Northumbrian Water’s Branch Out fund was set up to help enable local communities, land managers, organisations and individuals to make a positive difference to the natural environment in the North East.
The fund, which offers grants of up to £25,000, supports projects that reconnect habitats for the benefit of people and wildlife, building resilience for the region, while also benefiting water, wildlife and communities.
A £5,000 Branch Out grant given to the North East Autism Society (NEAS) has helped with the development of the New Warlands Farm Community Orchard on the outskirts of Durham, a project that delivers widespread benefits for the environment and community.
As is often the case, the Branch Out funding helped the charity to leverage further funds from other sources and allowed it to achieve its project budget of £67,000.
Offering residential care, supported living, education, day services and support for families, NEAS prides itself on being the leading provider of autism-specific care and education for children, young people, and adults across the North-east of England.
The charity’s 77-acre New Warlands Farm site offers a range of programmes and services, all tailored to the individual needs of the adults who access the site.
Over the course of a year, a traditional orchard was created on the site, safeguarding old, rare and locally significant varieties of tree, along with a wildflower meadow, supportive habitat for wildlife, and a new programme of activities to help people learn the traditional skills required to maintain the site.
The development of the orchard adds to existing short break lodges, where adults can access respite care, and a social and vocational training centre, which already existed at New Warlands Farm.
Its 600 trees are a 20% increase on the original plans. It is hoped that this number may grow to 1,000 in time.
The orchard has also been developed to be the focus of community engagement and learning, with a Land-based Activity Support Worker having been recruited to co-ordinate such work.
In the first year, 12 volunteers supported the orchard development. Almost 40 members of the public, as well as community groups including Derwentside Rotarians, were engaged by the team, through a range of activities. Since then, corporate volunteers from Nissan have also been involved in developing the orchard site.
Additionally, North East Autism Society trainees gained experience that also benefited their wellbeing, through participation in activities alongside nature, while also giving them a sense of satisfaction as they watched things grow.
“The Branch Out grant has enabled us to invest in our orchard at New Warlands Farm,” NEAS CEO John Phillipson said.
“Crucially, this has enabled the adults who access the training centre to develop a host of new vocational skills in the creation and maintenance of the orchard. As the orchard matures they will also gain new skills in harvesting and processing the apples, which are used to make our very own brand of apple juice on site. This is then sold at local events throughout the year, with all profits going back into the service.”
For 2022, the Branch Out fund has a focus on Blue Spaces and Canopies, to support improvements to the water environment and the Queen’s Green Canopy project. For more information visit Branch Out.