7 March 2018

A previously overgrown green space in Wilmorton, Derby, has been given a complete makeover by a team of residents and staff from YMCA Derbyshire, volunteers from Wilmorton Allotment Association and the Big Lottery-funded Fruit-Full Communities project. Not only has the site and community around it benefited from the transformation, but so has the health and wellbeing of all those involved.

In collaboration with Wilmorton Allotment Association and the Fruit-full Communities Project, YMCA Derbyshire has engaged more than 20 residents in the project over the last 8 months. Once the existing site was cleared, a wide variety of fruit trees and shrubs were then planted to create a community orchard. The fruit and vegetables grown will be used to create dishes for the free monthly Community Meals that happen on the last Friday of each month at the YMCA’s London Road Campus.

At YMCA Derbyshire, the Fruit-Full Communities project is linked to the NHS and YMCA England & Wales #IAMWHOLE campaign, which seeks to challenge the negative stereotypical view of mental health, by allowing people the space and time to express their opinions and share their stories in their own words. Residents have built a reflection area with a signature mosaic in the Orchard, as well as being creative in upcycling palettes into seating areas to allow public spaces for conversation.

Through participation in this project, many YMCA residents have learnt new skills, including practical tree planting techniques, maintenance and after-care. Their self-esteem and confidence has increased, which has had a positive impact on their overall health, wellbeing and prospects for the future.

David Finn, Programmes and Participation Manager, said: “This project has been transformational in many ways. Our service users have undoubtedly developed a new appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them, whilst at the same time learning about themselves and how to work with others. YMCA Derbyshire has been at the heart of the community since 1847 and this Orchard seeks to open new ways of bringing people together.”

When asked to describe their experience on the project, one of the participants said: “I’d say to them that its life changing! It brings out skills that you didn’t even know you had and obviously you can also improve on skills that you’ve already got like for me, it was communication skills. It just takes a lot of stress away basically. If I sit around too much, my depression starts playing up even more because I’m just sitting there thinking of things. When I’m doing stuff, like keeping busy, I can just take my mind off things, so it has been a great help.”

Renata Pidduck, Fruit-full Communities Project Officer, said: “YMCA Derbyshire is one of 26 sites that designed and planted their own orchards and what a fantastic success this has been for them. I had the pleasure of attending their planting day and it was great to see the residents’ enthusiasm and hard work. I hope that they all get to enjoy the Orchard and the space they created for themselves and the community.”

The official opening of the Orchard took place on Wednesday 7 March, where Reverend Cath Hollywell, who has been an integral part of the project, declared it open to the local community.