Welcome to the orchard site!

We’ve been wanting a distinct orchard website for a while, and have decided to set it up as part of the wider Highbury Community Partnership website. It gives the orchard project a clearer point of contact for first-time visitors, whilst fitting within the wider set of Highbury projects.

The orchard project itself has several kinds of activity, including the community orchard, woodcrafting, outdoor education, woodland conservation, heritage and well-being activities. Each of these will get a better presentation as branches, offshoots and fruit of the main project!

A bit of description about each, then?

Highbury Community Orchard

Notice the way we’ve switched the words around? The community orchard is being created by the orchard community. It’s a project that was established through the efforts of six people, and the support of several others. Ellen alerted David to the old apple and pear trees; Oz wanted to set up a community orchard; Alys assessed the site potential and got us started with a project plan; Sue arranged permission and Tony supported our bid for some running costs.

The first work party was on 10.10.10, and included a dozen people interested in local food and sustainability issues. Since then, we’ve had regular work sessions on the first and third Sundays of every month, and occasional sessions in between. There’s more about the schedule below.

The priority for the orchard is to maintain the legacy of Chamberlain-era fruit. This is a long-term aim that needs a bunch of other things to happen first. We need to learn grafting techniques, we need to set up a nursery, and a planting plan. For that, we need a committed crew of volunteers, plus a variety of tools and resources.

This leads to a wider range of activities, like…

Creating Amenity Space

Most of our volunteers join in because they’ve wandered through and are curious about what we’re doing. They already enjoy the space, and are pleased to work – and relax – with a bunch of like-minded people. That amenity value has been part of the project from the start. We keep it going by having regular social events, and by spending time sitting and chatting after a work session.

Permaculture & Forest Gardens Demonstration Site

The site is small, as orchards go. The sunny open space is about 50m by 20m; about half an acre. It will never be a commercially viable orchard, so it needs support from related activities.

We might get 20 trees in that space, if we plant them as standards. But we’ve got a lot of woodland understory, so we reckon that a forest garden could work. That fits with the sustainability agenda. It’s also a good size for demonstration gardens – a kind of training centre for would-be forest gardeners. So we hit on the idea of doing a permaculture training project, like the one at Offshoots, in Burnley.

Education, Training and Certification

The scope for education includes other things, from setting up woodworking sessions to running outdoor education scheme for local schools. So we are pursuing several possibilities in a variety of directions.

Our first success is the 2012 Summertastic scheme for 5-11 year olds in the August school holidays.

Wellbeing and Community

We keep meeting people who view the orchard project as a kind of therapy. From people who want to de-stress, to people who are looking for ways to feel part of something or to get back on their feet after a being knocked back by a health, employment, or relationship crisis. In that respect, the Orchard Community provides a welcoming, safe, and task-oriented space for people to use as a personal resource in maintaining their own well-being.

Our experience over the past 2 years is that it’s a haven for a diverse bunch of people who are interested in taking care of themselves by taking care of the environment in a sort of fellowship with other people. We are finding that our efforts to preserve the Chamberlain food and gardening legacy is also about preserving other things, including their concern for the wider community.

We’ve had some one-off visits from organised groups too: All Saints Youth Project, BITA Pathways, The Bridge pupil referral unit, and Swanswell (recovery from drug and alcohol abuse).

History & Heritage

The orchard site has been farmland for as long as anyone can tell. The Chamberlains built glasshouses, barns, and kitchen gardens here. Before that it was meadow or tilled earth. We’ve been surprised and intrigued by the things we’ve unearthed, and the stories we’ve heard. So part of our project is about exploring, recording, and re-telling the stories this place contains. We do that through history walks, library research, oral histories, storytelling, photography, and other kinds of creative interpretation.

It’s a wrap

We’ve got something that’s more than a community orchard. It’s about fruit trees and the people who’ve come together to support each other in the creation of that vision and the land itself. Highbury Orchard Community is about connecting people to each other and this particular bit of land, and of course taking care of both.

When to find us

As mentioned above, we have scheduled sessions twice a month. As shown below. Please come by and spend a few minutes, or hours, with us!

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