The Community Orchard

This part of West Berkshire is now most famous for being the kind of place that produces princesses. But amongst the grand houses and rolling countryside, one West Berkshire Parish Council is working on a unique community resource – a community orchard.

Cold Ash Community Orchard

An orchard is a collection of fruit trees. In particular, a community orchard may be owned or leased for or by the community (or held by agreement) by a community group, parish council, or by a local authority or voluntary body. Community orchards should be open and accessible at all times. As well as enjoying the place, local people can share the harvest or profit from its sale, taking responsibility for any work in the orchard (Source).

Cold Ash Community Orchard is run by Cold Ash Parish Council. We visited the site with the Newbury and Thatcham Green Gym, to help the Parish Council by planting a new hedge along one of the orchard boundaries. The new hedge comprises native species, such as Spindle, Hazel, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Cherry and Dogwood Rose. As well as planting the hedge whips, the Green Gym also protected them from hungry wildlife with rabbit guards.

Hedge planting

The habitat values of hedgerows are well documented. But what particularly interested me about this site was the community resource being provided. Community orchards are currently being actively encouraged by the Department for Communities and Local Government as part of the localism and decentralisation agenda. Community orchards strive to be the focal point for community activities. As well as the provision of acessible open space, they can promote the health benefits of fresh produce and outdoor exercise. Additionally there are opportunities for access to land for food growing and opportunities for assisting those who want to grow their own food (Source: DCLG).

Despite being a relatively affluent area, this part of West Berkshire, like many rural areas, still has residents that don’t have access to open space and places to grow food, which can have health implications and also increase vulnerability to food poverty. It will be really interesting to see how this community project developed and how similar schemes might be able to be implemented elsewhere.

The Department for Communities and Local Government produce two guidance documents on community orchards: A PDF ‘How to’ guide can be found here and a collection of case studies about of community orchards around the UK can be found here.

Greenham Common Peace Garden

Originally posted on 1st May 2012

I’ve lived in Berkshire for just over a year now, but have always feared that, outside of the Reading suburbs, the county is little more than a breeding ground for Princesses. Recently I’ve been determined to delve a little deeper than the royal weddings and polo shirts on the surface and get to know this area properly.

Inspired by the account in George McKay’s Radical Gardening and a recent edition of The Reunion, yesterday I ventured off to find the site of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.

During the 1980s, and the Cold War, RAF Greenham was used for siting USAF Cruise nuclear missiles. In protest this deployment, in 1981 a group of Welsh feminist peace activists set up a protest camp, committed to engaging debate about nuclear weapons and disrupting military exercises on the air base. The Women’s Peace Camp remained, continuously, outside of the airbase for 19 years, until 2000. Today RAF Greenham is now a business park, but a commemorative peace garden stands where the peace camp was situated.

Greenham Common Peace Garden

Seven welsh standing stones surround a sculpture that symbolises the campfire, whilst a circular sculpture is bears the enscription ‘you can’t kill the spirit’. The garden is planted with British species and includes an oak sapling that was rescued from the path of the controversial Newbury bypass.

Despite its location between the business park and a roundabout on the A339, the garden is very evocative. It does initially seem strange that somewhere that feels so inherently peaceful commemorates a site best known standing for radical campaigning, direct activism and the pursuit of idealism. But as George McKay describes in Radical Gardening,

“calmer than punk, more permanent in presence than most protest camps… [the peace garden] sought to present an experience of peacefulness and social idea of peace”.

Maybe this small defiant corner, between offices and a roundabout, does go a very small way to creating what the women of Greenham Common were striving for?

The Greenham Common Peace Garden is situated next to the the New Greenham Park roundabout on the A339 (near Newbury, Berkshire). Radical Gardening is available at Housmans.