Local residents planting trees

Local community group in Dublin plants orchards to enhance public spaces

Sustainable Skerries community group received funding from the Accenture Sustainability Challenge to start an Open Orchard project in Skerries in North County Dublin. 

Sustainable Skerries is a community group dedicated to sustainability. When the group heard about the funding available for community projects through the Accenture Sustainability Challenge, they decided to apply for support to start an Open Orchard project.

“There is a lot of open space in Skerries and we wanted to use it in new ways,” explains Sabine McKenna, chair of Sustainable Skerries. “Our focus in Sustainable Skerries is on things like biodiversity and food and its role in climate change. So, the Open Orchard idea aligned with our focus areas.”

Open Orchard explained

Open Orchard provides a way for people to come out, plant a fruit tree and in so doing connect with neighbours and care for the environment.

– Wayne Trevor, Co-Founder, Open Orchard

The idea for the Open Orchard initiative grew out of a 2014 garden project in London, which aimed to bring the community together to transform a neglected space by planting donated plants. When a cherry tree was donated, the organisers thought: ‘why not plant more fruit trees here?’. The idea grew roots and people got involved; and the idea spread to other communities.

The Open Orchard Project connects communities through fruit and the planting of fruit trees in public places. These trees provide free fruit to local residents and greenery in urban environments. The project can give neighbours the opportunity to meet properly for the first time, while working towards a common goal with a sense of purpose.

First steps

Initially Sabine and the Sustainable Skerries group identified a green area in Kelly’s Bay in Skerries and engaged with their local council, Fingal County Council, to get permission to plant trees on the site. “We also put leaflets through the doors of all local residents explaining what we were planning to do and how they could get involved,” says Sabine.

 

 

Once approval had been secured, the group, supported by local residents and families, held a planting day in February 2022. Apple, pear, plum and hazelnut trees were planted.

Over 50 people, adults and children, took part and planted 20 trees in our first open orchard, right in the middle of Skerries, where local residents in Kelly’s Bay can see and enjoy.”

“The day – and the wider project – was very much about community building, working on the planting together and then sharing some teas and cakes and chatting,” Sabine says.

 

Taking care of the trees

First blossom at Kelly's Bay
First blossom at Kelly’s Bay

Sabine says that the local residents have a “real sense of ownership” of the newly planted orchard, given their role in planting the trees and caring for them. A number of local people have stepped us as tree guardians to help with the maintenance of the orchard. These volunteers are responsible for watering the trees. Unfortunately, Sabine says that some of the trees have been damaged as a result of vandalism, but others are thriving.

“The green area looks so much nicer now, and the council added to the project with the creation of a wildflower meadow,” Sabine says. “Now you see grandparents and parents taking that route, enjoying a walk with the kids.”

 

Branching out

Given the success of the first open orchard, Sabine and her group identified 2 other local sites for mini orchards. Making their initial funding stretch, the group have since planted trees at two other Skerries locations: Mourne View and the Ballast Pit.

For now, the trees are still growing and have yet to yield much fruit. But the group plans to erect signage at each of the tree sites to explain the project and encourage people to help themselves to the harvest. 

Sabine found it easy to apply for funding for the project.

“As far as red tape goes, it was a very low burden. We had to demonstrate that we had a group and a plan. I liked the process via ChangeX.”

For other communities taking on an Open Orchard, or similar project, Sabine suggested that they clearly document their process so they can learn as they go.

Inspired by Sabine’s story? Start an impactful project today in your community!

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