As the music pulsed and the models strutted up and down the makeshift catwalk, the audience cheered as the latest ethical fashions were put on show.
From outfits created from recycled plastic bottles, to dresses made from train tickets. The crowd were educated and entertained at the ethical fashion show at Tuppenny Barn sustainable living education centre, near Emsworth, on Friday night.
The fantastic venue, in almost three acres of once-overgrown, unloved land, has, in the past year alone, given 1,000 schoolchildren the opportunity to plant fruit, vegetables and herbs, grow and then cook with them. From fork to fork.
One of the models strutting her stuff on the catwalk was Tuppenny Barn’s chief executive Maggie Haynes. It was her vision, passion and determination to educate children about where their food comes from, and to embrace organic sustainability, that has made Tuppenny Barn the thriving charity it is today.
But Maggie, a mum-of-two, trod a rather surprising path to get here. The 59-year-old joined the British Army at 16 and went into the Intelligence Corp.
She says: ‘It was a really interesting career. It was at the height of the Cold War and I served in all the major army theatres – Berlin, north Germany, two tours of Northern Ireland.
‘My first tour was the MOD, in Whitehall. I was 17 and I learned a lot about life at a very early age.’
In 1991 Maggie was commissioned and became the first woman to go through the ranks and join the Intelligence Corp as Captain. She says: ‘I was very conscious that I was going to be the first woman to do the job. I had to be three times as good as men. I absolutely worked my socks off.’
Following the IRA bombing of the Royal Marines School of Music, in Deal, Kent, in 1989, the army took over the security of the Royal Marines, from the Royal Navy.
Maggie says: ‘I had the honour of being the first female army officer to command Royal Marines. My job was to advise them on their security measures, investigate incidents and counter-terrorism. It was a fantastic tour – we worked hard and played hard. We had a great time.’
After her son Ben was born she had to make a decision about whether to continue her military career. ‘My last tour was in Wiltshire, looking after the south west. During that time it was Kosovo and a lot of my troops went out there. Some of my male colleagues asked why I wasn’t going. But I was still breastfeeding and I could not possibly leave my son at such a vulnerable age, and I did not want to do an injustice to the women behind me.’
Maggie retired from the army and went on to have daughter Lucy, now 20. It was while weaning the children she first thought about going organic. ‘I looked at the pesticides and chemicals in food and I was horrified. A carrot was sprayed up to 15 times, and we were eating that.’
Having yearned to do something more meaningful, Maggie decided to start an organic smallholding and combine it with education.
‘I realised some children had no idea what was going on in the environment’ she says. ‘They didn’t even know what a gooseberry was. A lot of them lived off microwave meals and had little veg in their diet.’
After a three-year search for the perfect site, Maggie bought the fields off Main Road, near Emsworth, in 2004. ‘The grass was taller than me,’ she laughs. ‘M y first purchase was a kettle so I made myself a cup of tea, looked around and thought, “what have I done?” I’d never grown anything before.’
It’s been a hard slog, with almost constant money worries, but the old asbestos-ridden hut has been replaced, thanks to grants and generous donations, with a timber-framed straw-bale building, with a large kitchen for children to cook in. There’s an organic shop, regular sustainability events, the fields are full of solar tunnels, an orchard, and a herb garden.
Tuppenny Barn is always buzzing, busy with employees, volunteers, visitors and shoppers picking up their veg packs. There are yoga classes, craft shows, conferences and even weddings.
Tuppenny Barn works closely with Park Community School in Leigh Park. There are adult education classes and a project has begun supporting veterans with PTSD through horticultural therapy.
Maggie puts her tenacity in seeing her vision through down to her years in the military. ‘The army gives you a passion and teaches you about life. If you have goals, you go for them. You may go up and down on the journey but you have got to go for it.’
With a little help from my friends
Although Maggie is the founder and chief executive of Tuppenny Barn organics and its charity arm, Tuppenny Barn sustainable living education centre, she has had invaluable help along the way.
She says: ‘The most positive thing has been all the people I’ve met on the journey, amazing people, they have been so kind.
‘So many people have supported our work. It’s changed me as a person. ‘I understand a lot more about vulnerable people in our society.’
She credits her first employee, Becca Theed, as being her co-founder.
Sadly earlier this year Maggie lost her beloved mother Avril Vale who helped so much at Tuppenny over the years. She was a familiar face to visitors and shoppers and a huge support for Maggie.
In 2015 another supporter of Tuppenny Barn, and great friend to Maggie, died. Lizzie Dymock, from Emsworth, was the founder of Stansted Garden Show. Maggie says: ‘When Lizzie came on board she was relentless. She was a trustee and she would get stuck into everything. I was humbled to have been considered her friend.’ Her legacy is a large herb garden which will continue her good work for years to come.
To visit or donate, go to tuppennybarn.co.uk.