just need the headspace.“
  • “There are less and less opportunities for adults with learning disabilities, day centres closed a few years ago, and especially now during lockdown.”

The Garden offers horticultural, carpentry, woodland management, cooking, educational and social opportunities to its volunteers and this shows in the competent way they describe the tasks they are doing. Some have attended a local college to learn gardening skills, but it’s clear that they are learning practical skills from the hands-on approach at the Garden.

This is not a place that patronises people with disabilities. Volunteers have a role in maintaining the garden, they are part of the team.

  1. A place of support

The Garden also feels like a community. I have been to other woodland spaces which, at first glance would look very similar to the Garden. They cultivate crops, have outdoor kitchens, the smell of woodsmoke fills the air, logs are piled high in random corners and composting and recycling is a key feature. But the sense of community here is overwhelmingly evident. And that is due to the attitudes of the staff and volunteers.

Volunteers, when asked what they like about the Garden, overwhelmingly say “the people.”

  • “The staff are friendly, we have a good laugh together.”
  • “They’re good people.”
  • “Its good fun, the Manager is a good bloke, all the staff are lovely.”
  • “Staff are friendly”
  • “I like it so much, I come here every Tuesday – gets me out the house a bit.”
  • “I like the people, some of them are nutty. They’re really good.”
  • “I feel good when I’m here, I am loyal to the people here.”
  • “It’s good here, it’s so interesting up here.”

The staff, when asked what they have done to make the Garden so inclusive also credit the people.

  • “I think it’s the people you have. It’s all about just having a laugh. So much of what they get is patronising, we have it more like a workplace.” – Manager

Inclusive practice also relies on the leadership of the organisation. Many of the Trustees volunteer at the Garden and some have lived experience of disability. They understand what goes on and how best to support it.

The staff run user group meetings and have regular conversations with the volunteers about how to make the Garden better. Before Covid the team would meet at a local pub and discuss their ideas. This is a level of engagement that many of the volunteers do not experience elsewhere:

  • “Many volunteers have their lives are dictated by an organisation.” – Manager
  • “People with disabilities are so used to being ignored, that they think well what’s the point in speaking.” – Manager

Throughout the day there is a light-hearted banter shared by all, with volunteers giving and receiving as much banter as the staff and support workers. But in the Garden the banter is different from the taunts they may receive outside – about their disability or their differences. Banter, in the context of a caring and supportive environment, is with affection and without prejudice.

One volunteer, who had experienced bullying whilst at a local college, talked about feeling safe in the Garden, he said:

  • “There’s a lot of people about causing trouble,” “I feel safe here, nowhere else.”
  • “The garden gives me more space and more privacy. Safer than going out along the streets with lots of people going near you, this is a good allotment to be in, it saves people going near each other.”

Another volunteer said:

  • “I like the community, hanging around the fire and just catching up, and some of the work is alright.”
  • “Without this I would be just stuck in the house.”

And the staff feel the difference they are making too:

  • “We know that we are doing some good, for the whole community. I started volunteering here for two and a half years, but then I got a job here.” – Staff.

  1. A place with access to the outdoors

The garden provides access to the outdoors that many would not experience otherwise, or certainly not with the same connection to nature. The Garden’s location, in between densely populated housing estates and the South Downs National Park provides excellent access to a variety of outdoor spaces.

The volunteers seem to appreciate working outside and look incredibly comfortable using the outdoor kitchen and seats around the open fire, volunteers said:

  • “I like working outside, its more fresher”
  • “I you get stuck indoors you’ll just get bored. I like being out, I don’t like being stuck indoors”
  • “I wouldn’t like working indoors”
  • “I like planting seeds, it’s a bit calm and out of the way.”

The Garden provides access, through its woods directly on to the South Downs, and they often take the volunteers and other members of the community for walks, through the Garden and onto the Downs. For some this is their only access to the National Park:

  • “They’re not going to walk in the woods on their own, they will with us.” – Manger

The Garden staff have some frustration with the National Park’s approach to access and inclusion. Whilst the National Park does engage young people in the outdoors, many of them are children and young people who would access the outdoors anyway. Their proposition for many children from city estates is to transport them into the National Park for activities, yet they fail to make use of local facilities to first enable them to develop their own relationships with the outdoors.

An alternative approach was proposed by the Garden’s Manager where the National Park could – with communities – identify a number of locations that straddle areas of deprivation and the edges of the National Park. Moulsecoomb is a good example of such an area, but there are others along the 87-mile National Park which stretches from Eastbourne to Winchester.

