8th April 2019

Follow us as we plant trees around the UK

Eugene Costello, Journalist-in-Residence

Tree log hands dirty banner

We're planting 10,000 native trees. And we're putting them in spots chosen by our customers; local schools, charities, community organisations – all with green space to spare.

We're sending trees to almost 600 groups who were keen to get involved. The Octopus tree team is venturing out to meet 15 of them, with the help of former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins and Jess French, host of CBeebies' Minibeast Adventure.

Keep an eye on this tree 'log'. We'll update it every time we get more trees in the ground.

So, where are we off to?

Before we get started – read up on why we're planting trees in our earlier blog and check out the awesome bespoke bundle packs these community projects are receiving. We also offered an opportunity for people to vote for a huge funding prize up to £8,000!

Sarisbury Infant School, 19 March

Our tree planting efforts kicked off in Southampton, where Octopus sales wizard Kelly and wet-behind-the-ears tree guru Tim planted a sensory mini-woodland with Minibeast Adventures' Jess French. The school's special tree bundle is made up of aspen (with leaves that'll one day rustle in the wind so beautifully they almost seem to sing); colourful, blossoming trees like wild cherry, crabapple and rowan (with fiery red leaves); and even nice-smelling trees like juniper and lime.

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Leighton Primary School, 2 April

Next, tree whisperer Tim and mini-beast maestro Jess headed to Peterborough to plant a hedgerow of 50 native beech and hawthorn trees. We hope this day of hands-dirty fun kicks off a new forest school programme for Leighton!

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Colcot Primary School, 2 April

Today, the OG Octopus tree team – Chris Collins and Maddie from Octopus, reunited to plant trees in Barry, South Wales. The school's new Meadow Club came out in full force to plant a new sensory woodland on the school's grounds. Eventually they hope to expand this into a hedge to help shelter the school from a nearby road!

Chris Collins Colcot Primary planting

Walsall Society for the Blind, 5 April

Next, the great Octopus Tree Planting show rolled into Walsall to plant a sensory garden with the Walsall Society For The Blind.

Tim Troy, Octopus Energy’s very own Tree Whisperer, was the ringmaster, with the help of gardener extraordinaire and all-round good egg Chris Collins, formerly the Blue Peter gardener. We were so happy to be joined by Walsall Deputy Mayor Paul Bott, who gave us and a raft of day-centre regulars, staff and volunteers a hand while we planted.

The amazing Chris Collins has carefully curated a bundle of trees that form a sensory mini-woodland – essentially, trees that can be enjoyed through a variety of senses, allowing the Centre's visually impaired members to enjoy the smell, sound, and feel of the trees.

The Centre is on a main road just past the bus station in Walsall. Planting trees is absolutely crucial in urban areas full of smog-causing traffic. That’s where they can have the most impact in saving carbon from being absorbed into the atmosphere, with each tree saving on average 2kg of carbon every single year.

Chris and the WSFTB team had a fantastic time digging and planting the future sensory mini-forest, with more than a slice of good-natured banter.

Walsall Society for the Blind.jpg

Our fave, Chris, getting stuck in. WSFTB's regulars came along to help plant!

Next up – a tree planting extravaganza in the Northeast, visiting three fantastic projects from Sunderland to Middlesbrough. Our fab writer Eugene blogs about the day...

Friends of Backhouse Park

On Friday 5 April, the great Octopus Tree-Planting Show packed up its Big Top in Walsall in the West Midlands and made its way to the Northeast. With the car fully packed with tools, mulch and compost Chris ‘Blue Peter’ Collins and I headed towards an inner-city park in Sunderland.

We had a tryst arranged with the Friends of Backhouse Park. You might think it sounds like we were on our way to a jazz performance. But you’d be quite wrong. Although I do have a beard and was wearing a black polo-neck, now I come to think of it. No, Friends of Backhouse (and Barley Mow) Park is a conservation group of volunteers headed up by the inspirational Mary Todner. It also happens to be quite possibly the best-prepared group of tree planters I – and more relevantly – Chris had ever seen.

