Newcastle, County Down: Community orchard that will soon bear fruit

By Cormac Campbell
BBC News NI South East Reporter

image captionResidents planted nearly 30 fruit trees in housing estates in Newcastle, County Down

A new scheme in a County Down housing development has seen grass verges converted into a community orchard that residents hope will soon bear fruit.

In December, residents of Kinghill and Tullybrannigan, in Newcastle, planted nearly 30 fruit trees and more than 500 spring flowering bulbs.

They were planted on patches of land that had been difficult to maintain.

According to Darren Rice, the project also aims to maintain relationships forged during the difficult past year.

"During lockdown, there was great community spirit," he said.

Neighbours were talking to each other over the garden fence, there were more people out for walks so it was easy to connect with people.

image captionEmily Gargan, 12, was part of the project from the beginning

"But as winter approached, and people were moving back to offices away from their local area, we feared we may lose that community spirit.

"So a bunch of us got together within the Covid guidelines and thought: 'What is something simple we could deliver that brings people together?"

He said a neighbour had wanted to tidy up an area of grass near his house for years.

"This sparked an idea, there were other similar grassy areas that weren't kept as neat and tidy so we thought of a community orchard," he said.

The group then set about securing funding for their project.

image captionResidents can sit and admire the results of their hard work

In total, they secured a total of just over £2,500 including money from Newry, Mourne and Down Council and support from the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Over four days, volunteers planted plum, cherry, apple and pear trees as well as elderberry and blackcurrant shrubs.

Among the volunteers was 12-year-old Emily Gargan, who was part of the project from the beginning.

"It was great. Previously there was only one fruit tree here, so this will be brilliant," she said.

"I'm looking forward to tasting the plums and cherries most as I've never had them straight from the tree before."

It is hoped the trees will yield some cherries this year, but it will be 2023 before the residents of Kinghill and Tullybrannigan will have their first significant community harvest.

In the meantime, they have installed three benches to allow residents to sit and watch their hard work come to fruition.