The proposal is to pick 10 areas and work in those intensely, concentrating on getting people outside in their communities and then into the South Downs on their doorstep, and then perhaps further afield. Alongside this undertake a five-year – or longer – study to evaluate the impact of this approach and ascertain whether people from estates feel any more connected to nature and whether they access the outdoors more as a result.

  1. A place for nature and wildlife

The garden is alive with wildlife. From the slow worms and lizards that gather under the back rubber mats placed at various locations around the Garden, to the frogs and newts in the pond – and the sparrowhawk that has been seen eyeing up the frogs lately! Foxes visit regularly and badgers have been captured on the wildlife cameras. Birdsong is constant, with the occasional knocking of a woodpecker. Seagulls are inevitable, given the Garden’s close proximity to the sea.

  • “There’s lots of frogs, some newts, there’s a sign over there where there’s lots of insects, robins come over. We hear woodpeckers.” – Volunteer
  • “We do see foxes around here, we call one of them ‘Foxy’. There are lots of holes around here where badgers dig.” – Volunteer

Volunteers maintain the pond and children use it for pond dipping. Other volunteers keep records of the wildlife they find.

The Garden has been offered the use of a huge field beyond their woods on the South Downs, which they intend to use for ecological studies. One of the Trustees is an ecologist and is trying to secure funding for a six month wildlife survey, as they have previously done for the woods and allotment.

Staff are keen to consult about the field with the wider community, especially those who already use the space for dog walking and for access to the South Downs. But they also want children from the local primary school to use the space, as this would provide easy access to their own piece of the South Downs. The Manager said:

  • “For all the school kids that don’t access the Downs on their doorstep, the field will be incorporated into the work of the school.”
  • “So the kids are getting the skills and we’ve got the connections for the ones that it’s on their doorstep but never get the opportunities.”

  1. A place for food

Food is a big feature at the Garden, from the fruit and vegetables being cultivated in the allotment to the lunches cooked over an open fire and served at 12.30pm daily:

  • “I always try to use something from the Garden for each meal.” – Kitchen Staff

The Garden Facebook group is filled with photos of meals. Usually vegan or vegetarian, the meals are inspired from the produce in the garden and from cuisine around the world. During my visit I had to get the recipe for stinging nettle pesto pasta which I had seen a photo of online:

  • “If you pinch the tops off the nettles now, because they’re really nice and soft and then just blanch them in water and you’re good to go. When they’re tall they are too chewy. I use nettles instead of spinach.” – Kitchen staff.

And I was also in luck, one the day I visited it was curry day! Cauliflower and butternut squash curry with potatoes and spinach and wild garlic flatbreads. A hearty and welcome treat on a mild Spring afternoon. The volunteers are involved in making the fire to cook the lunch and preparing the food. And seem to enjoy it – mostly:

  • “The lunches are nice, I just don’t like the curry. I do try it. Some of it is grown around here. We’re putting potatoes down there. We had some beans and I think there’s fennel down there. We had tomatoes and cucumber in the polytunnel. And there are figs in the trees.”
  • “They do really good lunches here”
  • “Nettle pesto was my favourite, I love the curries.”
  • “When it’s someone’s birthday we have cake.”
  • “The Christmas dinner a few years ago was a big thing, it was for 60 people.”
  • “It can get windy up here – the parsley blows away.” – Kitchen volunteer

Lunch feels like a celebration of the day’s work, which is followed by tea, coffee and biscuits around the open fire. The volunteers and staff sit, chat and laugh together before the volunteers head off home at 2pm.

Earlier in the day I had spoken one-to-one with many of the volunteers. I was told how since being involved with the garden their confidence had grown.

  • “He feels really free to be himself, he’s really come out of his shell. Which he wasn’t two years ago. It took a while maybe six months.” – Staff

Volunteers happily talked with me and answered my questions about the Garden thoughtfully. But it was during the social time after lunch I noticed that the fluency and eloquence of some of the volunteers was considerably greater. They were involved in the conversation, they were happy to contribute to the group, they were part of the team’s conversation. This is not an experience many of the volunteers would get in other parts of their life.

