If you weren’t at January’s Wassail at the Swan Barn Farm orchards, owned by The National Trust, in Haslemere then, 1) you might not know what a Wassail is, and 2) you were most certainly missing out…

To answer the first question a Wassail (or wassailing) is an annual tradition to bless orchards to ensure a good harvest for the year to come. The celebrations involve music, song, dancing and a recognition of what orchards give to us. It dates from the Anglo-Saxon era, traditionally taking place on or around Twelfth Night. 

This traditional blessing of orchards translates into today’s concerns with biodiversity loss as not only are orchards useful and beautiful, they are perfect for pollinators, and fruit trees age quickly which creates essential deadwood habitats. They offer both food and shelter to thousands of species some of which have high conservation priority. Worthy of a wassail celebration indeed!

As regards point 2, well, miss out no more for the Swan Barn Wassail is set to return in January 2024! And there’s no need to wait until then to get involved. Of course, turning up on the night and having fun is the aim, but getting stuck in beforehand to help organise this very special community event is what it’s really about and makes the magic happen. This entire event relies upon the good will of local people and you will not be sorry you volunteered.

Volunteer with Community Orchard Project South East and join the Wassail revelry
Volunteer with Community Orchard Project South East and join the Wassail revelry (Claire Matthes)

How can you help? There will be a community cook-up in the day, where we’ll make a couple of hearty stews. Waitrose and Tesco kindly donated the vegetables last time and several volunteers congregated in the Hunters Basecamp kitchen to chop and prep. If you’d rather be a server behind the food stall or bar, then that’s a busy, fun important role keeping the revellers well-watered and fed.

Feeling strong? Then helping set up the outdoor infrastructure might be for you. Or if hi-vi yellow is your thing, then stewarding the torchlit parade for partygoer safety could be your role.

Or are you more of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ type? We’d love you to be on our organising committee.

Music is so central to the fun and last year we were very lucky to have some up and coming young musicians entertain us. We’d love to hear from any musician who loves an attentive audience!

Volunteers will be rewarded with a free drink and food on the night, not-to-mention the warm cosy glow that comes from having done something really good for community spirit.

To find out more, get involved or any other enquiry, email [email protected]

By Claire Matthes

Community Orchard Project South East

Haslemere Climate and Biodiversity Collective