As part of the Fruit-full Communities project, YMCA Derbyshire has recently completed the transformation of an overgrown space into a tranquil orchard. They hope the space will promote the mental health and well-being of their residents and the local community. When the Fruit-full Communities facilitator team made their initial site visit in May 2017, they were shown the corner of the allotment site where the orchard was to be – it was completely swamped with brambles and other weeds. After 8 months of hard work and creative thinking, the site couldn’t be more different.
Creativity, inspiration and team work
More than 20 residents of the YMCA have taken part in the project. Under the leadership of YMCA staff and with workshops led by Angie Turner from Learning through Landscapes and Sue Pitt from International Tree Foundation. The site is part of Wilmorton Allotment Association in Derby and the allotment manager provided huge support for the project with his special expertise in upcycling unwanted materials: creating benches, paths and an impressive archway over the entrance to the site. A visit to Calke Abbey just south of Derby provided inspiration for participants, and enabled them to choose some unusual varieties of fruit trees to plant on their own site. This visit also gave them the idea for the archway and made them determined to plant some wild flowers to attract pollinating insects. The site has been further enhanced by a mosaic and bunting – all made by residents taking part in art and sewing groups at the centre.
Challenging stigma and creating a safe space
The project at YMCA Derbyshire has been given a new perspective through linking to the ‘I am Whole’ campaign run by YMCA England and the NHS. This campaign aims to help young people to challenge the stigma often associated with mental health problems and gives them the opportunity to speak out and tell their own stories. The new orchard provides the perfect environment for this. It has space for reflection and quiet communication away from the stresses of modern urban life.
Connecting tree planters from around the world
The official opening ceremony took place in March 2018. Reverend Cath Hollywell spoke about the value of the orchard in enhancing the local environment and creating a space for people from the local community to come together. Residents who had contributed to the project received certificates in recognition of everything that they had achieved. Sue Pitt read out messages of congratulation from some of ITF’s partner tree planting projects in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia and many of the participants wrote messages in return. After the ceremony residents said how touched they had been to receive messages of support from others involved in tree planting projects so far away.
A transformational project for YMCA residents
David Finn, Programmes and Participation Manager, said: “This project has been transformational in many ways. Our service users have undoubtedly developed a new appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them, whilst at the same time learning about themselves and how to work with others. YMCA Derbyshire has been at the heart of the community since 1847 and this orchard seeks to open new ways of bringing people together.”
Renata Pidduck, Fruit-full Communities Project Officer, said “YMCA Derbyshire is one of 26 sites that designed and planted their own orchards and what a fantastic success this has been for them. I had the pleasure of attending their planting day and it was great to see the residents’ enthusiasm and hard work. I hope that they all get to enjoy the orchard and the space they created for themselves and the local community.”
The Fruit-full Communities project is led by Learning through Landscapes in partnership with YMCA England, The Orchard Project and International Tree Foundation. It is one of 31 projects for young people funded by the Big Lottery Fund under the management of Our Bright Future.