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COVID-19: ADVICE FOR STaff, STUDENTS AND COMMUNITY

Building RGU’s Community Orchard

RGU Campus
Former and current university staff highlight how RGU's community orchard contributes to the "Healthy University" approach.

The university is working on a community orchard which will provide a communal green space on campus. The space is located behind the Energy Transition Institute and is currently being fenced off using the generous funds donated by Aramark. This activity will ensure the area is properly secured and safe for use.

We are seeking volunteers to help us build and maintain this beautiful orchard which will bring many benefits. Chris (former RGU staff member), Camilla and Helen talk about why this orchard is important to the university community and why you should be a part of it.

Chris Fletcher

The idea for the community orchard was inspired by the idea of having a space for RGU and Garthdee communities to meet together. From my interest in designing edible landscapes, I thought that an orchard would be a good use of the extensive grounds that RGU had to offer as well as an opportunity to show people how they could grow their own food. This is especially important in these uncertain times to empower people, particularly young adults starting out in life. The orchard has been designed along permaculture principles and will be planted as a polyculture of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. The aim of the project is to have an area of peace and community for people to come together and learn about each other and growing food. There is a strong desire to allow children to play in the orchard and learn about the natural world about them as well as allowing them to be children.

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It is an opportunity to teach people about food, where it comes from and how to produce it easily in their own gardens, even if that is just a balcony. It is also a space for socialising and relaxing. Perhaps having seasonal festivals such as an apple day where people can come and pick apples, or simply a place to find space to breathe and relax. To ensure the success of the Community Orchard we hope we will have plenty of volunteers for immediate activities such as setting out the area and tree planting and long-term care and maintenance. This will not be much, just pruning at the appropriate times, some weed control and of course the best bit, harvesting fruit. Besides the literal fruits of labour, volunteers will also benefit from learning new skills in plant care and maintenance, how edible landscapes work and of course meeting new people.

Camilla Erika-Campbell

The impact of nature on mental health is vast, I remember reading when I was on maternity leave that getting out once a day can work wonders for your health. Although the COVID-19 lockdown restricted what we could do, getting outside still became important for my family. For the last six years I have been taking part in the 30 Days Wild initiative run by The Wildlife Trusts where you undertake a ‘random act of wildness’ every day during the month of June. For 30 days I explored my surroundings and documented my experiences through social media and by blogging. Simply being outside can have so many benefits not just physically but mentally. Taking the time to slow down in our fast paced and often stressful lives and spending time with friends and family or even alone without the constant distractions of screens can be all we need.  For many it is a cleanse away from their busy lives, being able to stop and listen to the river flow and watch the wildlife is sometimes all we need to hit the reset button. It grounds us. For my family it has given us the opportunity to learn more about our surroundings, the birds, the wildflowers, the trees, and have open discussions with our son. He is three so is at the perfect age to learn about wildlife and more importantly have an appreciation for nature.

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For so many people, RGU Campus offers this escape and ability to connect with nature whether it be through their lunchbreak or walking to classes or meetings. The Orchard and wild garden project extend this by allowing the RGU community to get involved as well as inviting the local community to learn more about nature in the wildest setting there is.

Helen Castle

Our hope is that an outdoor education area can be established in the adjacent wooded area.  The idea is that schools, community groups and families can access and enjoy this space.  It would have very low impact on the existing natural set up but would include fencing/gating to keep younger children safe and some natural log seating.   We hope that this will feed in well to the university’s widening participation agenda, community engagement and, amongst other things, will give children who have no garden or safe outdoor spaces in their community the chance to explore nature.  COVID-19 has obviously increased the importance of outdoor spaces and outdoor learning. The latter has been promoted by the Scottish government extensively in the last decade or so but has become even more of a priority as schools and nurseries reopen. 

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(image credit: Martin Parker)

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