Balcombe’s Parishes in Bloom Written Submission 2022
Community involvement in Balcombe took on a new dimension in 2022 with the formation of Balcombe Friends of Ukraine. Within a few weeks, more than 90 people had expressed an interest in either hosting a family or helping in some other way. By June we had eight families hosting 17 Ukrainians through the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, with another two host families waiting for guests to arrive in July. All arrivals have been arranged by a resident who came here herself from Belarus some 20 years ago.
Balcombe Parish Council helped launch fund-raising for Ukrainian guests in the village with a £1,000 grant. Other private donations were made, and BFOU members soon got together to organise a Good-as-New Clothes Sale, with donations of quality clothes sold and raising more than £3,600. The money will be used by Ukrainian guests as and when needed for essential life requirements. Our village Craft and Produce Market raised a further £637, this time for the British Red Cross in Ukraine. Both events in June took over the Victory Hall, with our Ukrainian visitors helping to serve and sell teas, coffees and cakes at the market.
In a continuing show of solidarity, a further £800 was raised for Balcombe Friends of Ukraine and Sussex Aid for Refugees with a repeat of the previously popular Balcombe Breakfast. More than 100 people turned up for breakfast at Bramble Hall, with two families leading the catering provision and serving the food and drinks.
Individually, Balcombe residents have been helping with our Ukrainian efforts in other ways as well, namely, sourcing clothes, computers, toys, bikes and more for our refugees, offering lifts, organising English language lessons, and holding informal cooking mornings for the guests to come together to make traditional foods while chatting and reinforcing their bonds and friendships.
St Mary’s Church, as a registered charity, has taken on the responsibility of receiving and managing the proceeds of our fund-raising. BFOU volunteers have joined the church’s regular officers to distribute the monies as appropriate, according to Charity Commission rules
Balcombe Cricket Club and The Balcombe Club have both given free memberships to Ukrainian visitors, with the cricket club sponsoring the children’s membership of the All Stars coaching programme on Friday evenings. More than 60 children attend the junior sessions every Friday in the summer.
Balcombe Parish Council purchased and has been flying the Ukrainian flag on our village green in a show of solidarity, with St Mary’s Church posting a large banner, in a similar vein, on the roadside in front of its building.
BFOU members keep in touch via Whatsapp to exchange information, resources and support, as well as holding meetings when necessary to discuss how we move forward to help our Ukrainian guests and their host families.
Another big community occasion this year has been The Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Balcombe Club organised grants to help it pay for a day of free events for the whole village. These included an Afternoon Tea Party, a family BBQ and music and dancing party with free buffet.
Other villagers followed this with a Jubilee Picnic on the recreation ground, which was decorated with bunting and Union Jacks. A grant was also secured that helped pay for two bands to play during the afternoon when 500-plus people came together for a convivial time despite inclement weather.
In preparation for the Platinum Jubilee, Balcombe Parish Council liaised with a handful of volunteers to spruce up the pavilion in the park. Many afternoons and mornings were subsequently spent rubbing back and repainting the windows and guard shields, the doors and facias and improving the access at the rear of the building.
The Parish Council also supported the annual Litter Pick, helping with publicity and supplying bags and pickers.
A number of projects have been started at Balcombe CofE Primary School in the last 12 months, involving parents and governors. As last year, a parents’ volunteer day was held with painting and gardening tasks carried out. Two disused sailing dinghies were sunk into the ground for new play sites, and a school governor made two large raised boxes from recycled roof joists, which were subsequently filled with soil to create yet more play areas.
The head teacher and chair of the governors also initiated a ‘Nature Ninjas’ project for outdoor learning and interactions. They negotiated with Balcombe Estate to have use of a field and woodland at the back of the school for this project, with parents and governors helping to clear the area and build access steps. Classes are now time-tabled to include Nature Ninja afternoons, with a newly-appointed assistant leading the children’s learning. A designated ‘meadow’ area of the field will be used to support wildflowers and bee hives, with a parent taking on the task of ‘official beekeeper’ for the site.
Balcombe’s Guerrilla Gardeners continue to maintain the school pond as a conservation and learning resource. The volunteer group also maintain the four half-barrel planters at the school entrance, as well as 14 other planters around the village and on the station platforms. This year’s summer planting was done early in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a red, white and blue theme running across all sites.
The Guerrilla Gardeners lead a Village Tidy Day on July 9th when volunteers swept kerb-sides, weeded pavements in the village centre and in the recreation ground, picked up litter, trimmed shrubs and generally worked hard to show off our village at its best for the South & South East in Bloom judging.
The day complemented the ongoing work by Balcombe Community Links volunteers who maintain the village book shelves in the old village centre phone box and on the north-bound station platform.
The two-site allotments continue to thrive with much activity by Balcombe’s keen gardeners throughout the year. One allotment holder has even started a monthly column in the Parish Magazine, highlighting the many facetted joys of growing and harvesting different crops. So far, his columns have included growing and picking sweet peas, rhubarb and broad beans!
The magazine’s volunteer editors and type-setters have embraced this column in their design ideas, as they have with double-page spreads to highlight our big events including the Jubilee Picnic and the village Fete. The Fete Committee is busy as we write, preparing for another fabulous summer showpiece on July 16, with the usual arena of events, stalls, food, drink and music throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
The fete raises money for needy causes, as does the Balcombe Christmas Tree Society, which runs the fete beer tent throughout the day and evening. The Society also ran an outdoor Christmas Market at the end of 2021, following an initiative that began in the pandemic of 2020.
Again, following a relaunch during the pandemic of 2021, Balcombe Superstars took place in early spring, with children and adults competing in a variety of events. Balcombe Superstars folded a few years ago after more than two decades but seems to have re-established itself again thanks to the enthusiasm of a few courageous souls.
Likewise, the now well-establish Balcombe Bull Run took place in March, with some 130 runners coming from far and wide to take part. The 7.1km cross-country race raised an amazing £1,500-plus for the school, our local hospice and a mental health charity.
Many initiatives at the heart of our village revolve around enhancing and preserving the environment, conservation and horticulture, which are the themes of South & South East in Bloom.
A major project, sponsored by Balcombe Parish Council, is work to reproduce the long-standing walking leaflets of Balcombe and its surrounds. These had long been out of print and have now been redesigned to be included in one single foldout map, with descriptions of nine individual walks. The map has taken more than a year to produce and has involved collaboration between a working group which has revisited all the routes many times, adding updated information and photographs. After many checks, the map is now at the printing stage and will be launched at the Balcombe Village Fete on July 16th. It has been produced in cellophane covers and will be available for sale in the village shop.
Balcombe Parish Council continues with its work to redesign the busy village centre crossroads with plans for wider pavements, a designated crossing and planting schemes, all intending to slow traffic and make the area more pleasant and safer for pedestrians. The council is also continuing with a project to design and build village gateways on the main roads into the village. These will again be enhanced with careful planting schemes. Finally, it is embracing the idea of reducing the mowing regime of its contractors for the village green. This will allow the natural biodiversity of the area to flourish, making it a better environment for plants, pollinators and other wildlife.
Many more societies and organisations, too numerous to mention here, continue to thrive in Balcombe thanks to the strong community spirit that is the bedrock of this Sussex High Weald village. People appreciate how privileged they are to live here, and many give back in so many ways, not least, our Foodbank collections that are now into their 28 month.
News continues to be shared on village Facebook pages and on our own Balcombe Community website, with people who care quietly getting on with their tasks of sharing information and making sure we are an inclusive and conscientious community.