Archive for the ‘The Westonbirt Project’ Category

A Welcome Building update…

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Sophie Nash is the Project Manager for the Westonbirt Project.

It has been a while since my last Welcome Building blog and a lot has been changing inside and outside over the last few weeks!


The cladding is almost finished! This is a photo of the wall inside the entrance foyer, opposite the ticketing window.

A close-up of the cladding.

Information centre Information CentreInformation Centre

Information Centre 

The photos above show the recent progress of the new ‘Christopher Mitchell Information Centre’. This is where the exciting new interpretation will be along with our staff and volunteers.


A photo of the new office and kitchen for staff and volunteers. It’s oddly quite exciting to see the fronts of the plug sockets being attached!

Ladies toilets Ladies toilets Ladies toilets
A series of photos of the ladies toilets. The internal ceiling and light fittings are now complete, the toilet cubicles and the vanity units are now being installed.

The ins and outs of the Welcome Building…

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

By Paul, Head of Visitor Attraction.

You might have seen the building work going on in passing, but I thought it could be useful to tell you a little bit more about what the new Welcome Building will hold..

Facilities at the Welcome Building will include:

Mobility buggies and wheelchairs
Information desk for general enquiries
Dog tie-up

Other facilities at Westonbirt will stay where they are. Visitor Services by the Great Oak Hall will retain First Aid, Lost Property and help with general enquiries. The Westonbirt Shop, Plant Centre and Restaurant will all remain as they are.

All of the Welcome Building ticket gates are suitable for buggies and pushchairs, the central gate is the widest to allow group entry but automation on all the gates can be overridden. The ticket gates can be set in either direction. So, on the morning of a busy autumn day more lanes will be ‘in’ and in the afternoon more can be ‘out’.

The Welcome Building will be open for all functions at 9am each morning when the arboretum opens. Throughout the year, the Welcome Building functions will close at 5pm.

In the summer months, Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum will be able to enter through the Welcome Building after 5pm using their automated cards although the rest of the building will be shut.

Not to be forgotten, the building will also be beautiful! Throughout, the building has been designed with attention to detail and high design standards. The floor is made of pennant stone from the Forest of Dean, the main frame is of Douglas fir, the roof shingles and external walls are made of Western red cedar. Its aesthetics are as important as its functions: it reminds us of the arboretum’s history while exciting us about the present and pointing to the future.

The restoration has begun…

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

By Sophie Nash, Project Manager.

Work has begun on the final element of Phase One of the Westonbirt Project, the Downs Restoration.

The contractors have started to remove old footpaths; the stone material will be used to form the base layer of our two new footpaths. The new footpaths start at the Welcome Building and will lead visitors to the Great Oak Hall or towards Silk Wood and on to the restaurant.

Footpath creation

From this week the contractors will start removing the existing surfaced visitor car park.

Existing car park

If you want to know more about the downs restoration please visit our Downs restoration pages.

For more information on what to expect on-site please see our Recreation Managers blog…

All things are difficult before they become easy…

Friday, April 4th, 2014

So said the Persian poet Saadi. I don’t know what experience he had of running a visitor attraction during a major engineering exercise, but he sounds fully prepared for the job to me!

As we get closer to the opening of the new Welcome Building and the associated car park in late June, we face the inevitable job of carrying on whilst all the various areas of work are brought together. We have avoided too much disruption to the day to day so far, but the next stage promises to be more of a challenge.

The main difference that will be immediately apparent to our regular visitors, is that it will be necessary for us to vacate the current car park. The reason for this is that the new easy-access routes from the Welcome Building to the restaurant, shop, cafe and Great Oak Hall run through the site of the existing car park. We also anticipate using the stone from the current car park to help make the base layer for the new footpath routes. This will help us to reduce the cost and also improve the environmental credentials of the build by not needing to import so many more lorry loads of material for the footpath construction.

A key part of the major works going on at Westonbirt currently have been about protecting the listed landscape of the Downs as well as the tree collection. This work will enable us to fulfil this and create a much more fitting sense of arrival into the National Arboretum.

Our team are busy putting in a diversion route for traffic and pedestrians, including constructing a temporary short stretch of road, quite a lot of fences and many, many signs. We are committed to making the visitor experience as pleasant and as comfortable as we possibly can during this stage. I think the transformation of the existing car park back into the sort of wildflower-strewn downland the Victorian progenitors of Westonbirt would have seen will be one of the most visually satisfying parts of this whole process.

