Diary

by
11 January 2013

By John Wall

ISTOCK

Saving a pub

I FOUND myself sitting on a low wall, wearing a cheesy grin, and trying to hold in my stomach while rearranging my double chins, and staring down the lens of a Sunday Telegraph photographer.

Personally, I blame Warren Carter, a local anarchist activist who is also a splendid fellow governor at the equally splendid Moulsecoomb Primary School. "'Ere, Father John," he said one day. "You know the Bevy they closed a couple of years ago? There's a real danger it's going to be redeveloped into flats: what about turning it into a co-op pub?"

So started my involvement with the local derelict pub, the Bevendean Hotel - or "Bevy", as it is generally known (Diary, 10 October 2008).

It has been an interesting media helter-skelter over the past month, starting with the launch on 1 December. (See it on Facebook/theBevy.) The Brighton Argus was hugely tickled, and did a nice article, "Brighton congregation prays for pub's future", with a picture of me in a wide-brimmed clerical hat I only ever wear for a laugh.

The media coverage then snowballed, often, unsurprisingly, from the "funny vicar" angle. The Sunday Mirror put us in as "Vicar prays for success of pub deal"; The Guardian put us in more soberly as "Keeping it local this Christmas: the rise of the community co-op". We got everywhere, from Wales on Sunday to Wigan Today and the Liverpool Echo. My favourite strapline, though, is one of the 70-odd websites that we landed on, namely "Ale Mary". We have now raised more than £5500 with some 220 share-holders: a good start.

Mirror, mirror

THE last time I got into anything like this was when I was involved, a few years ago (thanks to the Church Times) with an advertising campaign for Slendertone, which resulted in a media feeding frenzy, including a brush with Irish Radio. All rather surreal, really.

It was all dying down, when The Sunday Telegraph rang. It was doing a good-news article on what the Church of England contributes nationally: it had asked every diocese in the country what three things they were most proud of, and I was hugely touched that the diocese of Chichester had made us one of theirs.

So it was that I found myself sitting self-consciously, and slightly queasily, on a wall outside "the Bevy". And the result? The article came out, mercifully, without a photo: it was decided that Canterbury Cathedral was more photogenic, and I could not agree more.

Good keepers

ON A cold and frosty morning, I found myself clambering over frozen mud in unaccustomed wellingtons, encouraging Moulsecoomb schoolchildren (the ones who had escaped the novovirus, at any rate), to plant an orchard of apple trees next to "the Keep", the new Records Archive for East Sussex and Sussex University.

I blame Warren Carter, who remains an anarchist activist, but with a decided horticultural bent. His day job is the hugely successful Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project, a group of allotments where a range of people come to invest time and energy in learning how to make things grow. Young children who can be in real difficulties at school seem to click into place at the allotments, and Warren is spearheading similar allotment-growing schemes in local schools.

When the project was vandalised and their tree-house/store was burnt down, the local community was livid, and money and equipment were liberally donated (we gave some catering stuff from the church hall). So they are now building an architect-designed tree-house that would be the envy of any Tarzan.

I was at Warren's allotments - eating, I remember, some very good pork baked in cider - when Warren came up. "'Ere, Fr John," he said. "Meet this lot: they want to plant apple trees." They were from the Brighton Permaculture Project, and had, amazingly for these times, obtained grants to plant heritage fruit trees: and they were looking for places to plant orchards of them.

I then had an idea of which I am terribly proud: where better to have an archive of heritage Sussex apples than by the new document archive being built at the north of the parish? I put them in touch with Wendy Walker, the redoubtable project manager for "The Keep", and so there we were, a few months later, 100 yards or so from the tall, new sepia-coloured mass of "the Keep", planting trees.

There was a Brighton Argus shoot for this, too, but mercifully I was late, and missed it. I think I have had enough media coverage for a while.

One last thing: it is an oddly comforting thought that, years after I have left St Andrew's and Moulsecoomb, and years after any connection with "the Bevy" has been forgotten, this little apple orchard will be there, softening the bulk of the depository in a haze of pink and white apple blossom.

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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