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It’s a bright and windy April morning and in a field near Bradfield St George, there’s a buzz of activity. Children in brightly- coloured waterproof suits run
around with mud on their hands. Some are enjoying exploring a large mound of dirt, their excited voices ringing out through the country air. In the background, you can hear the hum of insects and the sprinkling of a hose as vegetables are watered.
This is West Suffolk Hive, a new family-centred community space founded by Steph Holland, a self- described ‘gatherer of lovely people’. Its aim is to bring people together, helping them to forge a deeper connection with nature and each other, while learning about, and caring for, the environment.
Steph first had the idea for The Hive when she was just 14: “I drew a picture of a child-friendly cafe that had nice things for the children to do, and comfy stuff for the parents to sit on. I think it was called ‘Haven’ at the time,” she says. “Unfortunately I lost that drawing but the vision hasn’t changed much.”
Her plan came to fruition in 2019, when the council suggested she combine three groups she was running - St Edmundsbaby, West Suffolk Home Education Hub and Nature Explorers. She brought together a group of people who shared her dream and The Hive became a registered Community Interest Company. The Hive now has two other directors, Claire Unwin and Kimberley Goldsmith, as well as 18 trustees.
In March 2020 they took over the lease on a 3.5 acre plot of land owned by the local Parochial Church Council. Their progress on the site has been impressive - so far, they’ve planted 200 trees, dug a pond and built a log cabin and bird hides.
The land came with three polytunnels. One has become a place to socialise and relax, with refreshment making facilities and an area for learning, with books and educational resources. The other two are being used to grow fruit, vegetables and saplings.
There’s a large meadow being left to rewild, a bee hive, a mud
kitchen and a fire pit. There’s
also a pumpkin patch in
progress - the mound of earth that the children are currently playing on.
There was already running water but an exciting new addition is the composting toilet.
As hoped, The Hive is home to a diverse range of wildlife - “It’s been really interesting, seeing what lives here. We’ve now been here a full year so we know we’ve got an enormous variety of different mammals and birds,” Steph says. Many of these residents - including jays, mice, badgers, muntjac, foxes and hares - can be watched through webcams on The Hive’s website.
While many of the events and workshops planned for 2020 had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, toddler groups were allowed to continue and these became the main focus, providing parents with much-needed social interaction:
“We found a group of people who were reality benefitting from being here, some of them came to be in an outdoor place, some of them because they really wanted to socialise in a safe place. It’s been really nice for people to feel a little sense of normal I think.
“Apart from improving mental health, the physical benefits of getting exercise outside for children - things like their resilience, their problem-solving, and a respect for where we live - I think are really important. It’s a way for them to slow down and absorb what’s around them.“
Despite a challenging start, The Hive’s community has continued to grow. They now have 35 members and around 100 people have signed up to the eco forum.
Once they are fully operational, Steph says she’d like to involve the local villages, providing vegetables
for their harvest festivals and working with Rougham and
Cockfield schools and the church that owns the land. “We had lots
of beautiful plans to work with lots of nice people, so we’re
slowly bringing some
Buzzing with life
A sense of community is at the heart of the West Suffolk Hive, an outdoor project near Bradfield St George. Melanie Weaver dons her wellies to find out more
 People person: Steph Holland. Below, webcams on The Hive site have shown foxes to be sometime visitors

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