Orchard Origins’ Volunteers: Clare’s Story

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Herefordshire is one of many Wildlife Trusts to run a nature-based social enterprise to improve people’s mental and physical wellbeing.  They are doing so because a huge body of research shows that access to nature has great benefits for people, among them reduced depression, obesity and diabetes. Mental ill health costs the UK £105.2 billion in 2009-2010 (The Centre for Mental Health). One study suggests green therapy could save the NHS £2.1bn a year.

This is Clare’s story on how volunteering with Orchard Origins has helped her. 

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It’s a beautiful Autumn morning and the harvest is in full swing. Clare, like her fellow colleagues, seems completely at peace with her surroundings.

Clare is a farmer by profession, but she’s not at work today. She’s here to relax, meet friends and get in contact with nature.

Farming can be really isolating – it’s so nice to enjoy the social life here, and to know that other people like apples!” she says.

It’s not just about this year’s apple crop. Clare is also recovering.

Being affected by mentall ill health can feel isolating. You feel away from the world, but here you’re connected. I like the whole cycle of these trees. I enjoy finding neglected trees and putting their fruits to good use.

Clare is volunteering for Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Orchard Origins, which aims to improve people’s wellbeing as well as manage some of the county’s most beautiful – and formerly neglected – orchards. Every Friday, the Trust brings together local people and clients from Herefordshire Mind to care for spaces that are part fruit crop, part wildlife habitat.

We try to create an environment for people to talk, to feel comfortable and relaxed,” explains Laurence, Orchard Origins manager. “About half of our volunteers are recovering from or managing recognised mental health conditions, but all feel better for being involved.

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Volunteers get involved in every step of juice production and cider making, from pruning to bottling and labelling. The new skills, friendly atmosphere and green surroundings are a huge help.

The change in these people is absolutely massive,” says Laurence. “In the first week, people’s chins are down, and you can tell they’re thinking, ‘Why on Earth am I here?’ After a few weeks, the tension in their shoulders has gone and they walk through our gates with shoulders back and proud smiles. That’s the whole magic of it.

Pouring out tea for each of his hard- working volunteers, he smiles proudly. “I have the best job in the world. It’s all about making people happy. How can you not enjoy that?”

[This is based on an article was originally published in Wildside Summer/Autumn 2015 issue]

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