For a while, we’d been talking about the idea of planting fruit and nut trees on public land around Reading. In many ways, it seemed like the perfect Transition project: a chance to sequester a little carbon, while providing free, healthy, local, organic food for local residents, creating a pleasant atmosphere and promoting local community. We’d been in contact with Reading Borough Council and Woodley Town Council, trying to get them to let us carry out planting projects on their land, but we hadn’t had any response.
Knowing that the wheels of local government can turn pretty slowly sometimes, we’d resolved to keep politely nagging away at them, but were starting to lose hope until the 29th of September when both councils came back to say they’d like us to go ahead! It seems that Council Parks departments are like buses – you wait ages for one to let you plant edible trees on their land, and then two come along at once.
Following this, Transition Reading had a projects meeting where we decided to start by focusing on one site first and looking to make a success of that. One week ago, Beth and I met with the lovely representative from Reading Borough Council’s Parks department in Palmer Park, to talk about planting a community orchard behind the stadium there.
From the Council’s point of view, they’re keen to draw people in to this under-used part of the park, and they’d like the area to be attractive, while also maintaining good visilibility to discourage “anti-social behaviour”. Beth and I learned that the RBC’s parks dept planted a community orchard in Mapledurham Fields in Caversham last year and this weekend we travelled out to Caversham to take a look at the site – 88 fruit trees neatly planted around a central clearing for community events. It was clear that a lot of thought had been put into selecting fruit tree variants with complementary flowering and fruiting periods and the site seemed carefully laid out and attractive.
We agreed to put together a plan for the Palmer Park site and to take it back to the council for approval. They will then have to bring the project through a consultation period, to ensure that the local community are happy for us to go ahead.
I think now is the time for us to contact local community groups, to get their input about the kind of trees that they’d like us to plant. If we can get people’s input now, I think we can start to build a sense of ownership that will get people using and helping to maintain the orchard later on. It’s also a chance for us to publicise the project and to start to reach out for funding.
In terms of design, I think we can meet the council’s requirements for neat appearance and visibility, and local people’s preferences for the kinds of fruit trees they’d like, while also planning for the site to be self-sustaining in terms of fertility and pest-resistance. It’s going to take some juggling, but I think it’s possible.
Overall, a Palmer Park community orchard seems like a big project and slightly overwhelming, but at the same time, if we break it into little steps and put our evergy into it, I really think we can make this happen.
If you’d like to be involved, come and let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.