Newcastle Building Society grant shines a light on Sunbeams' musical orchard plans

Release Date: 2nd February

A unique Cumbrian charity's plans to create a 'musical orchard' are set to take a big step forward after it was awarded a four-figure grant through the Penrith branch of Newcastle Building Society.

Annie Mawson's Sunbeams Music Trust has been working for the last 25 years to improve the health and well-being of people with special needs across Cumbria through the creative power of music.

Founded by Cumbrian-born harpist and singer, Annie Mawson, the Trust provides therapeutic music sessions in over 40 project venues to around 2,000 disabled and disadvantaged people every month, and after years of planning and fundraising, it recently moved into a purpose-built music centre at Redhills in Penrith.

As part of the development of the Redhills site, the Trust has been looking at creating a musical orchard on a quarter-acre piece of land which would contain musical instruments for users to play amongst a forest of fruit trees.

And now, after being nominated by Michael Lawson-Johnson, a customer at Newcastle Building Society's Market Square branch in Penrith and a director of the Trust, a £2,768 grant has been given by the Society to Sunbeams to pay for dozens of apple trees to be planted on the site.

The grant will cover the cost of creating a network of EcoGrid footpaths around the orchard site, to ensure it is fully accessible to everyone, and an aluminium 'batphone.' which is an outdoor musical instrument with six thick-walled pipes that is played with table tennis-shaped foam bats.

The Trust is now taking advice from the North Cumbrian Apple Growers Association on the best types of trees to plant in the orchard, and is expecting to begin planting in the spring.

The Newcastle Building Society funding has been provided by its Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which has been set up to provide grants to charities and community groups that are located in or around the communities served by the Society's branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.

Since its launch in 2016, the Fund has contributed over £142,000 in grants to projects across the Society's North East and Cumbria heartland, and is so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 77,000 people.

Michael Lawson-Johnson says: “Having moved into our new centre, we've been looking at ways in which to make the most of our grounds, and identified the musical orchard idea as a great way of extending what we do into the outdoors.

"In time, the orchard will be a wonderful place for people to spend time, especially during the warmer summer months and when there are apples to be picked in the autumn, and will enable us to combine both music and exercise opportunities for our service users.

"Newcastle Building Society's grant is key to us getting this project off the ground, and we're excited at the prospect of seeing it start to come to life over the coming months."

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 can be made in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities.

Earlier this year, the Fund provided a £2,410 grant to help Talkin Tarn Amateur Rowing Club extends its community engagement work in Cumbria by buying a new single boat which was especially for beginners or inexperienced rowers.

Matt Taylor, manager at Newcastle Building Society's Penrith branch, says: “The Trust's work makes a massive difference to the lives of hundreds of people living across Cumbria, and this exciting project will extend this impact even further.

“Contributing to our communities is central to our Society's way of working, and we're very pleased to be extending our funding contribution to Cumbria through our support for Sunbeams' ambitious ideas."