Chippy’s Green Gym: the Natural Way to Make a Difference
If you thought the Green Gym was just a fun way to keep fit outdoors, why not think again?
For this determined band of volunteers is doing extraordinary things to rescue and restore some of Chippy’s most ancient woodlands, celebrating the community harvest along the way.
Creating a renewable source of energy from a wasteland? Can do. Pushing back the weeds and brambles strangling the town’s historic Common? No trouble. Paying homage to the seasons with Blossom Day and Apple Day festivals in the much-loved community orchard? All in a day’s work.
It’s true that the members of this independent group aim to have fun, exercise and keep fit while they tackle some challenging conservation projects in and around their town.
But they are building an impressive portfolio of achievements, much of it based on restoring precious stretches of common land which survived the Enclosures Act of 1770.
GG members have helped create a brand new mixed broad-leaf wood from a patch of wasteland nobody knew what to do with.
This is a one-acre piece of ancient common land or Regulated Pasture which, in its overgrown and tangled state, was put forward as the site of a possible skateboard park or office development. Under the auspices of the Field Reeves, members cleared a mess of fallen trees, brambles and noxious weeds in 2013 before planting some 350 trees – a blend of hazel, hornbeam, small-leaved lime and English oak. Space has been left to form a central glade, edged with crab apple, silver birch, dog rose and dogwood.
In years to come, the woodland will become a valuable source of renewable energy. Income gained from the sale of this timber will be used to maintain the Chipping Norton’s common land and heritage.
The team has worked tirelessly to rebuild the badly eroded footpath at tranquil Pool Meadow.
Having designed and built a flood diverter to prevent future erosion, members still cannot rest on their laurels. Regular work is required in cleaning out the Common Brook to prevent overflow, cutting back brambles from pastures and pathways, keeping the steps from the recreation ground clear, and removing assorted rubbish.
Since the planting of Chippy’s community orchard in 2010, Green Gym members have transformed the site into a true local resource.
Managed by Field Reeves and maintained by Green Gym, the orchard is always open to the public – for walking, picnicking and fruit picking – and plays host to a couple of free annual harvest celebrations, now a permanent feature of town life. The students of Chipping Norton School designed and donated a special orchard notice board, unveiled by Mayor Mike Tyson last year (see above).
Blossom Day, scheduled for Sunday 10th May, boasts music, fresh food and great company, aiming to involve children and families in a community event promoting local food production. Surrounded by fruit blossom, entertainment includes children’s games and possibly Morris dancing, with apple juice and fruit pies for refreshment.
Apple Day, held in October, pays tribute to the harvest, with the King’s Stone Wassailers generally performing their ancient rites aimed at providing a bountiful orchard crop. Last year saw a scavenger hunt, and visitors brought their own apples to press, taking home the juice. Music, games and food are also a feature of the day.
Kingham Millenium Wood
With 4,000 native deciduous trees having been planted here in recent years, the Green Gym spend many hours cutting back and digging up brambles to ensure the young trees have the space and nutrients they need to grow. They also clear paths through the seven-acre wood.
Hook Norton Cutting Nature Reserve
Green Gym have cut back brambles and scrub along the old Cheltenham to Banbury railway line, so allowing butterflies and wild flowers to reclaim the space.
Glyme Valley Nature Reserve
In a glorious restoration of habitat, members have cleared invasive blackthorn scrub which was invading the ancient limestone grassland. The dense thorn bushes lining the reserve remain a haven for birds such as blackcap, bullfinch and yellowhammer.
In March, the Green Gym planted 16 ornamental trees along the grass verges of Cornish Road.
Have Tools, Will Travel
Jenny Harrington, of the Green Gym, describes the group as a friendly, easy-going gang who welcome new volunteers.
Currently meeting on Wednesday mornings, no prior skills or experience are needed – just a willingness to make friends and get stuck in.
“If anyone manages a community site which could do with our help, we ask them to let us know”, Jenny told ECN. “It’s surprising what a gang of volunteers can do in a morning – and much cheaper than contractors! We only work on community sites which are open to the public and, while we do charge some landowners a nominal amount, there is no charge for schools, the Town Council or the Field Reeves who manage Chippy Common.”
“We are particularly grateful for the annual grant we get from the Town Council, which helps us replace tools and pay for the rent of our tool shed and annual insurance. For special projects such as tree planting we apply for grants from appropriate bodies, such as the ORCC and the Woodland Trust for the Community Orchard, and TOE for Fitzalan Wood. These are very valuable, as they enable us to keep on doing our work.”
The Green Gym is always keen to work alongside children, encouraging them to garden, grow food, care for the countryside and respect their school environment.
At St Mary’s Primary School, members have created new vegetable beds and built a circle of rustic garden benches. Work has also been done at Holy Trinity Catholic School, the ACE Children’s Centre gardens, and Warriner School farm at Bloxham, near Banbury.
So what does the Green Gym have up its sleeve now? New grant funding from the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment is enabling the group to create a new wood on the western edge of Hawkyard’s Common, traditionally known as ‘The Triangle’.
Well, what’s a little challenge between friends?