In early January, on a chilly grey afternoon I arrived in Warrington. Residents of Verve Place, a centre for temporary housing, braved the cold and gathered on the garden forecourt. Waiting for them were Fruit-full Communities trainers Angie and Gabi, a stack of tools, and four young fruit trees.
This centre is one of 26 sites taking part in Fruit-full Communities – a project supporting young people in supported housing to design and plant an orchard in their grounds. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Our Bright Future’, Fruit-full Communities introduces young people to outdoor activities and skills, while improving their confidence and teaching about global environmental issues and sustainability. The project is run by Learning Through Landscapes, in partnership with ITF, the Orchard Project and YMCA England.
Putting the plans into action
The young people taking part were there to begin implementing the orchard design, created in previous workshops. In these sessions residents decided on the tree placement, the fruit types they wanted to grow and the layout of the beds and recreational area. Now it was time to plant the orchard’s first trees, in the cold months of the year when trees are in their dormant stage. I went along to help out and meet some of the people taking part.
The session began with Angie and participants lighting a portable bonfire and learning to use a storm kettle, from which we made much-needed cups of hot chocolate and tea. While our hands warmed up, Angie demonstrated how a fruit tree should be planted – with the ‘knob’, or ‘graft union’, free of the soil.
Participants Ryan, Shelby, Anya, Matthew, Joshua, Chris and Chris gamely took to digging holes, planting the trees (two apple, two cherry) and knocking in stakes. One resident brought out a portable speaker, which was opened to the group for suggestions – adding a soundtrack to the afternoon which varied between heavy metal, R&B, and classic rock from the 70s onwards! This helped maintain a light and humorous mood against the cold, and following a lunch break of beans, hot dogs and tea made on the barbecue, we then started sanding down the forecourt’s two wooden benches, ready for them to be re-stained.
Apart from trainers and staff, none of the participants who created the initial design were present, having moved on to more permanent housing since taking part in the previous workshops. The young people I did meet were enthusiastic and interested in getting involved. They took pride in doing a good job and recognised the need to create a more attractive and useful outdoor space for residents to enjoy. Most of all, they were very welcoming, funny and had obviously formed close friendships. Encouragingly, the attendees included a staff member and two residents visiting from a sister site, Ravenhead Foyer in St Helens, who were interested to take part in the next round of Fruit-full Communities – which is now open for applications.
A work in progress
Louise, the project coordinator from Verve, discussed the future plans for the orchard with Angie and Gabi. Two more apple trees, trained as a step-over border, were due to be planted along with perennial soft fruits and ornamental plants for the raised beds. Additionally a sheltered seating area with hanging baskets was set to be created for residents to use in poorer weather. Early in February, a public Celebration Day was held to open the orchard and thank all the participants involved. Residents created an outdoor mosaic to decorate one of their raised beds and celebrate the project’s completion.
Visiting Verve Place has allowed me to see first-hand the benefits that Fruit-full Communities is having for residents of supported housing. As well as the enthusiasm of the residents, despite a dreary day, I was most struck by the impact that the programme will have at this site – a small, but significant, transformation of the bare flagstone forecourt and laurel bushes into an attractive, functional community space. It’s clear that people of all ages benefit from having the opportunity to work and socialise outdoors, and involving them in the creation of such new spaces at centres across England and Wales is helping brighten the lives of young people and the communities they live in.