We have come a long way since the Tuppenny Barn project started in 2005. Our fruit and vegetable production is properly established and the yield has increased considerably year on year. We never stop learning and are keen to embrace new methods and to trial different ways of growing and improving our production rate.
The vegetable bag scheme offering weekly supplies of fresh, seasonal produce has steadily increased in popularity since it began in 2007 and we have a lovely, loyal group of customers who call in every week to collect their orders and are very supportive of everything we do at Tuppenny Barn.
Despite a general decrease in the supermarket uptake of organic fruit and vegetables over the past couple of years, we feel that our own customers recognise the benefits in eating locally produced organic food. To this end we have benefitted from the decision by some major supermarkets (not Waitrose who have added Duchy products to its range) to decrease their organic fruit and vegetable lines.
Our Portacabin shop now opens two days a week on Thursdays and Fridays to try to give local consumers an alternative to the supermarkets – freshly cropped produce grown on our doorsteps with no food miles to add to the environmental impact. We hope that our current customers spread the word to others in the community to increase sales and support the viability of the business.
But it has not been easy. Our journey since 2005 has been extremely hard as, like many small business, we have had to work hard to survive in such austere times. If the truth be known we have nearly been a failed business statistic on more than one occasion – it was a case of holding one’s nerve and staying optimistic. The business operates on a shoestring on a daily basis and we rely heavily on the support and involvement of a wonderful group of volunteers to see us through such a difficult time.
We believe that once the education centre is up and running we will get the stability we need to ensure we become a truly sustainable business in the long term. Without our support team the situation could have been very different. Tuppenny Barn Education now has five Trustees who do an amazing job in supporting the social enterprise, and I feel indebted to each and every one of them for what they have done and continue to do for the project.
We are also very lucky in having a small team of volunteers that help out with tasks at the field on a regular basis. Lindsay Hopper is our chief volunteer and she comes to us once a week come rain/snow or torrential rain! She and all the other volunteers are hugely appreciated for all that they do for the project.
Our school visit programme has gone from strength to strength and this year, as well as our regulars, we are hoping to attract new schools who haven’t visited the project before. We are also hoping to arrange more visits from community groups so they can view first hand how an organic horticulture smallholding operates and learn our sustainable working practices.
Work has started on the education centre and we feel very proud that it is taking shape now on a daily basis. The main oak structure was completed and the roof infrastructure is finished. Next came the cedar wood shingles – all 25,000 of them – followed by the flooring. Everyone asks for a completion date. I respond by saying we are building according to the bank balance. We still have to raise in excess of £80,000 to see it properly finished so we are working hard on fund-raising and securing grants.
We have been very fortunate to have the support of West Sussex County Council, Chichester District Council, the RDPE Leader fund and Chichester Harbour Conservancy as our major fund contributors to date. Without their support we certainly wouldn’t have got to where we are at now and we are extremely grateful for all the support received.
This year as well as stepping up our Sponsor a Straw Bale scheme to raise funds for the build, we held an extremely successful open day on 24th June to coincide with the ‘Southbourne Celebrates’ weekend.
More details about events and projects at Tuppenny Barn can be found on our new website. We decided to create a fresh look at our enterprise in view of the number of things happening and we promise to issue regular updates on news and events, in particular progress on the education centre.