A train from Seaford took me to Southease, which surely is one of the most lovely places to get off a train in Sussex! The station sits almost on the path of the South Downs Way which runs from Winchester in the west to the cliffs of the Seven Sisters and the town of Eastbourne in the east. Southease itself lies the other side of the river, a tiny village, with a pretty church. From here there are lovely rural walks in all directions, along the Ouse river valley or up to the ridges of the South Downs.
If walking (or cycling) the South Downs Way long distance bridle-path a few years ago, you had to try and cross the very busy A26 near this point, but now you will find a sleek new footbridge which makes it a lot safer.
The bridge was part of a £5m project on the site of Itford Farm, near Beddingham, a development was originally conceived and progressed by Active Lewes, a Lewes-based not-for-profit organisation, transforming the ancient farm buildings into a youth Hostel and café which eventually become YHA South Downs. Fundraising started in 2001 with support and contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund, South Downs, National Park, Sustainable Communities Fund, the South East Regional Development Agency, Viridor Waste Management, Veolia Waste Management, East Sussex County Council, the Highways Agency and Active Lewes.
I caught up with the manager James Wilkinson who kindly gave me a tour of the site, and told me about the ideas to develop the site further.
The popular hostel currently has 66 beds in a selection of dorm and private rooms in the farmhouse and barn buildings, which have communal areas for camping and relaxation. Camping pods are also now available, and bell tents and landpods can also be hired for a real glamping experience! In the courtyard you’ll find a busy licenced cafe which is open all day, perfect for refreshments for passing walkers, and for breakfasts and evening meals for residents.
Round the site, there are still a number of derelict/unused barns and other farm buildings that could be potentially be developed into further accommodation, education or social areas. The centre also has excellent modern meeting facilities which can be hired by other organisations, a great place to organise an event.
What’s probably less well known, is the amount of additional land that came with the Itford site, most of which has still to be fully utilised. Recently at the back of the fields used for outdoor activities for youth groups, a number of beehives have been located managed primarily by Brighton and Lewes beekeepers. On the schedule for this year is to transform nearby fields with wild flower meadows (with some help from South Downs National Park)
The land includes a number of neglected inaccessible ponds, overgrown trees, and old grazing fields full of nettles but the vision is to make this a nature reserve, with an accessible trail that winds through areas of trees, ponds, reed-beds and meadows, a great learning environment for school and other groups, and an enjoyable place for visitors.
There’s a lot to do, (and a lot of funding to secure!) before this vision becomes a reality. It’s an ambitious plan but with the right partners involved, surely achievable. It would be wonderful for the Greenhavens area to have a new public green space to explore and use, in this special area of the South Downs National Park, and would undoubtedly be another attraction for visitors to the hostel and surrounding area. We look forward to hearing how the plans progress, and how the Greenhavens community can get involved.