We talk to Joyti Turner about how The Orchard Project has breathed new life into the green spaces and the community surrounding Butley Court.
Jyoti is a local resident and community champion who has lived in the same flat in Sandall House for 28 years. With a background in planting and fruit growing as well as being a resident liaison, Jyoti was immediately drawn to the Orchard Project which began in 2017.
The Orchard Project has been the result of a partnership between Roman Road Trust and Public Works to improve the pockets of green spaces that are characteristic of the residential estates built in the 1960s. The Orchard Project aims to activate these spaces which have become inaccessible and underused by bringing local residents together to rekindle the community potential offered by these green spaces.
What were the green spaces like before The Orchard Project?
About four years ago, Growing Concerns (our gardeners) planted wildflowers along the paths in Butley Court. Although this was an improvement it was still just a green space and not much more.
I had got used to not seeing much happening on the space so was very surprised when I looked out of my window one Saturday morning to see something happening. I got involved straight away.
What was your relationship like with your neighbours before?
I had spoken to many of my neighbours as I am the resident liaison between us and our housing association. I had previously completed a full survey of the whole block so had already met with 70 residents through this.
However, I had usually been in contact with my neighbours about negative things or problems that we had. It was nice to be able to wear a different hat and not meet to only discuss issues or problems but to come together to improve our space.
What about the Orchard Project interested you?
I enjoy farming and organic production and have a background in planting and fruit growing so this interested me immediately.
I was interested in having a productive use of estate land and a place which would be communal activity to help improve the social and cultural separation and isolation of the residents. There are 82 dwellings in Sandall House so lots of different cultures and people – some of which had never met each other before.
The Orchard Project was a chance to meet each other and make something happen together.
What have you liked most about this community project?
I have enjoyed the practical, cooperative and hands-on nature of the project. It has been great to have a physical and visual achievement at the end of a planting day.
I have really liked how the project has attracted various ethnic and cultural groups (especially through the Orchard Ambassadors) to come together and work together to produce something for all of us.
RRT: How do you think the space has improved?
We now have trees planted, edible hedges planted and wildflower borders which are thriving. Our relationship with Growing Concerns has also improved. I meet with them every few weeks to discuss developments.
RRT: What new experiences has the project provided for you?
The Orchard Project has given me the opportunity to directly contribute to the wellbeing and meaningful connections between the families in this block. It has been a new experience to meet with my neighbours other than to problem-solve our many landlord/repair issues.
RRT: What part of the project did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed learning from Hester and Torange (from Public Works) and sharing their vision for the green space. Building positive relations with Roman Road businesses and café’s was also very enjoyable as businesses were very keen and supportive.
It was great to enroll families and their children who had not been highly engaged before. Getting stuck into outdoor growing was also very rewarding.
What has the project taught you?
I have learnt that perseverance is key. You must persevere with people; carry on whatever the weather; not be disheartened by low numbers and listen to feedback. It is also important to enroll everyone indiscriminately.
What can you do now that you couldn’t before?
I can now look out of my balcony and see eight trees. I can bring along my secateurs to prune the trees, talk to ten families about things other than what is wrong with the block and reminisce about when I used to work in apple orchards.
The orchard may not be made of 800 trees but eight trees is definitely a good start.
RRT: What else would you like to happen on these green spaces?
I would like to have reusable banners to announce each event to help raise awareness and increase attendees. I think it would be good for local residents to have regular self-managed events and gatherings in the space with their own gazebo/marquee for these events.
Butley Court has a lot of older residents and at the moment not all of them have got involved. Having raised beds for them to grow vegetables, it would be great for more elderly people to get involved. I’d like to see more planting, a collective composting scheme and a greenhouse/poly tunnel to extend the growing season.
If we could raise enough money I would love to see a swimming pool as well as “shacks” for young people to congregate and have as their own space and to “cool it out.”
How could RRT and The Orchard Project best support this for you?
We need help to enrol a handful of committed folk to establish an active committee from varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds to ensure the orchard is managed and maintained. Help with regular publicity and online promotion is key to developing the project as well as securing ongoing funding.
I think it would help if the orchard project expanded to other local areas too. This would allow cross-stimulation and support between sites.