I think we have had a full and very successful year. But this has only been due to the support of what we call the Core Group of volunteers who regularly turn up to the monthly planning meetings, run the events and manage the orchard and allotments. However this has stretched all of us in our volunteering. So we must be careful not to get that dreaded burn-out. Anyway our fresh group of new volunteers has already boosted our organisation and enthusiasm to do more and do it better.
Thanks go to Liz and Diana for all the minuting, Mark for holding the money, Nick and Annie for the website and Facebook page, Nick for looking after the Queens Road allotment, Paul, Andy and Denis for mowing the orchard, Denis and Gareth for all their training and expertise, Pete and Linda for all their support at various workshops and pressings, and all the Core Group for keeping this charity going.
Charity We must remember that as a charity we have a few key formal aims: Plant and maintain community apple orchard in middle of Stamford. Plant and maintain allotment/nursery for English apple trees and relevant fauna. Organise annual apple day event in Stamford to promote our group and to raise funds. Preserve the wildlife lost in the destruction of old orchards. Encourage local schools to use orchards, both new and restored, as an educational resource.
But over the last few years we have developed these so that now we research new varieties, do more training, loan equipment, and give advice to gardeners and growers. So we have grown and developed over the last 14 years, alongside other similar orchard groups.
Orchards SCOG's community orchard is now over 12 years old so the 40 or so apple trees are developing well. Most of them are sponsored by individuals and we are still looking for the final trees to be sponsored. In the summer a wonderful bug hotel was built by a class from St Augustine's Primary School which is a neighbour of the orchard. We have just given the orchard a good wassail event and a prune. Mark Davies, as our local “orchard caretaker” has kept a close eye on all the various issues arising in the orchard.
We also have interests in other local orchards, especially if they are traditional orchards. So we have just started to map local orchards within 20 miles of Stamford. This can contribute to the National Traditional Orchard Survey being organised by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. We have recently provided evidence for two important traditional orchards in Ketton. One of them has now been given a provisional Tree Preservation Order for the whole orchard. It is owned by Hanson plc. and is proposed for housing development.
Allotments We have two free allotment – thanks to the Stamford Town Council. We have re-fenced the Uffington Road Allotment which has a selection of apple trees. Half of it is informally let to Homestart who use it at least once a week with their mother and toddler group. We are now exploring whether they could more formally take on the management and responsibility for the whole allotment as we are no longer using it as a tree nursery. On the other hand the Queen's Road Allotment has our tool store and stock of young growing trees for sale, as well as a new rootstock stool bed. It is managed by Nick Faux, who also uses a small portion for vegetable growing.
Research Sally Uttley with help from Denis Smith, has continued to research the history of local apple varieties and the Stamford orchards of Brown and Laxton. Denis has also continued to travel the region in his attempts to dig out (more properly graft) lost and re-discovered varieties. This makes for some fascinating and ongoing detective stories. For example the tree that was thought to be the long-lost Stamford Pippin is now likely to be the Salisbury Pippin. Only DNA analyses can really help with this. So we have been sending off samples from several unidentified trees for genetic testing.
Programme of events This was the first year of trying to produce a programme of events at the beginning of the year. As it seemed to work we are now developing this for 2018. One of the highlights was the cider and juice tasting, both at some of the monthly meetings, but also in Annie Hall's garden in midsummer.
Apple Day This is the highlight of our year and takes the most planning and organising. So thanks to all the 15 or so volunteers who came to help in our 14th successful year. We had over 1,000 visitors but made about £170 profit – more people but less income than the previous year. Most of the income was from the tombola which had many contributions from local shops and businesses, thanks to Annie Hall and Richard Swann. Yet again Martin Skipper and his team of identifiers from the East of England Apple and Orchard Project have splendidly supported us with their identification table and fantastic display of over 300 apple varieties. Diana Whetton and Sally Uttley have each year performed the thankless task of persuading exhibitors to join us. We have now decided to only ask those exhibitors that have an interest in apples, orchards, their products and nature. We have also decided to offer Stamford-based charities free space. So thanks also to the exhibitors who put on such a good show.
Wassail We had our 4th annual wassail in the community orchard in early January. About 100 people arrived in the orchard with coats, torches and kitchen pans. It seems to be encouraging several other local wassails – in Ketton and in Bourne for the first year. Woven Chords community choir, the French band Salmanazar, and Bourne Borderers, with their dancing and mummers play, put on a great show, making this one of our best wassail events, washed down with plenty of cider and apple juice. Robina as the Wassail Queen and Adam as the King kept the proceeding moving so we now only have to wait for a good apple harvest.
Workshops Denis Smith and Gareth Powell again trained about 30 people during the Grafting and Pruning workshop recently held in Ketton. They have now trained nearly 100 people over the last four years in these magic skills. This is all the better to conserve the rarer local apple varieties and restore older neglected apple trees and orchards. Adam and Mary Cade also ran a successful workshop on using and preserving apples and tree fruit, which also included some community juicing with a range of presses and scratters, including Pete Seamer's fantastical machines made from scrap mobility vehicles.
Promotion We seem to have had a lot of coverage in the local newspapers – Apple Day and the wassail are obviously pretty photogenic. We have started a mailing list of over 200 people who have attended events, workshops etc. and want to keep involved. This has helped us a lot to keep in touch with all those interested in local apples and orchards.
Websites We should be very proud of our new website, thanks to the dogged determination of Nick Faux our webmaster to formally get hold of our web address. He has developed a comprehensive new site with event booking and blogging. Annie Hall has also kept our profile high with regular updates to the SCOG Facebook page. Equipment Loan We now have three apple presses and associated equipment which we have been loaning for free to village and community groups and schools since we got our last Awards for All grant in 2014. This year we loaned the presses to about eight different groups. Several of the early users have now bought or made presses so the habit is spreading.
Links We have made a lot of local links over the last few years. This is especially useful with other orchard groups, for example EEAOP, The Mid-Shires Orchard Group, The Bourne Woods Orchard Group, and the Leicestershire Heritage Orchard Group. We are very grateful to The Reception Desk for acting as a our phone reception and the Stamford Town Council for supporting our activities. We continue to keep an eye on the need for pruning the 60 apple trees that we planted at the Barnsdale Jubilee community orchard which is now managed by Anglian Water plc. We have recently formed good links with the Nene Trust to advise on the development of a planned community orchard and the Green Backyard, both in Peterborough.
Future As to the future, we are still trying to persuade more people to join our Core Group as we are now organising more events. We have recently heard that we have got a grant from the Lottery Award for All scheme for a project to help set up some local community orchards so this will occupy us over next winter. Our planned monthly programme has a both visits (eg. Lyveden New Bield orchard), talks (eg. on the history of Stamford apples, commercial apples) and tastings of apples and drinks. We hope to build on our links with Burghley House, as the owner, Miranda Rock, has recently agreed to be our President and we are due to visit the kitchen garden in the summer. We are also looking forward to working with the Stamford in Bloom group and erecting road signs to our community orchard thanks to funding from, the Skells Trust.
Overall things are looking good for SCOG. I have enjoyed being Chairman over the last year and look forward to another year or two in this role.