The volunteers at Leeds Urban Harvest, a volunteer-run community project that makes apple juice and cider from foraged apples, are on a mission. 'There are so many apples out there,' says mental health nurse Roland Miller, one of the core team running the project. 'You could have 100 people doing what we're doing and you still wouldn't be using up all the waste apples there are in Leeds.'

What began in 2009 as a way of using the surplus fruit on apple trees in gardens and public spaces around the city has morphed over time into a social enterprise, with LUH lending out its growing collection of picking and processing equipment to other people wanting to make juice from their own excess apples.

'A lot of it is trying to get other people to do it themselves,' says Roland, whose involvement with LUH began with borrowing the group’s kit for his own local cider-making project.

Great British Life: Pressing of fresh apple juice. GettyPressing of fresh apple juice. Getty

In 2017 the group expanded into larger scale juice and cider production in order to create a sustainable revenue stream for the social enterprise. These days, a core team of six donate their time to oversee production of around 1,000 litres a year of Leeds City Cider (a name Roland came up with on his way to deliver the first batch), which goes out to a handful of bars and festivals. And each harvest season the group employs someone to oversee the rental of the picking and processing kit, which includes telescopic apple pickers, bags, tarps, helmets and ladders, presses and scratters (for crushing apples ready for pressing), buckets and pasteurisers. You can even book a member of the LUH team to help run your picking or pressing event.

A call out to the mailing list will see 10 to 15 people come along on picking days in apple season (which typically runs from late August through early November), harvesting fruit from trees whose owners have nominated them via the project’s website. Roland estimates that there are up 50-100 properties on the LUH database, though when it comes to the logistics of organising picking days, it can sometimes be challenging to actually pin down the owners of apple trees.

Fortunately, he says, just a couple of heavily laden trees can produce enough apples to make up for any shortfall elsewhere. That said, 'there's room for more people to donate'. So if you’re reading this in view of a tree full of apples that you’re wondering what to do with, it might be the moment to drop the LUH team a line.

'It's quite fun to spend a day going into people's gardens with a bunch of people”, says Roland. 'You climb trees, you shake trees, you pick up apples off the floor. If there's enough of you, you're really quick and then you're out again.'

'The pressing days are more demanding, four hours of which are spent just setting up and then dismantling and cleaning the equipment. Even so, says Roland, “people are quite happy to spend a day feeling tired and doing some things'.

Part of the enjoyment, he believes, comes from 'getting together towards a common aim. It's giving your time and your energies to something that you won't necessarily benefit from monetarily, but knowing that it's helping to support others. People are just happy to come along and be part of something.'

That’s especially the case when they get to see their results of their labours on sale, Roland explains. 'People are proud of being part of the thing seen on a shelf: ‘I helped make this’.

The cider the group produces is 'very dry and pretty rough', says Roland with a chuckle. 'I do have a caveat of, ‘If it's rubbish, let me know and we won’t charge you for it’.'Though there’s not much danger of that, it seems: at the Leeds Beer Festival in 2019, Leeds Urban Harvest won Cider of the Festival.

Roland loves making cider – in fact he’s also part of a separate 50-strong group from his local neighbourhood that makes cider every year with the fruit from around 15 gardens – but it’s empowering others to get involved in community action that really drives him.

'In Leeds there's pockets of community where people come together and feel a sense of belonging,' he explains. 'You'd hope it is growing and that's part of the motivation to help people feel part of a bigger thing.' There’s also, he says, a certain satisfaction in helping to address the challenge of food waste.

In addition to lending out the pressing equipment to around 30 or 40 other groups a season, the Leeds Urban Harvest team have written a guide for community cider making (you can find it on the website of the Orchard Project, a national charity dedicated to community orchards) and run workshops on apple juicing. They also helped set up Wakefield Urban Harvest, which in 2022 collected over 60 crates of apples to make around 340 litres of apple juice and cider. 'It's lovely to follow them on social media and see how they're getting on,' says Roland.

'We're really keen on not just doing it, but helping other people to do what we do,' he says. 'Coming along and joining us is great but go out and do it yourself, bring people together in your own backyard. That’s the important thing.'