Swaffham orchard turning offenders’ lives around

It has turned lives around for offenders and transformed a formerly overgrown part of Swaffham.

The Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, on redundant railway land near the Orford Road recreation field, is now believed to be the largest of its kind in Britain.

Originally thought up in October 2009 by Georgie Keddie, of Babingley, near Sandringham, now aged eight, the project was part of a 10-year plan called Advance Swaffham – A vision for the next decade, launched in September 2009 by Baroness Shephard.

The plan is now led by the town's Iceni Partnership and Advance Swaffham Action Group.

Work on the orchard started in October 2010 with the help of about 65 volunteers from the local area, but at the start of last year – after bad weather held up the project – Community Payback offenders started to transform the site.

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'You get repeat offenders or people who have had too much to drink and have made a mistake,' said Dave Todd, offender supervisor for Norfolk and Suffolk probation trust.

He added: 'We are here to help people because you can turn someone's life around when they come here. Some people have never picked up a hammer before – but if you give them enough enthusiasm they can do the work.'

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Since the Community Payback offenders became involved in the orchard some 200 trees, mainly growing apples, have been planted, a previously overgrown area has been cleared and three polytunnels, fencing and footpaths have been established.

About 500 Community Payback offenders, who range from 16 to 70 years old and have committed a variety of offences from assault to drink-driving, have helped regenerate the area.

During each working session at the orchard, which lasts six-and-a-half-hours, they complete gardening and DIY tasks as well as coming up with their own ideas, up to three days a week.

Mr Todd said: 'Once they get motivated into doing something they want to own it.

'It gives them an incentive to do the work. Just because they are on here it doesn't mean they are not intelligent. When the public see the orange jackets they think 'oh no', until they know the skills that the offenders bring to probation and the community.

'If the offenders are motivated enough they get stuck in and feel they have put something back into the community. Some of this work does help them stop re-offending.'

He added that residents used to be wary of the Community Payback teams but are less so now they know what work the offenders have done.

'I think the orchard is going to be a tremendous boost for the area once it is up and running,' Mr Todd said.

One offender, who wished to remain anonymous, said working on the orchard made his sentence go quicker and has stopped him drinking.

He added: 'It is nice to do something different for a change.'

Future plans for the orchard include planting 500 fruit trees along a walkway from the orchard to the A47, growing different fruit and vegetables for the community, producing the flowers for Swaffham's display for this year's Anglia in bloom competition and Christmas trees to go up in the town this year.

Mark Keddie, 42, who is the father of Georgie Keddie, is chairman of the community orchard project and said the development of the site has been an 'amazing journey'.

He added: 'Without the Community Payback team we wouldn't have been able to do the project.

'We would have stumbled and would not have been able to move forward. They are hard working and love coming here. They love doing something positive. Attitudes from people have changed towards the Community Payback offenders. There hasn't been one negative thing said about them working on the site.

'Some of the offenders have said they want to carry on volunteering at the orchard after they have completed their sentence.'

Mr Keddie, a retained firefighter at Sandringham fire station, said the orchard was for anyone who wanted to grow their own vegetables and learn about biodiversity.

He hoped the orchard would allow Swaffham to become self-sustainable in the future and in 100 years time will become a heritage orchard.

Money for the project originally came from the Big Lottery Fund, which awarded �10,000, and further grants have also come from Breckland Council.

If you would like to volunteer at the orchard contact Mr Keddie by ringing 07919 492241 or email swaefasswale@hotmail.co.uk


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