The Orchard Project
In cities across the UK, every home is within walking distance of productive, well-cared-for, climate resilient, community-run orchards.
Children enjoying apples after planting a new community orchard in Scotland
Lead Applicant Organization Name
The Orchard Project
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
We work in partnership with a range of organisations from locally embedded community centres, greenspace user groups and faith organisations, to councils and local authorities including the Greater London Authority, and 400+ community orchards in our network.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
London, and we work in cities across the UK
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
London, Leeds, Greater Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
We have a 10-year history of working in urban areas in the UK, where community orchards can have a meaningful and transformative impact on local food resilience. Urban food deserts where fresh food is less readily available, and growing social fragmentation and isolation mean that people living in cities have the biggest need and we prioritise our work in the most deprived areas where there is lack of access to quality green space and fresh food. We have locally based staff in all of these cities, working closely in partnership with local communities to plant and care for their orchards with face to face support, guidance and inspiration.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
London, Greater Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh are the biggest metropolitan areas in England and Scotland. We focus on areas in these cities where communities experience interconnected issues of poor quality living environments, unemployment and low income, poverty, and impairment of quality of life through poor physical and mental health.
In our food system context, this means people experience a lack of access to green spaces and fresh food. Green spaces are either under-used or of low quality. Neighbourhoods are often a mix of people from different cultures and countries, and can feel socially fragmented and transient. Social isolation is a key issue in these places, on top of nature disconnection.
Sarah, a resident living in social housing in Hackney, London said: ““It can never be underestimated what a natural, welcoming green space means to people who live on a [social housing] estate like ours”.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Over the last 100 years Britain has seen a massive loss of orchards, particularly smaller-scale traditional orchards, and orchards at the local community level. This decline reflects a wider decline in the UK’s food-production and in particular in smaller-scale farming and access to space for individual and community-scale food growing.
The loss of orchards has also played a part in the reduction of biodiversity in the UK, both in rural and urban spaces. Meanwhile, access to green spaces generally has declined in urban spaces, with such spaces being used for urban development such as housing and infrastructure. In particular, this has happened in more deprived urban areas, despite growing evidence of the benefits to mental and physical health from access to such spaces.
These conditions have contributed to the following impacts:
Policy: Increased food insecurity in the UK , with a greater dependence on food grown elsewhere and a much-reduced ability to grow it ourselves if need be
Environment: A reduction in biodiversity, in both rural and urban spaces. This includes loss or substantial decline of specialist orchard species such as the Noble Chafer, but also a more general loss of biodiverse spaces that are enabled by both orchard environments and generally by green community spaces
Economics: Increased carbon emissions from food miles – the transport of fruit from other parts of the world and within the UK. 95% of our fruit now comes from overseas.
Culture: Food growing skills are scarce amongst urban communities, coupled with an increase in community isolation and a decrease in community engagement that is enabled by shared local outdoor spaces, through both the lack of shared green spaces to enjoy, and a reduction in shared community projects
Diets: There is a decrease in people’s awareness and understanding of how food grows and how it is produced which in turn reduces the capacity to understand how to eat healthily
These challenges are interconnected and interdependent.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
1. People have access to fresh, community-grown fruit: Many more people will have access to healthy, biodiverse and productive local community orchards and have a sense that their community can provide abundant amounts of fruit for their use. In particular, places, and communities, that suffer disproportionately from a lack of access to green spaces, locally grown food or harsh social and environmental conditions, will be benefiting from thriving community orchards.
2. People have the skills and knowledge to care for the trees and people of a community orchard: Community groups across the country have the knowledge and skills to care for orchards, and sustain their community’s involvement in their orchard, and people across the country are connected and sharing these skills.
3. Community orchards are valued, supported and used: Community orchards are valued, productive spaces used by many different groups, such as schools, organisations and community groups. The orchards are so valued that local people act as orchard champions to organise and build support for their orchards. Community orchard community groups are creating different forms of enterprises that are generating income for the group, building employment or livelihood opportunities for people, creating processed produce, or otherwise creating positive outputs beyond the fruit itself.
4. Policy supports community orchards: The policy conditions set by local authorities, national government and private landowners favour the creation and long-term protection of community orchards
5. The value of community orchards is known: The value of community orchards, and the conditions needed for their long-term health, are known and understood.