Backhouse Park is a wooded gorge that is a natural arboretum close to the city centre. A V-shaped valley with paths snaking around its sharp inclines, the land previously belonged to local worthies, the Quaker family Backhouse. Edward Backhouse (1808–1879) was a committed Liberal, philanthropist and writer. He was also one of the founders of local newspaper the Sunderland Echo. Being Quakers and by definition good eggs, the family gave the land to the city as a gift, to be preserved in perpetuity as a park.

Here's the Friends of Backhouse team (spot Eric the pug!)...

Backhouse team photo.JPG

Sadly, in recent years, the land has been neglected, with tree planting a hit-and-miss affair. Backhouse Park now needs a good dose of love to get back to winning ways. We got things started with a 50 tree mini-woodland, full of native broadleaf saplings from willows to downy birches ideal for planting in wet soil.

But with Mary and her team of committed volunteers on the case, I have no doubt that they will turn the place around. We saw such unbridled enthusiasm, even from Eric the pug who was guarding our wheelbarrow.

With over a dozen volunteers from the very young – “Can we come and watch it grow?” – to the more gnarled woodsmen, the social cohesion that exists when you are outside and getting your hands dirty with nature, is truly a great leveller that brings people together.

Some of the awesome planters at Backhouse Park...

Some of the awesome planters at Backhouse Park

Backhouse was the first on our day trip to the Northeast. The next stop was a little allotment – but with big ideas...

Just Let Your Soul Grow

After a slight magical mystery tour around Sunderland we found Jennie Franks and her wonderful reclamation project. This little slice of paradise-to-be-regained was born out of Jennie being offered a piece of wasteland, and Jennie has wrought miracles with it. Jennie, along with her gang, has made a stunning paradigm that uses urban garden, allotment and eco-space. And, crucially, the project uses the knowledge of local allotment members to teach budding young horticulturalists the way to go. So it was a delight to be able to put something back, just as the space itself does to the community.

The Sunderland Echo arrived and snapped away at our volunteers for the day as we planted some fruit trees. Chris also dispensed wise advice on how best to screen the road with a hedgerow. The plot is right next to a busy road so the additional screening will really help reduce the noise and pollution.

Just Let Your Soul Grow team.jpg

After we spent a good deal of time planting and talking to the volunteers, Jennie offered Chris and me a spot of lunch – a simply superb homemade veg chilli, which certainly warmed our cockles on what was turning out to be a nippy spring day in Sunderland.

After lunch, it was back in the car and off to our last stop of the day – Middlesbrough...

St Thomas More RC School, Middlesbrough

Just across the road from The James Cook University Hospital (the restless captain is associated with Witby, just down the coast, and more earth-shatteringly, my mum worked there 30 years ago) is St Thomas More RC School. We met Alison who created the SHINE programme with the school. It is aimed at helping children relate to nature through themselves. So if they want to feel strong, they plant an oak tree. If they want to express love, then they go for an apple tree. And when they want to conker their enemies, then a horse chestnut tree is just the ticket.

The plan was to create, with our sensory trees (from the ‘singing’ to the nice-smelling to the pink-blossoming varieties), a little bit of a haven for the children to spend time in. They are super-fortunate in that they have a lovely bit of land in which to create this. And it was really impressive to see what they’ve been doing with the space already. Proper little gardeners.

They have a great programme of growing and eating their own produce. Corn was an a-maize-ing hit last year. Terry, one of the school governors, along with the headteacher Jane Apolloni, showed us around their raised beds and polythene tunnel where the baby plants are being nursed. There are also chickens that are being looked after by one of the parents for a few days.

Our tree-planting crew were members of the gardening club, and along with three volunteers, we made short shrift of the planting of their trees.

The visit was topped off nicely by BBC Tees sending one of their reporters down to speak to Chris, the school and Alison about how important it is to plant trees and why the work Octopus is doing is so important. Here’s how they covered our visit to the school – listen from 56:45 mins!

SHINE's amazing planters as well as some parent volunteers prepare for a notorious Chris Collins selfie

St Thomas' trees

In just seven hours, we visited three wholly different projects and met three passionate, dynamic women who are driving real positive change for their local communities. It’s a privilege for Octopus to be supporting their vision.

