Arson destroys local community site, threatening the future plans to restore Joseph Chamberlain’s family home

On Sunday 5th May vandals broke into the premises of Highbury Orchard Community CIC (HOCCIC), a community business situated on the former estate of Joseph Chamberlain in Moseley. The vandals stole various items and then set the project cabins on fire. Stolen items were later found at locations around the Highbury estate.

This devastating fire, a major act of vandalism, has meant the project has lost virtually of the resources it uses to run Forest School activities for children and adults of all abilities, along with gardening and community events. Items lost include gardening tools, tables, gazebos and craft materials and wood supplies.

The secure lockup and desk space lost in fire has led to the outdoor activities being cancelled and their future severely curtailed. Those lost Orchard facilities may cost upward of £10,000 to replace, unless access to a local empty building is negotiated, and resources are found through charitable means.

As a small grass-roots organisation, Highbury Orchard Community CIC has survived by being frugal and resourceful in its material needs. Set up in 2012, it runs outward-focused activities relating to nature and community: nature activities, outdoor skills, rustic crafts; and inward-focused activities like confidence building, interpersonal skills, self-reflection, and healthful life practices.

While it has suffered a shattering material loss, the spirit of resilience has taken on new energy and is already at work on a brighter future. The outpouring of support from the community shows that it is incredibly rich in goodwill, and the directors are looking for ways to channel that energy toward a sustainable revisioning for the project.

As things stand, Highbury Orchard and its community are one part of the grand revitalisation of Highbury – the name Joseph Chamberlain gave to his Victorian- Gothic family estate he designed and had built in 1878.

The Chamberlain Highbury Trust’s purpose is to restore the house, gardens and vitality to the estate by working with the community to develop the range of activities and opportunities for local people. The two organisations are mutually supportive, and the orchard project needs the wider Highbury estate to be a sustainable enterprise in order to secure its own future.

Highbury Orchard Community directors Liz Wright, David Papadopoulos, and Trustees at Chamberlain Highbury Trust have made a brief joint statement:

“We believe the restoration of Orchard project facilities will be most effective if the business community gets behind the wider Highbury restoration effort, if only because of the scale of work needed. It will take perhaps five years to complete the wider restoration of the estate, of which, a significant portion goes to support community initiatives like Highbury Orchard Community. So far there is £1m towards a total target of £8m. There are any number of ways that larger organisations and donors can make a difference.

For now, we all agree the urgent need to secure a base at Highbury to provide space and storage to support the community enterprises and volunteers who give so much of their time to the ongoing restoration and activities programmes. While the directors and project leaders are galvanising people on the ground to keep the gardens and activities going, we want the wider community to know that there’s a bigger picture too. Highbury belongs to all of Birmingham; it’s yours to enjoy, and to sustain. The future of this precious place is in your hands. Please come forward, whatever your level of interest.”

So far the orchard group have had offers of tools, labour and a JustGiving page has been set up. A group discussion called From The Ashes – Highbury Orchard Phoenix Group has been set up on Facebook.

For all enquiries about the future of Highbury please contact Sarah Siena Edwards Vice Chair of The Chamberlain Highbury Trust on 07904 324 500 or send an email to: chamberlainhighburytrust@outlook.com

  • Fire at Highbury Orchard in Moseley
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  • Fire at Highbury Orchard in Moseley

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