The Growing Orchard Communities project linked community orchard groups to a wider support network - Orchard Link. Orchard Link was established in 1998 by a group of orchard campaigners and enthusiasts in response to the declining condition and number of traditional orchards, the loss of apple varieties, the wastage of apple crops from small traditional orchards and the needs of orchard owners for help and support.
It was delivered by the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team, in partnership with Orchard Link. In total £86,800 of funding was secured, including a grant of £40,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other funding was secured through the Langage Landscape Fund, South Devon AONB Sustainable Development Fund, Orchard Link funds, Devon County Council locality grants and private sector funding.
Traditional Devon orchard in all its spring glory
Orchards are a distinctive feature of the South Devon landscape. Almost every farm had an orchard to provide cider, juice, cooking and eating apples for the family, workers and the wider community. 60% of Englands orchards have disappeared since the 1950s. In Devon, the figure is higher still at 90%.
This project has tackled this issue by working with volunteer community orchard groups to improve their skills and expertise in order for them to safeguard the ongoing good management of existing orchards in their parishes. We also worked with them to help them better engage their communities to engender a sense of ownership of these important shared spaces in their villages.
Apple day celebrations, Newton and Noss community orchard
The project has been hugely successful with thousands of people enjoying the fruit of the community orchard groups labours! The sites are now well managed by 23 groups of skilled and enthusiastic volunteers, with action plans to take them forward for the next 5 years. They are thriving with the support of their communities and each other, as well as the wider Orchard Link network.
23 community orchard groups from across South Devon have been part of this exciting project. The project was launched at Sharpham House and community orchard in November 2015.
Feed the trees event, Cornwood and Lutton community orchard
The project was made up of 2 main strands of work - community engagement and landscape enhancements.
The orchard groups we worked with all wanted to involve more people from their local communities in looking after and enjoying their orchards, as well as ensuring that their members had the skills needed to ensure that their orchard sites were healthy and well managed.
"I have personally valued the skill and enthusiasm and support or your organisation, gently moving us forward. Simply - many thanks for all your support over the last two years." Jonny, Wembury community orchard group
"An unexpected outcome of the project for us was the added value of networking with other orchard volunteers and an enhanced relationship with Orchard Link." Peter S, Dartmouth community orchard group
"It was lovely having everyone, adults and children in the orchard - crafting benches, carving a sign, making a noticeboard, drinking tea and sitting around the fire. It felt like we were all creating this community space together and that all that love and enthusiasm would live on in the things that we made. It was lovely to see the orchard becoming not just a place where we grow trees but a place where we celebrate together, learn together and come together as a community." Fiona, participant at a community orchard event.
What we have all learned during this project is a great resource that can be used by community orchard groups anywhere. To make sharing this easy, we have built a new website for Orchard Link which is full of advice, information and an online toolkit of resources, free to download for community orchard volunteers anywhere.
We have an image sharing site on Flickr, with over 600 photos uploaded; new community apple songs on Soundcloud; films and videos on YouTube and a project page on Facebook. We also produced a project e-newsletter - The Apple Press. 12 issues were sent out via Mailchimp to 117 subscribers.
"I find your website very useful and regularly peruse for advice and tips." Pat, Bruton, Somerset
The continued good management of these community orchards is vital to the success of this project. As well as equipping the volunteers with the skills they need to look after the sites, we also helped them to write simple 5 year management plans and provide site specific expert advice and mentoring. They were also able to draw down a small site improvement grant to carry out some of the works identified in their plan.
These plans and advice will ensure management continuity of the orchard sites and has helped some of the groups attract further funding.
"We had a great day today! Charles did a good hour of pruning theory first. Then we pruned several differently aged trees to give us experience. Back to village hall for lunch with homemade cakes. Finally, back to orchard and pruned nearly ALL the other trees. So, many thanks to Charles and everyone for a brilliant day AND a good job done!!" Penny, Holbeton community orchard group
This project has helped orchard groups to look after their sites as important and enjoyable resources for their communities.
The total volunteer contribution (as specified by HLF guidance) made to the project totals £137,150 and is equivalent to 1283 volunteer days.
These volunteers ran events in their community orchards which were attended by 2501 members of the community.
Celebrating fruitfulness network day, Holbeton community orchard
This project has been a great success, we have worked with hundreds of people, from local residents, orchard volunteers and school children, to cooks, artists, keen amateurs and friendly experts!
Here is what some of the people involved had to say...
"Just to thank you for such an inspiring re-enactment and wassail workshop last autumn, so good that Modbury did its own last Satuirday - over a hundred people came, helped by the vicar, the town crier, sausages from the Beavers, mulled apple juice and some great singing from the school...All your notes and print outs were vital in the planning - we wouldn't have had a clue otherwise! Wassail has certainly grabbed everyones attention here and we already have more names to help with expanding our Galpin street orchard." Charlotte, Modbury community orchard group
"The weekend really brought our community together in a way that I haven't felt before. It was creative, supportive and bonding to all get together and work to create something of beauty for the orchard. The vibe was one of willingness and happiness. I felt like the orchard evolved in quite a substantial way that weekend, with a lot of community energy put in to it. Basically, it was a really great weekend!" Sarah, member of community, from event at Huxhams Cross community orchard
"Please can I reiterate the childrens enjoyment for the project. I know the group I took to the orchard loved being part of the filming process. The party during the weekend was a success and something which I hope the orchard friends promote next year too." Bonnie Chivers, Head of primary school, Dartmouth Academy
We would like to express our thanks to everyone who has helped make this project such a success - our funders, local communities and the Orchard Link project steering group - we coudn't have done it without you!
But most of all we would like to say a huge thank you to the many volunteers who spend their weekends and spare time looking after the orchards and sharing their passion for these amazing places with their communities.
"It has revitalised the community working in the orchard and local interest which in turn has enabled much improved tree care. The orchard looks really well cared for and people are aware of the events and have already been asking about future events (juicing day). Thank you very much for your support - this project has really helped us to re-engage with our community orchard and we will try to maintain this enthusiasm. Our top tip is wheel barrow joisting - it went down a storm!" Gill, Cornwood community orchard group
If you would like to find out more about the Growing Orchard Communities project, there is a whole lot to see...