Huncote Hornets, 13 April

On a sunny, yet nippy, Saturday morning Team Tree from Octopus scrambled down to the BMX track of the mighty Huncote Hornets to help plant a 50-strong hedgerow on the embankment of the race track. This will, in time, shield the track from the elements, and provide a great natural habitat for critters and such.

Jan Freakly is the real hero here, having singlehandedly set up the club from scratch, providing an excellent opportunity for kids to take their BMXing skills to the next level.

With help from the Octopus Leicester Ops team, we made light work of the dry ground, digging holes for the hedgerow and planting it with plenty of compost.

News of our endeavours had reached the area before we did, so the morning was rounded off nicely when BBC Radio Leicester came down and did a live broadcast of the planting. This featured chats with our Chris and Jan.

Check out the BBC's broadcast of our planting trip. You’ll find our segment at 2hr 15 mins in!

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The Scotland Tour, 16th April

Hawthorn Bank, Queensferry

Next, the Octopus team rumbled headed north of the border to visit two inspirational projects. First, we met Fiona Chandler who, along with her crew, has taken over a formerly derelict garden owned by Edinburgh Council and then set about raising some funds to create a beautiful walled garden. They needed some trees to help bring the garden to life. They really wanted a sensory garden as they felt that it is important for physical and mental wellbeing to be able to touch and smell the plants

Though the weather was a bit damp, our spirits were not and seeing the progress of the garden on the picture boards was really inspiring.

Last word goes to Fiona:

“We had a great morning with Chris and Ollie [our own Oliver Bumby, credit specialist in Leicester]. We planted six trees. Two (the junipers) have gone into planters until they reach a size when we can plant them in the garden. The two oaks and aspen went into a neighbouring, well-established park where they can grow to their full potential!

“We had a team of planters with their spades and watering can, composting bark and wood shavings to feed the lovely trees Octopus Energy gave us. Thank you so very much for your gift of these trees. We will keep you posted on their progress.”

Hawthorn Bank tree planting team

Robin House, Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), Dumbartonshire

From under the shadow of the Forth Bridge, we had a two-hour drive across Scotland’s central belt to the edge of Loch Lomond, where we arrived at Robin House in Balloch. It’s a supercool Scandinavian-style property that looks like it was featured on Grand Designs, and comes replete with a hydro-pool, an art room and a den, and a set of landscaped gardens.

The gardens are under the care of Maggie Brown who works alongside dedicated volunteers. She tells us that they have different types of gardens all designed to provide a therapeutic environment as families really appreciate the value and the comfort of being outside, enjoying the restorative power that nature brings.

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Again, the weather was not our friend but this did not stop us from planting their sensory tree pack. There was such a good crowd out helping us, made even sweeter by the amazing homemade Octopus cake. Such a lovely touch!

Octopus cake CHAS

The day here was marked with laughter and with love, and it brought the sunshine into our lives – even if the weather didn’t!

Alexander Devine Hospice, Maidenhead 17 April

It all went south for Project Tree after that – but in a good way! It was off to Berkshire to continue our tree-planting tour (just round the corner from Legoland) to a new children’s hospice that has only been open for 18 months or so. Purpose-built to provide care for those who visit and their families, it comes with beautiful gardens designed so that everyone can enjoy spending time either near the grand, wooden chair where you can rest peacefully or among the lego butterflies and bugs that are dotted about.

On to the planting and the ground had been wonderfully prepared by Claire Rhodes and her team (no mean feat given the sunny, dry weather).

Dr Jess French joined us and bought with her some of her “mini-beasts” – these were a great addition to the family day at the hospice. She had a millipede and various stick and leaf insects. The children loved them. Some of the grown-ups, less so!

Read how the Windsor Observer covered the day.


Routeways, Plymouth 18 April

Our busy week of travelling came to a gloriously sunny end in Plymouth, home of Routeways who look to ensure that disadvantage doesn’t become a barrier for children, young people and families. The team here wanted a hedgerow to improve the overall appearance of its large outdoor area and educate the children about the seasons and plants. They had a wildlife dipping pond and really wanted a hedgerow to surround it as it would provide a home to more than 100 different species.

The centre is run by Mark Collings, Routeways’ chief executive at the Devon Port site, and he was on hand to help our young team of eager volunteers help get the 50-sapling hedgerow off to the best possible start.