  1. A place under lockdown

It was not possible to ignore the impact of Covid lockdowns on volunteers and staff at the Garden. On the day I visited one volunteer was returning for the first time since Lockdown Three began. He was visibly relieved to be there and, although he works part-time in a supermarket, the isolation and boredom of lockdown had taken its toll:

  • “The lockdown was horrible, wasn’t it?” Its so boring, go to work, come home, go to bed and go to work again.”

The manager recalls the impact of the first lockdown and how their approach to the third lockdown needed to be different:

  • “After the first lockdown we started opening slowly in small groups and the state of some of the people was just horrendous. Some haven’t got any family, there was no social interaction, stuck indoors and they were just gaunt. We looked and said that for this lockdown (3) we can keep open for 15 people. We picked the people who we felt needed the support the most, and we are now slowly opening it up.“

With limits on numbers at the Garden staff are working to provide activity for those most in need, but in separate bubbles to ensure continuity should one person get Covid. Staff are conscious that others are struggling too, as the majority of other volunteering opportunities or training courses have been cancelled and so opening up safely is a priority. The volunteers and staff already at the Garden were visibly glad to be back outside:

  • “This lockdown’s driving me mad” – Volunteer.
  • “It all changed when Covid happened, I had nowhere to go.” – Volunteer.
  • “It’s nice just to be out. I wasn’t really looking for an outside role, but it did help – especially when Covid happened. I was able to come here, watering the plants and stuff. It was a great relief to be out.” – Volunteer.
  • “I would have gone mad over lockdown had I not had the Garden, I’m not good at not doing anything. When we could stay open with smaller numbers during lockdown three it was such a relief.”- Staff.
  • “We have to do the washing up now, due to Covid, so just put your plate in this wheelbarrow.” – Staff.
  • “He lives on his own, he didn’t have any interaction with anyone else – if he didn’t come here that would be it.” – Staff talking about a volunteer.
  • “This time round it got quite scary. All my kids got Covid so everyone went indoors and just closed the doors.” – Staff.

There is some optimism for the coming months as the lockdown begins to ease. Being outside, on a large plot provides plenty of space for social distancing and, as most of the volunteers are classed as vulnerable, the majority have already received their Covid vaccination.

  1. Moulsecoomb Primary School

Moulsecoomb Primary School, which has approximately 60% of its children receiving free school meals, describes itself as a compassionate learning community. The school believes that every child has a right to be educated well in an inclusive environment where they can thrive. It is a short walk away from the Garden and appears to promote a similar approach to connections with the outdoors and nature. The Garden Manager is also responsible for education outdoors at the school.

The Head 20 years ago started taking children away to Wales, an experience that many of the children would not have had otherwise – there is no longer the money to do this. The school has amazing grounds including an outside play area, a meadow, an orchard, a pond, a peace garden, a fairy tale forest walk and chickens. They also have replicas of historical buildings in the grounds, which children from schools across Brighton benefit from, and a strong cycling programme.

School children regularly use the Garden and can walk from the school, through the Wild Park Nature Reserve, into the Garden woods and on to the allotment. Whilst at the Garden children experience planting and harvesting, pond dipping, bushcraft, toasting marshmallows and sweetcorn on the open fire, and making pizzas that are cooked in the wood fired oven. The Gardens also run free Easter and Summer schemes for local children.

The school uses the Garden to support individual needs of children. One Year 4 boy attends the Garden on a regular basis. He has ADHD which can lead to either misbehaving or being miserable in class. The school provides time out of lessons to attend the garden where he receives one-to-one attention from the staff. On the day I visited he was collecting frogspawn to take into the school for the reception class. This is good for the frogs, as newts would eat the frogspawn if left in the pond, but also forms part of the school’s ethos of being connected to nature in class. The boy himself looked relaxed and was dedicated to the task, netting frogspawn and dumping it in a bucket, with little to no cajoling from the staff. The boy’s mum said:

“The Garden was first introduced to me through Moulsecoomb Primary School summer holiday camp, they did fire building, pizza making, den building and a forest walk. It was completely free, which is great for this area. I’ve paid for him to go to clubs like that before, but he had so much more fun here.”

“The staff do keep them in line but will let them have the freedom that they may not get at home. A lot of people live in flats, so its great to have space outside that they can get to. They don’t have as many rules, kids can be free.“

“Since then, my son has additional needs, he has been coming out of school to do some activities, rather than being sat in the classroom all day getting frustrated.”

“It’s a sensory break and time out for him to learn new skills. Moulescoomb Primary School is great. They don’t just focus on the academics, they want children to learn life skills. They learn through hands on, rather than sitting at a desk all day.”

