Firefighters praised after saving a community orchard

Firefighters have been praised after they helped save a community orchard targeted by vandals on Bonfire Night.

Crews at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) have been praised for their intervention after the mindless attack in Southwick on Friday evening.

The Service had worked closely with Northumbria Police and Sunderland City Council to build the community orchard in Southwick as part of the SARA Project.

It was introduced on Cato Street to try and improve the community in the area and has helped reduce anti-social behaviour and the number of deliberate fires.

There was minimal disorder in the area on Bonfire weekend, a change from previous years where there had been high numbers of calls.

But the community as left horrified after waking on Saturday morning to find 23 newly planted trees had been torn from the ground.

Thankfully, TWFRS crews attended alongside Sunderland City Council to salvage as many of the freshly planted trees as they could.

The healthy trees will be re-planted in due course and now a senior firefighter at the Service has praised those who helped salvage the orchard.

Group Manager Tony Markwell, Head of Service Delivery, said “It’s such a shame that this incident has taken place especially as all of those trees are newly planted just one week ago.

“I’m glad our crews were able help save the trees and hopefully they will be rehomed somewhere where they can be looked after.

“We’ve been working so closely with the SARA project and its partners to help reduce ASB in the local area and it’s been working as we’ve seen a reduction in deliberate fire setting.”

They will now be rehomed in the coming weeks at Sunderland Central Community Fire Station just five minutes away from where the garden was initially planted.

The Southwick Altogether Raising Aspirations (SARA) project team have been working hard alongside partners such as Northumbria Police, TWFRS, Sunderland City Council and Gentoo Housing to reduce antisocial behaviour in the Southwick area.

Southwick councillor and SARA representative, Councillor Alex Samuels, said: “We were absolutely horrified by the attack, especially after all the hard work our residents and volunteers had put into planning the orchard and planting it up.

“But we’re grateful that thanks to the quick thinking of fire service colleagues, the majority of trees have survived and will be replanted.

“We will not let this set back get in the way of all the good work going on in Southwick. If anything it will only make us all the more determined.”

Sergeant Claire Wood, of Northumbria Police, said: “I would like to thank the overwhelming majority of people who were respectful and well-behaved while enjoying the Halloween and Bonfire Night period.

“However, it was disappointing to see a small number of people commit this vandalism – which has caused distress to those who’ve put in so much time and effort into the community orchard.

“We will continue to work hand-in-hand with our partners to tackle anti-social behaviour and ensure perpetrators are dealt with swiftly and robustly.”