A history of greenspace and parks A history of greenspace and parks
by David Thorpe,
illustrations by Hunt Emerson

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Case study: Apple Tree Court Urban Oasis

Apple Tree Court Urban Oasis

A self-help project started by the tenants of a high rise block of flats in Salford has led to the creation of an 'urban oasis' of orchards, allotments, ponds, a wildflower meadow, Japanese and water gardens, conservatory and community cafe/training centre. The project demonstrates how local communities can tackle and solve their own problems through their own action.

Background

Apple Tree Court is a 16-storey block of 1960s flats, occupied people of all ages, in inner city Salford.

In 1988 the tenants of Apple Tree Court formed a Tenant's Association. Many tenants particularly missed the gardens and community life that they had had in their old back-to-back houses.

In the early 1990s, while becoming a Tenancy Management Company (TMC), the residents decided that the bare patch of grass in front of the flats would be ideal for a community garden.

Innovative design

Anthony Milroy, Director of the The Arid Lands Initiative, heard about the plans and teamed up to develop the garden using Tony's experience of community-based 'oasis' food production gained whilst working in the Middle East.

This multi-layered garden system is ideal for small urban spaces as it is a very intensive use of land. The plants are 'stacked' vertically which

increases production whilst reducing water loss through evaporation. The use of mainly perennial tree crops also means that the Apple Tree Court garden is relatively low maintenance.

The tenants applied to the Council to use an adjacent piece of land, which had been derelict for well over 20 years, but the Council planned to build new low-rise housing there. Eventually, the Tenants Association won about 2/5ths of the land and new metal railings 2.1 metres high to provide a secure perimeter.

As the group says, 'it is so important to have your own space. It makes for a sense of belonging and is easier to manage.'

Work was done by volunteers and Community Service (Probation) young offenders.

In November 1996, the partnership won the top national BT/WWF Environmental Conservation Award which brought 4000 prize money, followed by 198,000 from the National Lottery Charities Board.

This enabled the building of an office, kitchens, community cafe and a beautiful Victorian-style conservatory, now used as a training centre for visiting groups from all over the country.

Something for everyone

The project is constantly having to strike a balance between the differing needs and wants of the residents.

It includes a wildlife pond, duck pond, solar dome, orchard, wildflower meadow, a block of allotments for growing organic fruit and vegetables, herb garden, cottage garden area, a Japanese garden, and a traditional mixed woodland copse with numerous native tree species.

The oasis garden has led to a re-discovery of the value of self-help and an increase in community spirit - the lack of which prompted the project in the first place.

Tessa Jowell came to Apple Tree Court when she was a health minister and very much enjoyed the experience. As Betty Burton, the Administrator of the Tenancy Management Company, remembers "She said that this project should be replicated, because this beautiful site made people feel much better, healthwise."

The participants have learnt never to take 'no' for an answer; but to campaign and negotiate and compromise until they get what they need to secure and improve their quality of life. As Betty Burton says 'What the group have learnt is that nothing comes easy, but when it does come it is a great feeling. Hard work and persistence is rewarded.'

The project includes a training programme for up to twenty young unemployed New Deal workers.

Apple Tree Court Urban Oasis

Minister Tessa Jowell at Apple Tree CourtMinister Tessa Jowell at Apple Tree Court.

 

Further info

Betty Burton, Apple Tree Court TMC Ltd, Salford, M5 4AY. Tel: 0161 737 9770; or

Anthony Milroy, Arid Lands Initiative, Macpelah Works, Burnley Road, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7, 8AU. Tel: 01422 843807; e-mail: oasis@aridlands.freeserve.co.uk

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