‘Plant­ing an or­chard has brought us to­gether’

Prima (UK) - - Women Like You -

Am­ber Alfer­off, 33, lives in Lon­don, with her part­ner, Sean, and chil­dren, Taya, 15, and Finn, 10.

‘The trees in the or­chard are laden with fruit, and chil­dren are run­ning be­neath the boughs while friends and neigh­bours en­joy the au­tumn sun­shine. I can’t help feel­ing proud, be­cause this lovely scene isn’t played out in the coun­try­side but in the cen­tre of my bustling city hous­ing es­tate. It’s been hard work get­ting us to this point, but when ev­ery­one comes to­gether to en­joy the lit­tle oa­sis of na­ture, I know it’s all been worth it.

When I moved into a flat on a large es­tate in Is­ling­ton, north Lon­don, with Sean and our two young chil­dren eight years ago, I couldn’t have been hap­pier. There were peo­ple of all ages and from all walks of life, and ev­ery­one was so friendly that I quickly felt at home. I joined the res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion and soon got to know my neigh­bours.

The one thing I felt was miss­ing from my life was a gar­den. I longed to have some­where to sit and re­lax, where the chil­dren could play and where we could in­vite friends and neigh­bours. When I talked to other res­i­dents, it was clear that many of them shared my view.

Look­ing around the es­tate, I came across sev­eral small patches of land that weren’t be­ing used. Known as “grass deserts”, they were mostly fenced off be­hind locked gates, some­times to keep anti-so­cial be­hav­iour at bay or sim­ply be­cause they had fallen into dis­use. I won­dered if we could use one of them as a com­mu­nity gar­den.

I con­tacted lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and looked into grants that might be avail­able. It took a while and there were plenty of knock­backs, but fi­nally, a year later in 2011, I was given good news – we could use a strip of land near the rail­way line for an or­chard. I was thrilled.

There was enough space for five trees, so my neigh­bours and I chose to plant four ap­ples and one pear. For the plant­ing cer­e­mony, a big group of us gath­ered, cel­e­brat­ing with tea and ap­ple muffins! We set up a com­mit­tee to share wa­ter­ing du­ties, and a few of us went on a course to learn how to tend the trees.

Soon the gar­den was be­ing used for all sorts of par­ties and cel­e­bra­tions. We had a big event for the Queen’s 90th birth­day last sum­mer and we’ve held par­ties for the chil­dren at Hal­loween.

‘I longed to have some­where to sit and re­lax, where the kids could play’

The gar­den gives ev­ery­one a chance to get to­gether.

With a fur­ther grant, we were able to buy win­dow boxes for the peo­ple on the es­tate who, like me, live in flats. Sean helped to in­stall them, and it’s lovely to see flow­ers grow­ing amid the con­crete.

Set­ting up the gar­den also led to an un­ex­pected ca­reer change. I’d been work­ing in the char­ity sec­tor but I was of­fered a job work­ing as a project of­fi­cer for the Fed­er­a­tion of City Farms and Com­mu­nity Gar­dens, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes gar­dens and farms in city com­mu­ni­ties. It’s a role I love and it’s made me re­alise how lit­tle city chil­dren know about the coun­try­side. Some of them have never seen a farm an­i­mal be­fore, and it’s lovely to see their faces light up.

Our gar­den has been open for six years. Since that first plant­ing cer­e­mony, we’ve added two more ap­ple trees, plus goose­ber­ries and black­cur­rants. You can’t beat a piece of freshly picked fruit!

Hav­ing a thriv­ing com­mu­nity is so im­por­tant. I love the fact that chil­dren can play out­side and neigh­bours will keep an eye out for them. Hav­ing a gar­den has been par­tic­u­larly good for the el­derly res­i­dents, too. Some of them would stay in their flats alone be­cause they had nowhere to go. Now they can wan­der up to the gar­den for a chat and per­haps en­joy a juicy ap­ple. Be­ing close to na­ture is great for ev­ery­one’s well­be­ing.’

Am­ber and her neigh­bours love their lit­tle patch of green in the mid­dle of bustling Lon­don

Chil­dren from the lo­cal flats, in­clud­ing Am­ber’s son Finn, can now play out­side

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