It may not look too pretty at times and we are sorry for any inconvenience, but please do bear with us as we make this transition to the kind of place with the sort of facilities we can all be truly proud of.


Recreation Manager

The restoration… by Sophie Nash, Project Manager.

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Sophie Nash is Project Manager for The Westonbirt Project. She organises the logistics of the project, working with architects and project managers for various elements to deliver the works.

From early April 2014, we’ll be removing the current car park to restore the area to wildflower rich grassland.

Before - current car park After - artist’s impression of restored grassland

The relocation of car parking away from the Grade I historic landscape has been a long-term ambition of the arboretum and is supported by English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Gloucestershire Environmental Trust.

The work will involve closing the current car park so that we can remove the existing hard standing and road surfaces from the car park.

We’ll then make good the ground using soil which was removed during the construction of the Welcome Building – much more sustainable than bringing it in from elsewhere!

You may have seen this mound of soil near to the car park, waiting for the time when the restoration of this part of our landscape could begin.

We like to think of this heap of soil as our very own locally sourced ‘seed bank’ – it’s packed full of grass and wildflower seeds which are indigenous to the arboretum’s grassland.

We’ll also have a volunteer team helping to kick start the process of returning the landscape to grassland, by ‘strewing’.

Volunteer strewing

This is a process which involves cutting grass and wildflowers back with traditional hand tools, then spreading the resulting seed-packed hay across the ground so that species sourced here at Westonbirt can populate the restored area.

Restoring grassland takes time, and it will be a while before what we now know as our car park blends seamlessly into the surrounding downs landscape – though as you can see from the artist’s impression, the results should be beautiful and well worth the wait!

We’ll be working hard during the period of downs restoration work to manage alternative parking arrangements and minimise the disruption to visitors.

For more information about the downs restoration please visit the Westonbirt Project pages…

Attention friends! Find out about your new cards here!

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

In early summer, all of our members will be issued with new cards to enable entry through the Welcome Building. When you receive your new bar-coded cards, your old style cards will no longer be valid. Each member will have a new card with their name on which is not transferable. If you have not already told us your first name(s), please send it and your membership number to so that we can process your new cards.

Welcome Building artist impression

Each member parent or member grandparent will be able to bring in their own children or grandchildren (aged 18 and under) and up to three dogs.

The Welcome Building will be open at 9am each morning, when the arboretum opens. Throughout the year, the Welcome Building will close at 5pm.

In the summer months Friends will be able to enter the arboretum after 5pm using their automated cards, although the rest of the building will be shut.

Important for you to know

To enable smooth operations at the Welcome Building for our current members and new joiners, Forestry Commission staff at Westonbirt will have access to some information that you have already given the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity so that we can administer your membership. Membership personal data remains the property of the Friends, is stored by the Friends and will not be transferred to or held by the Forestry Commission. If you have any queries in this respect, please email

Jacqueline Dalton,
Charity Manager

Welcome Building update

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Sophie Nash is Project Manager for The Westonbirt Project. She organises the logistics of the project, working with architects and project managers for various elements to deliver the works.

Over the last few weeks it’s become much harder to notice progress on the Welcome Building from the outside, but the building is changing daily on the inside.

We are all really pleased with the Western red cedar roof, particularly when you see it on a sunny day!

Welcome Building

This is a current photo of the new ticketing window, on the left, and the doorway into the new information centre. The silver material is the external insulation; the next stage will be to fix a black insect membrane and then the external timber cladding.

Ticketing window

The new view for our visitor services staff that will be standing behind the ticketing window looking out onto the new entrance/exit foyer ready to welcome visitors.

Ticketing window view

The timber window and door frames are now being installed.

Timber frames

Inside the information centre, the plug sockets and data points have been cut out in order to pull through the cables for the new interactive screens which form part of the new mosaic map feature.

Plug sockets

Both the male and female toilets now have plasterboarding, ready for their final skim of plaster in the next few weeks before being tiled. The windows have also been fitted in both sets of toilets allowing the toilets to progress quickly.

Female toilets

It’s not all change on the inside at the moment. The black insect mesh membrane has now been installed over the external insulation. The external cladding is now underway on the office end of the Welcome Building. The vertical pieces of timber are fixed to brackets to take the weight of the cladding; the contractors will then fix the Western red cedar external cladding to these vertical pieces.

Outside the building

Exhibit prototyping

Monday, February 10th, 2014

By Susanna Byers, Interpretation Support Officer.

With the opening of the Welcome Building coming up seemingly faster than ever, the team is working hard to put together all the content needed for each exhibit that will be in the brand new interpretation room. With 11 exhibits, each with intricate, content rich information, it’s no mean feat!