“Today he was so excited the come here. He gains confidence being here.”

“It’s a great place, I come here and feel like I’m away from the city.”

“I look at my son now, he would have been stuck in the classroom, causing a bit of disruption because he struggles a bit with ADHD, and being a bit hyper – you wouldn’t believe it now, he’s now just calm and chilled out. I know he’s missing out academically, but realistically he’s not going to hit the grades, he’s four years behind, so we’ll just go down a different path. I’d much rather have opportunities like coming here than having a phone call from the school because he hasn’t coped. I mean, look at all the young adults here, this is great for them.”

“They need to keep Moulsecoomb Primary as a nurturing school. It’s a community school. The Head is great, at first I thought he was a bit soft, but I think that’s because he’d rather greet people and have them want to come to school. He’d rather be that happy face at the school door than that strict, firm person. You need the school to be understanding of children.”

“When I moved to Brighton I went to visit a few schools. One, when I mentioned my son had a few additional needs, said that this wasn’t the school for me, so I just walked out of there quite upset. I went into Mouslecoomb Primary School and I just felt so much different, I didn’t feel judged. And look at what they were offering. He previously went to an Outstanding Christian school and they offered me nothing. They wouldn’t let him go on school trips because he was too much of a high risk assessment – at Mouslecoomb he’s been to London, they had no problem with him. They have included him.”

“The Garden is quiet and relaxing. He has a few sensory issues, he’s having that quiet space that he doesn’t get at school. School is hectic and all day busy, so coming to the Garden he’s gaining confidence and life skills and he’s talking confidently to staff. It’s good to teach children that they can learn new skills and that there’s more than technology.”

The boy looked happy being at the Garden, there were no signs of his behavioural difficulties. He followed instructions, enjoyed the task he was set and was happy to complete it before having time to play. His Mum appeared relieved that she had found a school and a community space that accepted and included her son, and that would go the extra mile to ensure his educational needs were met – without judgement.

Shortly after collecting the frogspawn the boy ran off around the garden to begin looking under the 20 or so black rubber mats that are placed around the garden to attract slow worms and other creatures. An excitement went around the garden as he had the honour of finding the first lizard of the year!

The Garden also supports older young people through evidence-based qualifications that do not require written work. They can collate, with the help of the tutor, a portfolio of evidence based on photos and observations.

  1. Funding and partnerships

When I asked the Manager what the Garden and wider community needed, the answer – as with many small charities – was predictably ‘funding.’ With 25 years of experience the Garden staff are experienced at fundraising but also eking and making ends meet, but their unique position within the community provides a perspective that other organisations may not have.

They have become jaded with the demands of funders who offer grants remotely, requiring long application forms and detailed evaluations to be completed, so that they can take credit for work done by people they have never met in a community they have never visited.

Though there was also some concern about too much funding:

  • “When the New Deal Communities came they pumped £50m in, but everyone parachuted in taking nice jobs and the money went straight out.”

Too many dead ends have led the Garden to insist on a particular type of commitment from their funders, they now prioritise the funders and organisations that want to give them money, and so they have a small number of regular funders.

This stance is not always easy, two years ago the Garden was facing closure, but appeals to the community resulted in a steady stream of donations from ‘Friends of the Garden.’ They also make an income from supporting disabled volunteers and from working with schools.

There is a clear power imbalance associated with many funders and this needs to shift in favour of local community groups – which can be challenging. Some funders have done better than others with participatory grant making, but many still miss the opportunity to fully engage the community, or fail to devolve the power.

  • “We used to do the Mouslecoomb tour. We’d bring people here and they’d have a cup of tea or lunch, then go to Moulsecoomb Primary and meet the Head and see the school grounds, then they would go to Men in Sheds and then they’d end up at the Bevvy and see the tail end of the Friday Friends and have a pudding.”

