Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Community Shingle Shelter

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

With the current phase of the HLF community programme at Westonbirt drawing to a close at the end of the year, Wild Westonbirt (Westonbirt’s youth group) were tasked with thinking of a way to celebrate. Delivered over a four year period, and engaging over four thousand participants, they wanted something that would achieve a number of goals:

  • Reflect both this achievement and the green woodworking skills they had gained
  • Involve the people who attended the community programme in its creation
  • Be a beautiful work of art in itself

Drawing on inspiration from some of their overnight camps at the arboretum, the group proposed the idea of a shelter, which would be made out of wooden roof tiles known shingles. These shingles would be made by hand, using traditional tools, by participants. Participants would then decorate their own shingle to represent their involvement with the programme.

Cutting a wind blown oak

This proposal also meant that those community groups we have been working with offsite, through the outreach programme, could also be involved, as the shingles were small enough to take out to care and residential homes.

The initial plan was to create four thousand shingles to build the shelter, one for each of the four thousand people who had participated in the community programmes. However, quite soon into the production, we realised this would be almost enough to roof a house, and decided four hundred would be sufficient – particularly given an initial production rate of one an hour!

Guided by our resident coppicers, participants, volunteers, staff and even members of the public, have cut, split and shaped over 170kg of oak (the weight of 3 ½ teenagers). A record 150 were made at the Arb Show in May where Wild Westonbirt worked tirelessly instructing visitors in the art of shingle making.

As new groups joined the community programmes, and as the pile of shingles grew so did the participants’ confidence, pride, and sense of achievement and belonging to something special; young people had the opportunity to teach adults, and group members instructed their support workers.

At long last, over the August Bank Holiday, the Wild Westonbirt team completed shingle number 400.

The next phase is to start the actual construction itself. This will take place over the weekend 23rd – 25th September and be built on the Silkwood Autumn Trail route by Teds Fright. So, if you are out enjoying the autumn colour, please do stop and say hello.

Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge

Friday, July 29th, 2016

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood
The mouse saw….a group of teenagers unsure of where they stood

July saw the first Westonbirt Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge in which teams of young people from a range of organisations and youth clubs, navigated their way around a four mile course throughout the arboretum.

On the way, they undertook a number of timed tasks, based on plant hunters past and present, and were scored on teamwork, creativity and skill.

Nineteen young people, some with additional needs, took part in the challenge.

At 9pm, the first teams headed off into the trees and throughout the night they walked and walked, and then walked some more (particularly those teams who, at times, were unsure of which direction they were going in or where they were heading to).

They followed in the footsteps of William Lobb and collected sequoia seeds (although we had carelessly dropped ours into a ‘toxic swamp’); lit a fire using natural materials as David Douglas was required to do; made a herbarium as Joseph Banks did on-board the Endeavour; sorted viable seeds from diseased ones; created a new species of tree (using only newspapers) and made their own version of a Holford family portrait.


At 2.45 am the torch lights of the last team were spotted making their way across the Downs, where they were greeted with cheers, tea and toast before settling down for a night in the Great Oak Hall.

A few short hours later it was time for a barbeque breakfast and prize giving with Brimsham Green Youth Wing the overall winners.

A huge thank you to all the young people who took part and all the Westonbirt staff, volunteers and visiting group leaders who made the event possible.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer

Pizza in the Woods!

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

The community team welcome a wide range of groups from the surrounding area to come and learn about our tree collection through exploration and discovery. Some of our work is up in the coppice in Silk Wood, where we teach woodland management skills including coppicing and green wood craft, amongst other activities.

A big part of bringing groups here is so they can have the opportunity to work with their peers, learn self-resilience, and develop their self- confidence. We have found one of the best ways to get people to relax, work together as a team and have fun is to pull together to make a meal out in the woods. In all cultures around the world, food is at the heart of the community – and what better way to practice safe fire lighting and culinary skills in our very own cob oven?!

In March, we brought together our community groups here at the arboretum, to help build a cob oven at their woodland base in Silk Wood. Working alongside Nico from Red Kite Design, participants from Royal Wotton Basset Academy, Nelson Trust, Wild Westonbirt and Stonehouse Youth Council were part of the whole building process; mixing cob ( a mixture of clay, sand and straw), learning about the construction of a cob oven through hands on experience, adding final decorations and making dough before firing up the oven to create the first meal: pizzas! There was even time to have a go at making clay pinch pots and coil pots which are drying out before we try firing them in the oven at a later date.