The past few months have been object collecting, photo collating, archive searching, text writing, audio editing, filming, storyboarding and design development: all to produce a fantastic new interpretation space for you to discover more about Westonbirt and the wider world of trees.

The most recent development has been to ‘user-test’ two of the digital interactive exhibits. One of these is a touchscreen, used to navigate the Westonbirt map. However, it’s a map with a difference: each grid square that makes up the map is full of photos. We have turned it into a map mosaic, on which people can use photos of the site to discover information about different parts of the arboretum. For example, navigate to Acer Glade to see photos of and information on Acer Glade!

The map mosaic as a prototype: improvements underway now!

The other exhibit which we was tested is entitled: What Would You Do? It’s an opinion exhibit designed to provoke discussion on what elements need to be considered when making certain decisions about how to manage the collection.

Outside Studios discusses ‘What Would You Do?’ with a visitor.

Over two days, visitors, members, volunteers, and staff not involved in the project were able to have a play with these exhibits and offer their feedback. Our main aim was to test how user-friendly these two exhibits are, and we found that although there are indeed areas to improve on, the concepts were generally well received! Phew!

So, onwards and upwards: the designs are taken ‘back to the lab’, and discussions on how we can improve them are going ahead. Meanwhile…back to my storyboarding…

A project update by Rich Bullock, Site Manager at Speller Metcalfe

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Since our start on site at the end of July 2013 when we were just laying the foundations, you can really begin to imagine how the Visitor’s Centre will look once complete.

We last updated you in November last year, and since then those who have been to visit Westonbirt will have seen that the structural element of the roof is now complete.

Welcome Building Welcome Building

BCB roofing were responsible for installing the insulation and roof membrane, which was followed by the cedar shingle tiles that are now visible. It will take a little while for these to weather into a greyish tone, which will also be the same for the cedar cladding that will be making up the external walls – the result will blend beautifully into the landscape.

Internally, the Rockwool insulation in the main walls has now been installed which was followed by the flooring. To insulate the floor, first the membrane was binded to the concrete floor slab by torching it on. Further Rockwool insulation was then laid along with the underfloor heating pipes and you can see from these pictures that the floor is now being screeded.

Welcome Building

The underfloor heating which was installed by Priddy Engineering is heated by an air source heat pump which sits in the wall. These pumps absorb heat from the air outside (even in temperatures as low as -15 degrees!) and turn it into fluid, which is then passed through pipes under the floor to heat it. Although the air source heat pump needs electricity to run, it is heating the building naturally as it only needs the air from outside to heat the floor.

The next step for us will be to get the timber frame windows and doors into place, which will be completed by our sub-contractor, Topworks.

Up to around 80% of the electrics have already been installed by Ilec Electrical, which completed before the underfloor heating went in. This ran alongside the first phase of mechanical which was again installed by Priddy Engineering, and we will be looking to complete both of these elements soon.

Over the next month we will also be closing in the internal walls and plaster boarding them as required, as well as installing the internal ceiling finishes – so the internals will almost be complete. We are also laying pennant stone and tile floors which come directly from the Forest of Dean and starting to clad the outside of the building.

So I’d better get back…. lots to do!

Inside the Welcome Building, by Simon Toomer

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Simon Toomer, Director at Westonbirt Arboretum.

In any building construction there seems to be a spell in the middle when nothing much seems to happen – or at least nothing obvious. For a few weeks before Christmas the Welcome Building seemed to be going up in leaps and bounds with the frame and roof changing daily.

Since then visibly progress has been much slower so I took a closer look to see what was going on inside. It didn’t take long to see that there’s been a lot of activity, particularly on the mechanical and engineering (M&E in the trade) front. There are wires all over the place waiting to be connected and the air-source heat pump (a kind of backwards fridge that will extract heat from the air outside the building and use it to provide internal warmth) is now in place.

The underfloor heating tubes were just about to be buried in the concrete of the floor and the bases for the entrance barriers are now in place.

Underfloor heating Welcome Building

Looking into the study centre area from the central entrance way I was pleased to see that the area still looks spacious and airy to accommodate all the innovative digital media.

I also took a stroll around the scaffolded roof to take a closer look at the beautiful western red cedar shingles. The curve of the roof is a sight to behold and will be even better when the scaffold is removed.

Roof shingles

I can’t wait to see how it looks when complemented by the matching cedar clad walls beneath.

For more information on the Westonbirt Project, visit