Check out our special day down in Plymouth:

Hornsea Community Primary, 26 April

On Friday 26 April, the seaside was calling out to us, so we packed up the Octopus Treemobile with shovels, spades and trowels and headed off from Leicester. I headed over in the spring sunshine to Grantham to pick up the incomparable Dr Jess French, my partner-in-vine, and we headed north. We crossed a major item off our spade-and-bucket list by driving across the Humber Bridge, the world’s longest road suspension bridge when it opened to traffic in 1981. Sadly, its fortunes since then have followed those of Hully City and it now languishes at tenth, having been overtaken by the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in 1998…

Onwards we sped, until we arrived at Hornsea, a small seaside resort 15 miles or so north of Hull.

We went straight to Hornsea Community Primary School, where we met Michelle Simmonite, the deputy head, who gave us a warm and effusive welcome. After a long trip in the car, we were starving, so Michelle directed us to Harper’s Fish ‘N’ Chips across the road, the best in town, Michelle assured us.

Sitting in the sun eating our chips (Jess is vegetarian so I followed suit out of politeness), and listening to the seagulls cawing as they circled overhead, I reflected on the fact that I have the best job in the world. Probably.

Sated, it was time to get to work. We were shown the area where they wanted to create a tree-lined pathway through to a charming forest garden. The caretaker very kindly dug holes for us to plant our trees. They picked out a number of pupils from different classes who were brimming with excitement at meeting Jess “off that CBeebies”. One little boy shyly said, “Ee, you’re a lot taller than I thought you’d be”! She is pretty tall, to be fair.

She handed out her Minibeast books like they were sweets, and then we got planting. The school had plumped for sensory trees, so we planted oaks, limes, poplars, junipers, cherries, aspen and crab-apple trees.

The ceremony took on a spiritual dimension when we were joined by the local retired vicar who spoke movingly about what these trees will bring the community and how they will endure long after he has passed, taking root in the heart of the community. He was very thankful to Octopus Energy for what he called “this precious gift”.

We had volunteers along helping from HUGS – Hornsea Urban Gardeners. These included Jackie, a stalwart of the group who brought vim and vigour, along with a good dose of down-to-earth Yorkshire friendliness.

So a grand day by the seaside, with chips, cherry trees and cheerfulness. What more could a man ask for?

Tree planting day

Darton Primary School, 10th May

The Great Octopus Tree Roadshow is heading for its final sell-out trio of gigs. First up, the Tree-mobile headed north to God’s own county, Yorkshire, and swooped down into the sloping valleys upon the handsome town of Barnsley.

We were heading for the impressive Darton Primary School, a modern glass-and-steel complex on the leafy brow of a hill overlooking the valley. Suddenly, the redoubtable Chris Collins remembered he had been here before, three years ago to talk to the school about the power of gardening, so we knew we were on to a winner with such an engaged school. Plus, more pressingly and just as usefully, he knew where to park. Always a useful ace to have up the sleeve on this tour, as we have learnt to our cost.

We met up with Fiona O’Brien, a project manager for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, who had chosen for the school to receive the trees. They were 12 lovely saplings to grow into a sensory woodland – including oaks, aspens, cherries and junipers. The school ultimately wants to plant them in the local park but over the summer wanted to look after them in their playground. A retired former councillor, Linda Burgess, volunteered to be another pair of hands on deck, or rather, asphalt, and joined us for the planting. All that was missing were the children. Luckily, Mrs Beth Smith had co-opted the School’s Eco Council to help us out.

Here they all are...

A photo of Darton Primary tree planters

Off we trotted to the playground where Fiona had supplied pots for the trees to go in. They plan on decorating these pots over the next few weeks, so they should bring a splash of colour as well as a dash of nature.

Chris helpfully provided advice on how best to plant the trees and then we all set about tackling them with two children each filling the pots (only to the top of the roots) as Chris had directed. Once they had some plant food (or “bacon and eggs” as Shaun the Barnsley Chronicle photographer who came down to capture the day put it), they were all ready to be watered.