The Garden is well networked and plugged into other local community groups. The community has the infrastructure and administration capacity within it to manage a community wide grant and to pass on the funds to the many smaller organisations in the area. Together they have networks that span nursery aged children to people in their 90s and a range of activities and social cohesion routes available to suit a variety of needs and interests:

  • “We cover the population of 18,000 – not everyone old person wants to sit around and play bingo and have a meal, but would do a bit of woodwork and have a chat that way.” – Manager

With some funders, after a visit, if the representative liked the idea then they would argue the case for funding within their organisation. There is some frustration that whilst the initial approach is more hands on and welcome, that having to impress one person sufficiently so that they advocate for you reduces the participatory nature of grant making:

  • “This is insane, why can’t I argue my case?” – Manager

There may also be a lack of appreciation from funders for the existing structures. Some funders applied pressure to establish additional committees and hold more meetings. One, after engaging the wider community, cherry-picked small individual projects to support. There also appears to be an obsession with policies – health and safety, child protection, minimum living wage – and whilst not disputing their purpose, they are often a barrier to small organisations, yet there must be a way to ensure compliance with regulations and embrace best practice without judgement and disproportionate administration.

The community organisations are networked – and can and do work together well. On day one of Covid Lockdown One the community set up meals on wheels for vulnerable people. Twenty organisations came together, including five different churches, schools, food banks and other community groups to deliver meals to people who would have normally accessed them through local provision, such as those provided by the Bevvy community pub.

Accepting that governance and oversight is required for managing grants, funders would be encouraged to consider how they give up the power, how they shift the balance of decision-making and how to engage in meaningful dialogue with communities to ensure investment builds on existing local infrastructure.

  • “We are fortunate that our Trustees are well connected, but there are many groups without that clout who are neglected and often voiceless. Most people are scared to bite the hand that feeds them.” – Manager

The Garden also faces the challenge of how to represent their beneficiaries. The area is high on the index of multiple deprivation. A lot is hidden poverty, there is a lot of space and Mouslecoomb is close to some of the best that nature and city living has to offer. However, the area itself experiences social and financial deprivation – and within that many individuals and families are struggling more than their neighbours. With many grant makers, to attract funding requires describing beneficiaries in the worst possible terms, neglecting their positive attributes and reducing their existence to a series of needs and deficits.

Corporate funders perpetuate this model. Many are looking for the best corporate social responsibility stories to tell and are often more worried about their image than impact. The media have a role to play too. One left leaning daily came to do a piece on the Bevvy pub and asked to be directed to the worst looking areas for photos. Most likely to play up to middle-class stereotypes of a council estate to highlight the plight and deprivation. They did not get that photo.

Class bias affects the assets made available to communities like Mouslecoomb. Staff at the Garden prefer to think of the area as “Rich beyond the index of multiple index of deprivation.”

Where funder’s representatives have lived experience of growing up and living and working in areas with similar demographics and circumstances their engagement is a lot more meaningful, though that does not necessarily cut through the exclusive attitudes and systems of an organisation.

So, what the Garden needs is a little regular and reliable funding that provides some breathing space to allow them to be a little pickier and more choosey about the funders that work with the community. Those who will respect the work that is already going on – and that has been for years. Those that will visit the community to see where the money is going. Those willing to work with the community and give up some of the power. Those who are mindful about their hoops and processes and willing consider how these are best applied to networks of small community groups.

This is not about being ungrateful or feeling like money is deserved with no questions asked. It is rather that the community and individuals within it have been on the receiving end of bad policy and bad grant making and they know there must be a better, more inclusive way to co-produce community impact.

It would also help the area if, when new environmental initiatives, such as rewilding, come up that the young adults like those the Garden works with get these jobs. To keep the money in the local area, to provide a living for local people and to increase the community connections to the outdoors.

Finally, for the big organisations: there is a place for partnerships between big organisations and local groups and the Garden engages with a number of these. But to create an impact requires a relationship with the community, to go it alone is often futile. Seek out and support existing community networks and work on a meaningful level with community members.

  • “This is our patch, we’ve got to know the families. There is an element of trust. It’s taken a long time to get local people to engage with and trust the garden team. Many big organisations are not willing to put the leg work in.”
  • “Don’t think you can advertise an event, not matter how good it is, and expect people to turn up.“
  • “We run summer events, but we’ve been here 25 years, I’ve been working in the school for 15 years and everyone trusts us – and even we have low hit rates.”
  • “It’s very long term and so much stuff is quick fix, which I understand Governments have to do to get elected, but big organisations don’t.” But it’s harder and many of the people come from a different class. A lot of the organisations can’t be arsed to engage local people.”

The YHA is supporting Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Moulsecoomb Primary School to develop connections to nature close to home and are offering visits and overnight stays for children and families around the local area and further afield. By supporting the work of the Garden and other community groups the YHA hopes to make the most of what is already available. They are sharing their own assets and resources with the community to increase the reach and depth of the outdoor experience.