We were wonderfully supported by members of the community volunteer team and a huge thank you to the estate volunteers who constructed the wooden base for us.

This oven will be used frequently throughout the year to help teach community groups about other food that can be cooked (and foraged) out in the woods without gas or electricity and of course fuel volunteer work parties! It will also be a great addition to our group overnight stays who get to experience Westonbirt at night. Who doesn’t like freshly baked bread in the morning?

Feel free to wander in and take a look!

Karen Price & Claire Goulding, Community Officers

Case Study for National Youth Work Week 2015 #YWW15

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

How young people have helped shape the HLF Community Youth activities at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

Having an app based on our choices is cool” Team WB member.

Westonbirt attracts over 350,000 visits per year and is known worldwide for its spectacular autumn colour. Enabling the public to engage with the tree collection and develop an understanding of its care and conservation is a core part of the arboretum’s role. However, very few of these visits are made by young people.The community youth programme was established as a part of the Westonbirt Project, a Heritage Lottery funded project aimed at developing new activities to bring under-represented audiences to Westonbirt. Attempting to connect teenagers with trees could be a daunting prospect, but as Community Youth Officer, Karen Price explains:

“As we were looking at ways of attracting a youth audience to the arboretum to connect with the collection, rather than try and guess what would interest young people, we decided to ask the young people themselves”

…hence Team WB, the arboretum’s very own youth forum was formed!

As a result of widespread consultation over the first six months of the project, a comprehensive and challenging programme has been developed, and since piloted by visiting youth groups.

Karen says that “the most common request was for the opportunity to take part in an adventure that puts their skills, knowledge and abilities to the test. This ties in very well with the qualities and adventurous spirit needed by the Victorian plant hunters that collected some of the original plants for the arboretum.”

The two programmes created were:

>> Wild Westonbirt – an informal learning programme encouraging young people to explore the wilder side of the arboretum;
>> Can You Cut It? – learning traditional woodland management skills through coppice restoration and practical conservation activities.

Since January 2014, there have been nearly 1000 visits, by young people aged 11 – 25, participating in activities either at the arboretum or through outreach work. In addition, over 300 visitors have been consulted at Forest Live events.

Team WB participants have also helped shape the future of youth involvement at the arboretum by:

>> Providing feedback for the development of a range of new, specifically branded, youth marketing materials;
>> Providing content ideas and testing of TreeQuests, the Westonbirt app;
>> Providing a regular focus group for senior management of the arboretum to gain a youth view on site developments.

For the young people, it enables them to have their voice heard and feel a valued part of large organisation.

‘Westonbirt is bigger than anything we would normally get involved in. It’s bigger than a school survey and having an app based on our choices is cool’ Ruby – Team WB member.

Westonbirt Team WB
To find out more about how to get involved with Team WB, visit our community youth pages or follow Westonbirt Team WB on Facebook.

The Adult Changing Room is ready for use!

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Works have now been completed on our Adult Changing Room/Changing Place space for visitors in the main toilet block by the Great Oak Hall.

Adult Changing Room at Westonbirt

This new facility includes toilet facilities as well as equipment such as a height adjustable changing bed and a ceiling hoist. The hoist can lift up to 190 kg and allows users easy movement in all dimensions around the room.

We have also joined the Mencap Changing Places scheme, which means our facility will be listed on their website as well as providing allowing us to use their official ‘Changing Places’ logo.

This should enable visitors who cannot use a standard disabled toilet such as those with motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and some older people to access the arboretum.

The number of users will be increasing as our learning team and community officers work with a number of visitors from excluded audiences.

This improvement has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Daniel Reid, Project Support Officer

Getting out in Gloucester!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Youth Officer Karen Price is working with young people so that they can discover, explore and enjoy the arboretum, either as part of an organised group or as individual visitors.

As the summer term drew to a close and fond farewells were waved to departing groups, the community youth team hit the road… to Gloucester.

Working in partnership with Active Connections, a not for profit organisation which works to connect communities with sport and recreation in urban areas, six roadshows were held over the summer holidays in and around the city of Gloucester.

The aim was to take a taster of the Wild Westonbirt community youth programme to young people and communities that wouldn’t otherwise visit the arboretum.

