Moulsecoomb Forest Garden

A builder isn’t really a builder without dirty hands. They’d probably be a project manager or the owner of a construction company. Russell Pountney, at Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, has quite dirty hands so he passes the test but he has the dirtiest feet that I have ever seen which I didn’t quite understand until I was shown around the project’s latest eco structure.

Moulsecoomb Forest Garden was created in 1994 by Warren Carter and a group of determined friends. 2014 is, therefore, its 20th anniversary. It is hidden away behind Moulsecoomb Station on a south-facing plot of land that previously served as ten allotments. In fact, it is still rented from Brighton & Hove City Council as though it were allotments but it now incorporates some woods behind as well.

A very diverse range of individuals works hard throughout the year to make the most of this inner-city oasis. 20 volunteers at any one time is not uncommon. They need stores, shelters, classrooms and meeting spaces if their work is to be both enjoyable and fulfilling.

Arson was the cause of the destruction of the group’s previous, smaller, communal building (known as ‘the shed’) in 2011. The new shed has risen from the ashes in the form of a chestnut-framed two-storey structure that carries out all sorts of functions. It measures 6m by 6m and consists of a storeroom downstairs with an airy flexible area above. Despite its size, it has been created with just hand tools (along with the odd battery drill which is probably a hand tool anyway).

Russell Pountney designed the new building and is leading on the project with his apprentice Russell Kingston. It occupies an enviable spot at the top of the steep plot which means incredible views across the Lewes Road valley but also a long walk with heavy materials. Douglas fir from Sussex, old glass bottles, recycled plastic ‘slates’, clay, sand and straw have all been lugged up from the road below. The clay, sand and straw are mashed together by feet (often the Russells’) to make the perfect cob mix which covers the shed’s internal walls. It can last for hundreds of years.

Volunteers (and any potential donors!) are welcome throughout the whole year though the group’s special 20th anniversary celebrations in September might be a good time to get started. See the group’s website,, to donate – or get really muddy.