Our name and our approach is inspired by the book The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. In it the narrator describes how, before the First World War, he went hiking in the area where the Alps merge with Provence.
After three days of walking in a “barren and colourless land” he describes finding himself as lost, without water in the “midst of unparalleled desolation”. He finds a small hamlet but it is completely deserted.
Quite by chance, just as he starts to lose hope, the narrator meets a shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who takes him in and gives him shelter. Over the next few days, the narrator watches Elzéard as he patiently selects and then plants hundreds of acorns right across the valley. Day in and day out, he plants the acorns with his trusted dog as his only company.
Ten years or so later, after experiencing the horrors of the First World War, the narrator returns to find a lush wooded valley where clean streams bubble through the landscape. The acorns and other seeds that Elzéard Bouffier planted are now young trees. The branches of the young trees are providing shelter for new plants and their roots are holding in moisture. The narrator sees people setting up home and building schools.
It is an enigmatic, apocryphal story but it sums up the philosophy of Tree Shepherd and serves as an effective metaphor for the combination of a trust in (human) nature, long-term commitment, focused application and patient investment that we advocate.
For us the acorns are the individuals who live in the area who have an idea for making it better. The hard, seemingly infertile soil in which Elzéard planted his acorns is analogous to the harsh world of our inner cities where talent does not flourish and where (legal) enterprise struggles to succeed. Typically, the residents of such areas lack digital skills and are less well educated, relatively unhealthy and on or close to living on benefits.
However, we believe that each of these people has real potential and spirit. Our team has considerable experience of working across inner-city London and with others in other inner cities, and we have seen that when that spirit and that potential is reawakened, amazing things can happen.
Just as Elzéard Bouffier committed years of his life to steadily planting individual acorns to create a lush forest, we believe that a patient, dedicated and collaborative effort with local organisations and partners over many years can rebuild our most fragile and blighted communities.