School gardens: Grow your own orchard

Veolia Orchard offers free fruit trees to schools so that pupils can plant and nurture young saplings to enhance their environment and grow food. Here, we speak to two participating schools

‘Our two-form entry primary school has a large sports field. Part of it was unused so we set up a Forest School in this space. There were already several birch and oak trees and we have created a wild area with flowers and a pond, where the children can interact with nature.

When we received an email from waste and recycling contractor Veolia UK about its campaign to provide free fruit trees to schools, we decided to apply. Growing fruit trees seemed like a great way to extend our activities with nature and enrich our pupils’ learning, alongside curriculum links.

We were delighted to be chosen to receive six British varieties of apple and pear saplings for our grounds. Planting was done in partnership with Stafford Borough Council and Veolia. Council employee Becky Martin brought along equipment to help us plant the saplings near the edge of the running track. Our Eco Council joined in the work, getting a great insight into careers in the outdoors.

The children were fascinated by all the insects and stones they found in the ground once we started digging. We spoke about reducing our carbon footprint and organic planting. All the trees blossomed this spring and looked beautiful. On Sports Day, the children sat around the trees, talking about the fruit they would have as their snack.

The Forest School sessions run throughout the year and are a holistic way for all our year groups to learn through hands-on work and science links that build a connection with the earth in every season. At a time when much of life and play is inside and static, this experience provided an opportunity for our pupils to get their hands dirty and make a positive impact on their environment.’

  • Katie Reed, Forest School leader, St John’s CE Primary Academy, Stafford. St Chad’s Academies Trust

‘The trees are something the children can take ownership of’

Our primary school has done a lot of work with Veolia (such as litter picking in local parks and building a bug hotel) and we have a good relationship with their local education, communications and outreach worker, Romy Santer.

We are a small school of 275 pupils on the outskirts of Watford, with a large playing field that used to be the site of the water storage tanks used for steam trains. The field gets lots of sun but very little shade, so the offer of free fruit trees from Veolia sounded like an ideal solution.

Trees create their own natural air conditioning and they are something the children can take ownership of by helping to plant the saplings and manage the area around them. There are also links to science as pupils can measure the growth of the trees and understand how and why they blossom and bear fruit. We were delighted to receive two pear trees, two apple trees and a plum tree.

The children were fascinated by how deep they had to dig to plant the trees and all the old roots they came across as they did so. They were also excited about the fruit they would get – so much so that we’ve put in another bid and hope to get more trees this year!

  • Lynne Wambeek, assistant head, Bromet Primary School (Agora Learning Partnership) Watford

Veolia scheme bears fruit

Launched in 2022, this national partnership between resource management company Veolia, the community action charity Groundwork and Tesco aims to create a national network of school orchards.

Schools can apply for free fruit trees and strawberry plants to help pupils develop new skills and create positive changes in their environments. As the trees and plants mature, they will provide a source of healthy food, while also helping to improve local air quality and support biodiversity.

In 2022, the programme provided 500 fruit trees and 100 bird boxes to 100 schools. This year, they will be supporting another 187 schools with more than 500 trees and 700 strawberry plants.

The initiative is part of Veolia’s Sustainable Schools programme, which includes interactive assemblies, workshops, competitions and e-learning resources for schools on how to support the planet through sustainability, recycling and minimising waste.

For more information on Veolia Orchard, visit Applications for 2024 open next summer. Schools should highlight how they intend to integrate their trees into a learning programme.

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