Working alongside Active Connections, who offer a range of more familiar street sports to young people, we aimed to engage young people in activities they may not be so familiar with such as fire lighting and coppice tool use.

After a slow start in Kingsway on a wet Wednesday afternoon, numbers picked up over the next week, with curious onlookers attracted by the smoke from mini campfires in Gloucester Park. All of these participants were invited to a fun day at the arboretum in week three, which saw over 100 young people and children playing zorb football and splitting firewood on the Downs.

We welcomed another 50 participants to Robinswood Hill Country Park the following week, on a blazing hot day was a lazing hot day – we ended up fire lighting non stop for three hours!

Unfortunately a very rainy day brought activities to an early halt in Podsmeade despite our attempts to continue with 20 people squeezed under the gazeebo.

Luckily our final day in the city, spent at White City and working with staff and young people from the Venture Playground, saw a return to sunshine and non-stop activities with another 40 participants.

The summer was rounded off with a promotional event at this years Treefest, with over 750 people, young and old, taking part in coppice restoration themed hands on ‘have-a-go’ activities, including a timed fire lighting challenge and the use of a 100 year old cross cut saw as part of the Westonbirt at Work display area. In total, over 1000 people took part in these activities over the summer holidays, going a long way to reaching new audiences.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer

A visit from Yercombe Lodge

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Today I spent time out in the arboretum with one of our community officers, Claire Goulding, as she hosted a visit by Yercombe Lodge, a day centre and residential home for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Claire Goulding with a participant from Yercombe Lodge
The group’s arrival was friendly and relaxed. Claire and her team of volunteers welcomed the group and their accompanying staff and volunteers with tea, coffee and biscuits, before heading out into the arboretum.

Out in the arboretum with staff and participants from Yercombe Lodge
With a day of activities planned in, our first task was to get out into the trees and collect fallen leaves, flowers and feathers in preparation for the afternoon’s craft activity.

Picking out interesting trees along the way
As we made our way around the arboretum, Claire picked out interesting trees to look at, touch and smell – engaging the senses and telling stories along the way.

Making nature windows
With the finds from the arboretum, after lunch the group set about making ‘nature windows’, sandwiching choice bits and pieces between heavily glued tissue paper in patterns which, once dried, look really effective in a window or held up to the light.

Claire with staff and participants from Yercombe Lodge
It was great to see such a diverse group getting so much from their visit here to Westonbirt. I also really enjoyed working with Claire and the dedicated team of volunteers who work so hard to help deliver a community inclusion programme which Westonbirt can really be proud of.

Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

See it, smell it, touch it, taste it!

Monday, June 8th, 2015

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Youth Officer Karen Price is working with young people so that they can discover, explore and enjoy the arboretum, either as part of an organised group or as individual visitors.

As an internationally renowned tree collection, people come from far and wide to experience the magnificent sights the arboretum has to offer. From spectacular spring blooms to bursting autumnal colour, the arboretum can certainly give a feast for the eyes for all our visitors enjoying a walk in the woods. And surely we’ve all got a favourite tree at the arboretum – our curator’s is the paper bark maple at Down Gate, whilst for me I’m torn between the White barked Himalayan Birch on the downs and an old, dead oak in the coppice coup, although I think deep down the oak wins. But how many of us have a favourite sound, or smell?


The community youth team have been developing activities that use the senses to explore the arboretum through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. And not just the trees, magnificent though they are, but also the habitats they create and the wildlife
that lives in, on and beneath them.

Restoration work in the coppice coups has created sunlit clearings where bluebells and wood anemones flourish, creating a carpet of colour that entice groups in. They crouch down and look closely at the ground where empty hazelnut shells can be found, each one presenting a clue to the identification of what ate it – split in half for a squirrel or a nibbled round hole for a wood mouse. Then they will find a comfy stump and sit a while and to listen for a greater spotted woodpecker drumming out his call, or even a hungry tawny owl out and about during the day.

In the wider collection groups can feel the textures of the bark; the spongy redwoods, the papery birches and the twisted sweet chestnut. They have found the cones, held them, smelled them and flicked the scales of Holford pine cones with their nails like a thumb piano to make a tune.

They can also smell the landscape of a working woodland. Freshly mown grass and wood smoke, wild garlic and pine resin. Found a fallen eucalyptus leaf and crushed it between their fingers to release the scent. Then sat a while with a cup of nettle tea, or nibbled on a hawthorn leaf (once known by children as bread and cheese and apparently has a mild nutty flavour, but mainly it just tastes of leaf).

