I’ll come clean. My enthusiasm for country walking is what caused me to join the Friends of the South Downs in the first place. Yes, I was at that stage vaguely aware of the other work we do around the broader issue of conservation but it was definitely the extensive programme of walks and strolls which drew me in. And, on joining, I quickly learned that the connection between the FSD and putting one boot in front of another on the South Downs was present at the very beginning of the organization, with the legendary walk near Peacehaven in 1923 undertaken by Robert Thurston Hopkins and Capt. Irvine Bately. But it’s not just a walking club.
In my defence, starting from that narrow base, my increasing involvement with the Friends did result in me better understanding the range and scale of the work undertaken by us to make a reality of our objective of being ‘the only membership organization dedicated to protecting the South Downs’. But, goodness, since I am a trustee who has just recently been re-elected, it would be more than somewhat embarrassing if I had not significantly improved on my initial ignorance.
However, knowledge sometimes isn’t sufficient to drive home a key realization; it needs to be reinforced by personal experience. For me, this happened very specifically at Truleigh Hill YHA, just north of Shoreham-on-Sea, in May 2023. On that day I was privileged to be present at a field trip made by schoolchildren from Herons Dale special needs primary school, and arranged by So Sussex, a company specializing in outdoor educational experiences on the South Downs.
It was very humbling to observe the excitement and stimulation experienced by the kids, and to understand that this could not have been achieved inside a classroom. Humbling also to know that this event, and other such trips in So Sussex’s ‘Explorers of the South Downs’ project, would not have happened without funding from the Friends, made possible by a recent legacy left to us.
One of the major themes in our Centenary celebrations is education and understanding, since the FSD believes that one of the key ways we can safeguard the South Downs in the future is to encourage the interests of children and young people. As a result, Explorers of the South Downs is just one of a number of similarly themed projects we are supporting.
So not just a walking club!
The Friends of the South Downs is owned and run by its members and there are many ways in which you can help.
We have many volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, skills and fitness levels; so, if you are able to give up some of your time to help us, you’ll meet many interesting and sociable people who really care and work hard to help protect the landscape and heritage of the South Downs.
We are almost totally reliant on our volunteers in helping us achieve our aims and objectives so anyone offering to become a volunteer is always made very welcome. Here are some of the typical activities you can help us with.