Mark O’Connel showed Mark, Rachel and myself round Huxhams Cross Farm on November 3rd, showing us the chickens, two cows, new barn and the market garden’s polytunnels. The transformation of soil quality from a barkley/maize desert to good soil through biodynamic and permacultural activation by Bob Mayhew and Marina O’Connel was dramatic. Marina showed me her samples of the original soil. I also held up the two soil samples to the Social Renewal : Beyond Crisis Conference at Dartington on Saturday 4th to demonstrate what change is possible when we care for the earth, build a regenerative circular economy, secure rights to affordable land through the Biodynamic Land Trust and co-create a new food culture. This was a good example of social threefolding in action, adding earthcare of course..
Planting fruit trees and looking after community orchards is one way of building commonweal. The community orchard movement is spreading rapidly as people connect to the often forgotten, neglected and secret orchards in their locality. One of the most moving, classic children’s book, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, describes how two traumatised and lonely children, Mary and Colin, come back to life through looking after a secret, special garden, with the help of Dickon who is totally at home with nature.
The Orchard Project was brought to my attention by a friend Ella Hashemi, who has started working for them, and is fired up by the potential , not just for developing community orchards, but for community building. Her colleague, Stephanie writes that,
The Orchard Project believes that, ..” orchards in London are worth preserving because they connect people with their heritage and environment, act as oases of calm in a hectic city, promote health and wellbeing, are an attractive focus for engaging people and developing skills, and provide refuges for wildlife. If they are actively managed by community groups they are more protected from development threats, and more likely to thrive.
Today’s renewed interest in orchards in the urban environment may be traced to an upsurge in the environmental movement over the last 30 years or so. Common Ground, a charity founded in London in 1983, has promoted orchards and established Apple Day as an annual community event. As part of that movement, orchards are again being planted in London – no longer as private spaces but as community resources.
London is a mosaic of private and public land, housing developments, brownfield sites and green spaces, rivers and canals, roads and railways. The city’s orchards reflect that patchwork. They are tucked away behind school playgrounds and in pub beer gardens, or forgotten in overgrown woodland or the corners of parks. No part of London is wholly urban or rural, so even when orchards are situated in the heart of the city, surrounded by busy roads and buildings, such as Olden Gardens in Holloway or Ferry Boat Inn in Tottenham, they are close to the wildlife corridors of railway lines or canals.
Once a common sight within the landscape, orchards are now under threat, mainly because of land development pressure, neglect, a lack of skills and the absence of legal protection. Our old orchard trees are dying and they will soon be lost unless they are preserved through restoration and veteran tree management. London has already lost more than 98% of orchards since last century, and the conservation of the remaining orchards is a high priority. In recognition of this, orchards were made a priority habitat in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.’
One concern however, is how securely Community Orchards are protected from development, from the land being sold off and privatised? How does the Orchard Project make sure that such orchards are held in trusteeship bodies that capture and protect the community value and benefits of such orchards in perpetuity as open spaces and commons?
“In times past Britain had the concept of the Commonweal – actions taken for the common good and contributions to the ‘Common Wealth’- which not only developed the limits on the power and privileges of the wealthy and powerful and increases in the political power of the common people but also to the community benefits of social housing (such as the Peabody Trust), safe drinking water and sewage systems and fairly impartial justice. The challenge of the capitalist system is to develop systems that are recognised as being contributors to the Commonweal not as parasites on the wealth and well-being of the wider community.”
The Era of Global Transition: Crises and Opportunities in the New World
By R. Davies
Commonweal means the health, wellbeing, common good, happiness and safety of people as a community.
Commonweal means the health, wellbeing, common good, happiness and safety of people as a community. It is connected with the old word ‘commonwealth’ meaning a country or state. For example, the Commonwealth of Australia or of Massachusetts. Common wealth can also mean our natural commons of air, water and land – what economists drily call ‘common pool resources’, as well as socially created commons like language – and country parks – that we all share.
I saw the building up, and potential losing, of commonweal while walking at Lydiard Country Park, Swindon on Wednesday 24th August. My friend Richard Keating was showing me where Swindon Council and his Community Forest team had planted 2 million trees, created four beautiful country parks, green open spaces, pathways, cycle paths, community facilities all around the ancient railway town of Swindon. One feature was providing accessible playspaces no more than 44o yards from houses.
Michael Heseltine, the former Conservative Environment Secretary, loved trees and after the 1987 gales championed the creation of such community forests, and the building of ‘family silver’ for common good. Walking round the lakes, the church, play areas, picnic spots, tree adventure playspaces, cafes, we saw families enjoying themselves, children playing, runners, cyclists. William Morris, the one time editor of the newspaper, Commonweal, would have loved the park and the community forest, as straight out of his News from Nowhere utopia.
However, we were shocked to find that Swindon Council had decided to sell a 75 year lease on the open market. The official notices said that community groups could bid – if they could find the money and do a plan at short notice.
This fired me up to start this Building Common Weal blog to ask what social future we want and how to get there, so we build together our common wealth for commonweal – and care for our heritage.
Mike had worked forty years there. He was heartbroken at the prospect of losing Lydiard Park and was very concerned that the recent introduction of parking fees might put off those who needed the park the most… and the next priority of Swindon Council was closing up to 16 public libraries…