On 22nd June Northgate’s Orchard Committee members celebrated the opening of The Orchard with close to 50 guests including Orchard Committee parents, Northgate and Dereham Sixth Form Staff and members of the Dereham Community.
The Orchard project is a culmination of 18 months work, starting back with our Green Influencer team in January 2022. Supported by Alex Day, SOS-UK Green Influencer Mentor and Ben Earle, from Gressenhall’s Environment Hub, the idea was for students to take on a social action project. There were plenty of hands-on activities and mini projects along the way and in the end the group decided to create a wildflower area on the school field, in the hope to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to the area and increase biodiversity. Last May, the wildflower area was created and in its first summer over 20 different species of grasses and flowers were identified.
In September a new Orchard Committee was created with a group of 10 students from Year 7, 8 + 10. They were tasked with coming up with ideas to redevelop the outdoor space at Northgate. Following a trip to Gressenhall’s Tree Nursery in July, they were inspired to create their own tree nursery. In the autumn and early winter, berries, seeds and nuts were collected and stratified. In the early summer there was some success with some of the sweet chestnuts germinating.
The group also wanted to create an orchard after hearing that over the last century, about 80% of orchards in the UK have disappeared. They did lots of research into Norfolk Heritage apple trees, deciding on a mix of dessert apples, eating apples and dual-purpose ones, looking carefully at which varieties would work well together in helping to pollinate each other. 7 apple trees were kindly donated by the East of England Apples and Orchards Project and were planted in the early spring. Since then, they have had their initial prune and been taken care of by Orchard Committee members. They hope to be able to use the apples both in food technology lessons, in the school canteen and possibly sell some too.
The third area of the Orchard is a new small wildflower area. Seeds were carefully chosen specifically for a more shaded area with clay type soil and also those that are more colourful to attract bees and butterflies. This area is just beginning and we hope to see it establish itself over the next couple of years.
During the opening there was a speech from Miss Theobald, who has coordinated the project. She thanked the many people who have been involved in some way or another, from building the raised beds, potting tables and fencing for the wildflower area, designing and making the amazing signage, to clearing the area and sharing in the students’ vison. Alex also spoke about the background to the project and presented the students with certificates to acknowledge their hard work so far and the skills and knowledge they have acquired along the way.
Guests were given the opportunity to take tours to the wildflower area, tree nursery and Norfolk Heritage fruit orchard, as well as making seed bombs to scatter in the spring and biodegradable seed pots. Special booklets, created by the students, were on hand giving information about the apple trees and the wildflowers that have already been identified. Guests were also treated to food from The Feed, in Norwich.
We are incredibly proud of what has been achieved already and although The Orchard is in its infancy, we see a bright future for the area, with students and staff alike being able to make use of such a fantastic resource. We look forward to recruiting more Orchard Committee members in September to continue the work already done by students and seeing all areas of the Orchard flourish over the coming years.
In the Orchard, there is also a large stage and seating area that will be used for the school’s upcoming performance of Alice in Wonderland and productions in the future. The space will be developed further over the coming months – an exciting project for the school.