Cottingley’s community orchard takes shape

Cottingley residents plant first 50 trees of half mile long community orchard

With 1,200 residents on the Cottingley Hall estate, a small orchard wasn’t an option as far Cottingley in Bloom volunteers were concerned; they set their sights on something far more ambitious – a half mile avenue of fruit trees.  So on Monday (29 February 2016) 60 residents, volunteers from local businesses: Costa, McDonalds and Mears; and the Parks and Countryside Service came together and with the trees, training and support provided by Helping Britain Blossom, planted the first 50 trees of their proposed and possibly record breaking 100 tree community orchard.

An unlikely location, the orchard is situated on the west side of the estate, which has the East West intercity railway at one end, a ring road encircling it and the M621 junction at the other end. Several varieties of apple tree including heritage varieties such as Lord Lambourne, plum, pear, mulberry, olive, walnut, sweet chestnut and almond trees were planted in the orchard.

Alan Thornton , Helping Britain Blossom Leeds project manager said:  “The location of the Cottingley Hall orchard is testimony to the fact that you don’t have to live in the country to have a community orchard. What you do need is a passionate group of people to take on its care, which is what Cottingley Hall has with its dedicated Cottingley in Bloom volunteers, who’ve been known to plant 7000 daffodil bulbs in less than two hours!  They’ve got the enthusiasm.  Our involvement is to provide the knowledge, tools and trees needed to create a sustainable orchard.”

The community orchard provides a healthy outdoor activity for people of all ages and an opportunity to meet fellow residents. Helping Britain Blossom, a partnership between Heineken, The Urban Orchard Project and The Bulmer Foundation, whose mission is to plant and restore 100 community orchards across Britain by 2017, is working alongside environmental regeneration charity Groundwork to encourage the diverse communities living in Cottingley Hall to get involved with the project.

Neil Whiting of Cottingley in Bloom said:  “There are a lot of people in the tower blocks who keep to themselves, as well as people living in sheltered accommodation and those with special needs.  The orchard is a wonderful vehicle through which to integrate the diverse communities that live here.  Having something physical to do which unites everyone behind a common cause is less intimidating than turning up at a coffee morning.   Gardening is a great leveller because everyone gets dirt beneath their finger nails and they’re in the outdoors joining in a healthy past-time as well.

“Once the orchard is established and fruit is ready to pick, we intend holding events such as wassails and apple days.  One idea is to ask people from different backgrounds to cook dishes using the fruit.  People in the estate are curious about what their neighbours eat so it would be superb to create an event like this as people all over the world feel at ease communicating through food.”

Councillor Angela Gabriel also chair of Cottingley in Bloom added “I’m delighted at the prospect of a community orchard, which is and will continue to bring residents together for community events, such as fruit picking and pie making.

“We planted a few fruit trees 10 years ago, but we didn’t know what we were doing, so they didn’t survive.  This time, with Helping Britain Blossom’s teaching, tools and support we’re much more confident and have made group decisions about what to plant and where.  We’re planting some large apple trees to help protect houses from the motorway traffic noise and are planting early, mid and late flowering varieties of fruit tree which will blossom across a succession of seasons and when established will be seen by M621 drivers.  We’re hoping an area which one time was a dumping ground will become a record-breaking orchard, possibly the longest in the UK, something Cottingley can be truly proud of.”

Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities said:

“We are very fortunate to have so many residents, community groups and organisations in Leeds who are committed to playing their part in ensuring green spaces in communities’ right across our city look so fantastic and have so much to offer.

“This campaign to restore 100 community orchards across Britain by 2017 is a really fantastic idea, and we were delighted to offer up some of our green spaces in Leeds to be part of this project, which I am sure residents of all ages will enjoy.”