In August 2020, 17 new students gathered in London’s Valentine Park for their first training session of our Certificate in Community Orcharding (CICO) course. Unknowingly, this was the one of the few times that the participants would enjoy the physical presence of group gathering for many months to come. The winter lockdown has been gruelling and long, but many of our CICO students have found the course to be a light in the dark; not only a means of maintaining regular contact with others, but also a welcome distraction to learn new skills. It has even become a source for hope amidst the employment crisis hitting many sectors.
Rather than cancel the CICO course when the pandemic struck, our Training Manager, Jo Homan, worked tirelessly to transform the course into a blended format: a mix of online study with in-person, practical sessions outdoors. The students who were already enrolled on our sixth delivery of the course, had to adapt to learning online last November. Those who’ve registered on the new blended course will enjoy five in-person sessions try out new skills, like pruning and grafting, while respecting our social-distance safety measures. But the online training sessions are proving successful in allowing students to feel connected, both to each other and to our brilliant team of tutors.
“There is a real sense of community and support within our group of teachers and students alike, – even though we have had some training days online;” says Liz, one of the students. “I’ve found this invaluable during this Pandemic.”
The online component of the course involves training videos, presentations and interactive quizzes. It is proving popular! In the words of current student, Maggie:
“Like many others I have found keeping positive during lockdown a bit of a challenge at times. Having the CICO course has helped and supported me in ways I never imagined. It has delivered in spadefuls! Brilliantly crafted with each module flowing organically into the next… and listening to the (online) presentations with orchard birdsong, I can feel myself relaxing.”
As well as forging connections during an isolating time, the CICO course is also opening up new career pathways for some students. We are yet to know the full economic impact of the pandemic, but is it already being acutely felt by many at an individual level: Liz lost her job in the theatre sector during the first lockdown. Rather than face the difficult prospect of job-hunting during uncertain times, she decided to harness her desire to help tackle climate change; signing-up to the CICO course seemed like a great way to do this.
“This course is a lifeline, enabling me to change career direction and give me hope for the future”, Liz says. “On the first day, learning about the …layers of biodiversity as we sat under the shade of a huge mulberry tree… I knew it was perfect for me.”
The CICO course takes students on a journey lasting almost a year, allowing for familiarity with the orchard in every season. It provides a chance to not only learn about every aspect of orchards, but also to build strong connections with course-mates and with the natural world. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit the course info page or contact Jo Homan.