Mrs Smith told us that she had managed to secure the donation of a hose to the school, so the trees were given a suitably decent drench to set them on their way. And then we were on ours, slightly sad that we only had two more gigs left to play in the 2019 tour.


Penryn College, Cornwall, 14 May

Next, we headed out west for our penultimate tree-planting extravaganza. Way out west, in fact, to Penryn in Cornwall! In another first, it was our premier gig at a secondary school.

Carey Kaack is the inspirational teacher who heads up the Environment Council within the school, with 20 students all willing to learn and help plant the lime, oak, cherry and juniper trees on the beautifully manicured lawn at the front of the college.

With Chris on hand to advise, he was able to work with the groundkeeping staff at the college in the form of John (49 years of work behind him and due to retire in the summer), Alex and Robyn. We marked out where the trees were to be planted, and with a trailerful of spades, forks, compost and feed we were ready to get planting.

Chris gathered the group around and with a bit of hefty spadework, we managed to get the first hole dug. Tree duly planted, and then we asked the students to split into groups, pick a tree up and then go and plant.

With a bit of help, as the ground was stony in places, all 12 trees were successfully rooted into their new homes, with stern instructions from Chris to supply them with plenty of water over the summer months.

The session would not be complete without a hearty round of fluffy Octopus finger puppets for the whole team – beloved by students, teachers and groundkeepers alike!

Then with the sun and sea air on our faces, we trundled back down the hill to catch our train back east...

Penryn College planting

Home of Comfort Nursing Home, Southsea, 17 May

Our last hurrah, and we ended where we started many weeks ago, on the south coast. Then it was Southampton, on 2 April; this time it was near neighbours, and old rivals, Portsmouth where we were doing two extra-special tree plantings, and again, a series of ‘firsts’ for this tour. Our first indoor tree planting and our first MP.

The Treemobile came fully loaded with Octopus photographer Lisa Scott, here to take pictures of the events, and Esme Anderson who works in our Operations team. She asked if she could bring her harp to serenade us for the tree-planting ceremonies. We didn’t want to string her along (sorry) so we immediately said, “What an excellent idea!” The Treemobile thus had pear trees, no partridges, spades, trowels, a fluffy octopus and, um, a harp.

We had the opportunity to be part of the Vote 100 celebrations, which is a programme of events and celebrations marking 100 years since Parliament passed a law that allowed some women, and all men, to vote for the first time – click click here to read more. Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan went one step further and smashed it out of the park with his ‘Vote 100, Plant 100’ campaign; you can read more about his initiative here. The campaign has sought both to raise awareness of the centenary and to bring together different aspects of the local community united by one goal, that of democratic engagement. It was humbling and an honour for Octopus Energy to be part of this fantastic programme.

Today was a double header so we parked up outside The Home of Comfort Charitable Nursing Home to plant a pear tree. We did this in the comfort of the dining room as it was a bit chilly outside. This tree was going to go into a pot, to then be transferred to one of their newly prepared flower beds in the fullness of time.

Eileen, one of the residents, was eager to help us plant our trees and had great fun in playing with the Octopus finger puppets. Musical accompaniment came from Esme who provided a planting soundtrack with one of her own compositions on the harp.

Joanne, who runs the care home, was telling me that it was founded in the 1890s in order to provide a care home for women only so it seemed entirely fitting that one of the 100 trees should be planted here in recognition of the wonderful achievements of Emmeline Pankhurst and her doughty band of suffragettes.

As great believers in diversity and equality at Octopus, we felt honoured and privileged to be part of Stephen’s wonderful initiative, and I will confess to feeling a little choked at the significance of the event.

We then moved on to Newbridge Junior School, which happened to be the school that Stephen went to a few years back. Here we met the headteacher, Mrs Anna Webb, and gathered around the pond along with members of the school’s Environment Council who were super-excited to tell us all about the tadpoles they had in their impressive pond.

With some colourful pots in which to plant the trees, we were all set to go. With some extra help from other teachers and the local trust, we finished off our last tree planting with a bittersweet sense that we were saying farewell to what has been an amazing and inspiring tree rollercoaster tour the length and breadth of the country

Southsea final planting.jpeg
image of Eugene Costello

Eugene Costello

Journalist-in-Residence

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!

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