One orchard planted (Prospect Park), one to go (Waterloo Meadows)

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TTR kicked off its project to plant Community Orchards in public spaces around Reading on Saturday, by planting 40 trees near the mansion house in Prospect Park.

We had a beautiful sunny day for it, and the turnout was very good. Oonagh from TCV covered us in the warm glow of her insurance and, after a quick safety talk, we all got stuck right in.

After quite a long journey for TTR to get to this point (dreaming, planning the project, securing funding, liaising with the council, selecting and ordering the trees, digging and delivering the mulch and co-ordinating everything together at the right time), it was great to be out there doing the actual planting and making the dream a reality. The most pleasing thing for me though, was how the practical task seemed to draw in so many like-minded people, and to generate energy and enthusiasm for the next steps and the next projects. It was also lovely to see the social aspect of the planting, which reinforced my belief that the best way to build community is to work alongside your neighbours and friends on something you believe in.

A 50 tree planting is to follow in Waterloo Meadows this month, with a further 3 sites to be planted around Reading over the next 2 years. The Waterloo Meadows planting will take place from 10am on Saturday the 23rd Feb (the meeting point will be Waterloo Meadows Childrens’ Centre, accessed from Elgar Road North by car – there’s a small turning on right just before the barrier blocking the road).

As per previous posts, the bulk of this project has been funded by the Forestry Commission’s “Big Tree Plant” scheme, which aims to encourage and support community groups to plant trees in neighbourhoods where people live and work. The project is also being supported by Get Involved Reading, an initiative from Reading Voluntary Action around increasing community participation, as well as TCV and the “Friends of Waterloo Meadows” Econet group.

We wanted to plant orchards because we believe these can have the greatest environmental impact while bringing the local community together. TTR’s Dave Newman sees many benefits to this approach: “Fruit trees take carbon out of the atmosphere as they grow, and the fruit provides free food for local residents. With local organic food like this, little or no fossil fuels are involved in the food production or transport, which reduces emissions and food miles while making the food supply more resilient to external shocks such as rising oil prices. The planting, maintenance and harvest are good opportunities for building local community, the blossom feeds our ailing bee population, and the orchard sites provide excellent habitat for local wildlife. Apart from all that, there’s just something lovely about eating fruit, fresh from the tree.”

In these tough economic times, we can’t expect a constant stream of grant money, so we’re using what we’ve been given to teach ourselves how to thrive without it. The funding secured for the project covers 5 orchards over three years, and the plan is to build the skills in the local community to allow us to plant further community orchards around the town without the need for further grant money.

We’re using these five orchards to teach as many of us as possible how to graft and propagate fruit trees. After that, we should be able to produce more orchards from the trees we already have, with a little time, care and skill.

We made a start with the grafting training at the end of January when 6 of us attended a grafting course run by the Midshires Orchard Group (and attended the 1st National Scionwood Exchange!). There’ll be a follow-up TTR grafting evening in March, for us to put what we’ve learned into practice and graft the apple trees that we’ll be planting next year in Thames Promenade (i.e. between the Rivermead Leisure centre and the river). Watch this space for details, or get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

TTR are looking for people who live near Prospect Park and Waterloo Meadows who’d like to help plant, propagate and maintain the trees, and to eat the delicious free fruit in the years to come. They’d also like to hear from people in other parts of the town who would like to set up their own community orchards in the future (or who just fancy coming down to the WM planting to see what’s going on).

If you’d like to be involved in the Community Orchard planting, or any of TTR’s other projects, please contact communications@transitionreading.org.uk.