Young people have been working together to create four new orchards as part of a £33million investment in the environment by The Big Lottery Fund.
Residents at YMCA Downslink Group in Horsham, Worthing, Brighton and Crawley designed and planted the orchards to gain new skills and support the centres where they are living.
The centres provide accommodation for vulnerable single people aged 16 to 25 and the orchards were designed by the residents to improve the environment in which they relax, exercise and socialise.
Evie Harper, 19, said: “I am quite an outdoorsy person but I have never done horticulture, it has always been more animals.
“This has opened a door for me. It is also very therapeutic. It is good to get people involved with this when they are young.”
YMCA staff and community volunteers joined residents for a celebration barbecue on Friday at Worthing Foyer, in Shelley Road, Worthing, where Richard Barry, delivery officer for Learning Through Landscapes, worked with the residents to create one of the four orchards.
He said: “Residents here like the open area outside for playing football, etc., so we didn’t want to plant it up. On a trip to Stanmer Park, they saw a lovely orchard and how it works in a limited space, and used that idea to plant trees to create a wall of fruit along the border.
“Some of the residents who previously started horticulture classes and dropped out now have an interest in starting them up again so for some of them, it has rekindled something.
“Apart from the fact they are looking after their own environment, it gives them employability. Some of the girls are really made up that they have planted fruit trees. That is something they have never done before.”
Felicity Robinson, an independent facilitator, worked with residents at the three other orchards, at The Y Centre, in Albion Way, Horsham; Crawley Foyer, in Horsham Road, West Green; and the Project Green allotment on the border of Southwick and Portslade.
She said: “At Horsham, it was a very urban site so we had to construct some planters. We worked out with the residents where the planters would go. They made scale drawings and came up with a final plan that included a swing seat arbour, as it is a memorial garden.
“At Crawley, the design centred on an outside cinema wall, which they want to use in the summer. They created seating facing the wall and designed the orchard around that.
“With the Brighton group, they visited an orchard to discuss the options and had a campfire where they designed the final plan.”
As well as designing the orchards, the young people had to learn about budgeting, trees planting and pruning. They also gained a better understanding of the importance of trees in protecting the environment and are making connections with other young people working with trees in African countries, through the International Tree Foundation.
The young people chose where to put the trees, which involved deciding which varieties to plant together. They were given a grafting demonstration at Stanmer Park, where Plumpton College has a practical outdoor working area, and created labels for each tree using stencilling.
Gemma Doughty from Project Green said: “We have some people who have got social anxiety so this has been a real change for them. For people who have just moved in, it is a way to get to know their housemates.
“There are also not many other opportunities for them to get together outside. They might not think they would like it but they soon realise that they do.”
The Big Lottery Fund has invested £33 million in more than 30 organisations to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders through the Our Bright Future programme led by The Wildlife Trusts.
Fruit-full Communities is one of the funded projects, working with residents at ten YMCA sites in England, including the four YMCA Downslink centres.
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