Story: The Peace Orchard

The Peace Orchard is located in Coventry and was created in 2016.  It is part of a larger park and is managed by volunteers. It was planted by local people of all ages and teaches history, nature and is a commemoration for the young men who gave their lives in Normandy in 1944. It encourages children of today to be peacemakers. 

Lots of people have visited the Orchard during lockdown as part of allowed daily exercise.  We wanted to build on this as many of the normal activities that happen and groups getting together were no longer able to.  We were aware that many of us have been self-isolating and aren’t able to visit the Orchard so we were looking for ways to extend opportunities to bring the Orchard to people in their own homes. 

We contacted Community Catalysts after seeing the Valuable and Vulnerable campaign.  After talking through our ideas, we decided we wanted to start with running a ‘writing for wellbeing’ workshop that focussed on people’s responses to the Orchard…and gave them a chance to explore their value and vulnerability. 

We found a local organisation Writing for Wellbeing – Creative ways to harness your potential to develop and facilitate the workshop for us which is aimed at people who have been isolating for many different reasons. 

We wanted participants to reflect on what has passed in the past 12 months and think about how to build on their inner strengths as a way to move forward into spring. We thought this might help people to build connections with others and be encouraged to see themselves as part of the Peace Orchards activities and opportunities going forward. 

We aimed to create a group poem and agree key words to be handed on to our summer Orchard artist Michala Gyvala.  We planned for participants to be invited to work with Michala to create an Orchard blanket to form the centrepiece of our annual Peace picnics and be a lasting legacy of our communities emerging out of lockdown. 

The event took place on Thursday 15th April and was attended by 10 participants.  The gentle pace of the session helped to provide a safe and comforting space.  Several individuals felt able to open up about their experience of lockdown after the first couple of writing exercises. The way the group then responded was truly special…as there was a wave of recognition and sharing of our common vulnerability.   

Thank you for bringing that workshop to us tonight. Was quietly powerful which is the type of interaction I hugely appreciate it.

We wrote a poem to ourselves and what the word Orchard meant in describing key characteristics.  And in that safe space and time we created the group poem that came from our hearts! 

 The Apple Orchard 

 (After Seamus Heaney) 

From new hope and half-forgotten joys,
With patience, rooted, each tree has a voice.

To be part of an apple orchard is to 
Grow into the sun,

To part of something bigger than me and I,
The orchard gives me a sense of sharing 

And growth; branching underground.
To be part of an apple orchard is unifying, 

Come what may. To be, without being anything. 
It’s reassuring and comforting; we are not alone.

To be part of an apple orchard is to be a flower 
In the soft sunlight. It’s the sitting quietly together 

As if we were in the orchard listening, 
Seeing with new eyes and open hearts,

To the wonder of it all, share together its promises, 
Stories and love. To feel lucky. 
Often, I feel like my tree stands alone. 
I flourish better in a tribe. 

Thank you for letting your twigs touch mine 

I have never done any writing course, nor have I ever written a poem before and I am absolutely astonished how much I got out of this class. Being able to reflect on my current emotional state in such different way was refreshing and gave me a different insight.

Claudia 

It took everyone by surprise as to what was a very therapeutic 2 hours and how we managed to produce this lovely poem.  As Leah was pulling our different contributions together, Michala the Peace Orchard Artist in Residence talked about opportunities for all to get involved in other creative workshops.  The poem forms part of the next stage and the words will be interwoven into the applesun picnic blankets that will be produced.  These then will be used at our annual peace picnics and we will reflect on the words and meaning in years to come. 

Thank you, Community Catalysts, for help in making this happen and seeding a whole series of participatory activities that give life to the Peace Orchard.