6. Community orchards are providing biodiverse habitats: The practises used to manage community orchards are ensuring that that can provide rich, flourishing biodiverse habitats that complement peoples’ use of the space
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
In towns and cities across the country, every home is within easy-reach of productive, well-cared-for, community-run orchards. These orchards are making a significant contribution to the country’s fruit and nut provision, improving health and wellbeing, building community resilience, nurturing skills and providing cherished, nature-rich, community spaces used by a wide range of people.
We will make a sizeable, and ecologically and socially just contribution to a sustainable food system, and have a significant impact on the problem above, by enabling a large-scale reintroduction of community orchards across the country. A thriving, widespread network of productive community orchards can provide significant amounts of fruit in an alternative model to that described above; it can rebuild peoples’ knowledge, skills and appreciation of fruit growing; and it can create the conditions for increased community cohesion and improved health and wellbeing, including in more deprived areas. Our mission is to create this, and in doing so, to help create an alternative to the current problem.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our 2050 vision will see everyone in these areas within walking distance of a community orchard.
Environment: Scaling Orchards
Over the last ten years we have worked in local neighbourhoods in London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh to co-create flagship community orchards.
We will use two primary functions to scale up our efforts to ensure more people have easy access to a community orchard:
- Orchard mentors: these are existing orchard carers who have been trained and supported by us to care for their community and trees at their community orchard to create an accessible and productive space for their neighbourhood. These people will act as area ambassadors, supporting newer, fledgling groups close to them as they encounter teething issues with their community orchards. We have proto-typed this in London and Leeds and can build on our learning to realise our 2050 vision.
- Participatory budgeting: we will allocate funds to each area, and facilitate a participatory budgeting process where local groups pitch for the funds they need to develop their projects, and collectively the local area decides how funds are allocated. This is an innovative process to support both building local food system network capacity and resources on the ground.
Diets: Community Orchards as Food Forests
To provide a sizeable contribution to our food system, there is an opportunity for community orchards to develop and deepen what they can offer to local residents.
Currently the community orchards we co-create provide top fruit (apples, pears, plums, apricots) to their local community for the summer and autumn. Our 2050 vision will see us creating community orchards as food forests.
Food forests are built on the design and management foundations of orcharding but which are multi-layered edible plant spaces. For example, a food forest could provide top fruit and nuts (chestnuts, hazelnuts, apples, pears, plums), soft fruit bushes (raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries), and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, spinach, beans).
Though there are pioneering projects looking at rural community grown pulse and grain economy emerging (for example Grown in Totnes), the mechanisation needed for grain and pulse production is not compatible with small scale urban food forests. This may be a problem to work with, exploring it as a possibility; or it may need exploring more systemically to explore where and how grains and pulses could be sourced. Even without pulses and grains, this
The design and content of the food forest would unfold differently in each community context and place (see Culture), but would offer a fuller, more year round diet of free and fresh food for local residents.
Culture: asset-based community engagement
Our learning from the last ten years is that community orchards’ primary challenge is group dynamics more than tree health issues.
Our approach is based on asset-based community development, where we work with a neighbourhood co-operatively to discover the energy, enthusiasm and skills of the community which in turn guide the process of creating a transformative community orchard.
We use deep listening during our orchard co-design process, listening to the stories of the place in order to imagine together what this green space could be for the community.
These place-based efforts are a commitment to re-localisation. We recognise that regenerating cultures is place-based, values diversity, and looks different in each ecological and cultural context.
We will offer group dynamics training and interventions to groups to ensure we account for the role this plays in the success of their community orchard. As a positive feedback loop, this work can be supported by the orchard mentors who will have navigated more of these group dynamics challenges than newer groups.
Policy: supportive frameworks through local momentum
This vision will grow momentum in community orcharding in key cities across the UK. This will generate a critical mass of community orchards and people engaged in them, which will be unable to avoid policy implications. Our work with local authorities will be used to create policy conditions favourable to the creation of
We will work with food system organisations (such as Sustain), as well as orcharding groups and organisations (such as People’s Trust for Endangered Species) to influence the UK’s next Biodiversity Action Plan. This will create favourable policy conditions at local and national levels to support the creation and protection of community orchards.
Economics: macro and micro gains
On the macro level, with sizeable urban populations sourcing their fruit and vegetables locally and for free, there will be less dependence on transported fruit from other parts of the country and world. This would make a significant impact on reducing levels of fruit imports: 95% of the fruit consumed in the UK currently comes from overseas.
On the local level, people will be saving money through being able to source a significant amount of their diet locally and for free.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Recommendation from partner organisation