Meet Emma, Rachel and Janet: the mums with a mission! Along with other local mothers from Sale in South Manchester, they set out to improve their local park and ended up bringing almost 1,000 people from the community together in honour of apples. Their much-loved orchard is now a very special community asset, which will serve many generations to come.
In a story familiar to many other mothers, their friendship began while pushing the swings in Moor Nook Park, where they take their children to play every day after school. The park is a valued, well-frequented greenspace locally, but it had become neglected, with broken play equipment and litter spoiling the experience. Tired of shielding their children from its hazards, the mums decided to take action, and established the Friends of Moor Nook Park in 2016.
Not all local parents felt the same way, as Emma explains: “I remember speaking to one mum in the playground before we started, who said, ‘oh, it’s just scrap-land this. They should sell it off and build houses’.” Fortunately, this didn’t deter our heroic orchardist mothers however, who are now praised and supported by the Trafford Council, and by the grateful parents whose children regularly enjoy the space.
Planting a Legacy for their Children
There are many ways to improve a park, so why plant an orchard?
“We liked the continuity of having an orchard: it will grow with our kids,” says Rachel. “It has longevity, so that people will continue to be involved.”
Through door-to-door flyering, the Friends group discovered that there was a high demand for more events to be held in Moor Nook Park. This tied in perfectly with the idea of planting an orchard, since a community orchard makes for an ideal outdoor venue.
Of the 420+ community orchards that we support, Moor Nook Park Orchard is among those that stand out as a brilliant example of community engagement. Acting on a suggestion from The Orchard Project, the mums asked park-users to sponsor the fruit trees by making a small donation in return for a small plaque on their designated tree. Some of the trees are dedicated to loved ones who have passed on; others to local kids and families who helped plant them and will watch them grow over the years.
“We felt that if the trees were dedicated to something, people would take a bit more care of them and of the area,” Emma says. And they have: these personal links rooted in the earth have encouraged local residents to take pride in the orchard and take ownership of its maintenance.
Spade-fuls of Enthusiasm!
When The Orchard Project was called in to assist the Moor Nook mums, they planned to plant 12 trees. But the enthusiasm from the community was so great that we ended up planting 21! On planting day, 86 people turned up, supported by Dan Hasler, our Manchester Project Manager.
“Dan brought tree guards, stakes and bags of enthusiasm! It was quite a big undertaking for us,” explains Rachel, “but The Orchard Project gave us the confidence to think, ‘right, we can actually do this’. – I don’t think we could’ve done it without them.”
The trio attended our training courses to learn about tree maintenance skills, like watering, pruning and orchard signage, as well as being selected by other orchard groups to win funding at our Orchard Summit. In 2018, despite the orchard being so young, they won a ‘Golden Apple’ award for Best Tree Care at our Greater Manchester Community Orchard Ceremony.
This female-powered orchard has gone from strength to strength in terms of bringing the community together. Every year since 2016 they’ve organised an Apple Day event in the orchard. The 2018 event, with The Orchard Project’s help, saw a phenomenal turnout with close to a thousand attendees! “From the start we’ve been really big on community,” Rachel tells us; “the park falls between an affluent area and an area of social deprivation. We wanted to bring people together and it’s done that, at least once a year on Apple Day”.
The local primary has also started using the orchard for educational purposes, with their Forest School teacher bringing groups of children down. The existence of the community orchard together with the events it hosts have also encouraged people to care for the other parts of the park:
“The first litter-pick we did, we picked up over 20 bags of litter! But gradually that’s reduced as people started to take more care of the park,” Emma and Janet explain. “Now people are quite protective of it. It’s been a real community effort to plant the orchard, so people like to come and see how the trees are getting on. The park is a nice place to visit now, and that affect will trickle down to young people.”
We look forward to seeing how the trees grow and continuing to support the Moor Nook Mums. May their story will inspire other budding orchardists!
Story by Joanne Hooper