Although enjoyed by all, the sensory activities have been particularly engaging for young people with specific needs, particularly autism. In recent weeks we have been working with groups of young people with varying degrees of autism on a repeat visit programme, and have been piloting activities that enable participants to explore and learn about the arboretum at their own level of understanding and speed by engaging with all the senses. Our next project is to make a series of glockenspiels from coppiced hazel to develop creativity (as well as tool use skills) and a Victorian plant hunter’s collection chest which will enable young people with limited mobility to experience the sensory woodlands in a physically accessible way.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer

New life and old traditions

Monday, March 9th, 2015

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Youth Officer, Karen Price is working with young people so that they can discover, explore and enjoy the arboretum, either as part of an organised group or as individual visitors.

A group of young people around a camp fire

Its been a busy time in the coppice coups at Westonbirt this winter with the Community Coppice Programme. Almost 50 teenagers have now swapped their pristine trainers for green wellie boots and endured rain, and even snow, to bring new life into one of the derelict coppice coups off Willesley Drive.

The Battle of the Bramble is nearing an end with just a few rogue tendrils holding out against the onslaught of loppers that has rained down on them. Hazel, holly, field maple and ash, all of which have been quietly going about their own business of growing for the last 80 years, have been felled and processed into bean poles and faggots, pea sticks and hedge stakes.

Coppicing in Silk Wood

But what may at first glance look like a scene of destruction, is already springing back into life. It seems strange to cut down a tree to help it grow but that is really what coppicing is all about. The arrival of spring will stimulate a vigorous regrowth of multiple stems from the remaining stump, which will quickly flourish into trees again.

Bluebells, orchids and Arum lillies are beginning to poke their heads above ground, and the increase in sunlight now reaching the woodland floor will soon awaken wood anemone, primrose and hopefully violets. More wild flowers means more butterflies and the birds that feed on them and their larvae. And before long, the biodiversity of the once derelict coppice is thriving once more.

And what about the wellie wearing teenagers? They are helping to keep alive centuries-old traditional skills; learning about managing the woods, charcoal burning, carving spoons and making faggots.

Time for contemplation

But they are also taking away a lot more. They have learnt perseverance when lighting a fire in the rain. To take risks to try something new and to manage risk when felling a tree. To work as a team by looking out for each other’s safety and wellbeing and to break down a task between them to make it more manageable. They have learnt to trust themselves with sharp tools and that others have trust in them. And for me, most importantly, they have learnt to explore and discover and be amazed by the world around them.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer

Don’t just take our word for it!

Monday, January 5th, 2015

The role of the Community Inclusion team is to enable a greater number of people from under-represented groups to experience the arboretum and to connect with trees. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund Community Inclusion Officer, Claire Goulding, is working with older and vulnerable adults at risk of exclusion because of social isolation, lack of transport and mental health conditions.

We did some great work with a wide range of groups throughout 2014. But don’t just take our word for it! Here are some lovely words from participants and organisers of just some of the visits and outreach activities…

“The group were able to revisit areas of their childhood. Coming together and being at one with nature having the opportunity to take their time and take in Westonbirt.” Nature Printing Facilitated Visit 2014, Charlotte Galling, Community Development Officer, Stroud District Council

“The activity got residents talking to each other (which is a hard thing to do!) and has also been a talking point since. Everyone enjoyed the visit and found it interesting, improving their wellbeing in general.” Outreach session 2014. Katherine Davis, Activity Coordinator Ashley House BUPA Care Home

“I came with my husband and he loved the forest and he loved talking to the chaps that worked there.” Mary, 79 years old , Withywood Alzheimer’s Society Memory Cafe Support Group

“Very impressed with the session – thought it was a great idea to ‘bring the trees’ to the residents  for generating discussion and provoking memories” Relative visiting father at Ilsom House Elderly Care Home

“Wonderful contrast to today’s hectic world – instant, effortless meditation” Amanda, 52 years old, Stroud District Council Older People Arts Group

“I have realised that being in touch with nature helps me a lot. I always knew that but coming here has just confirmed it” Karina, 28 years old, Nelson Trust Women’s Service

“There is so much we can gain from time spent at the arboretum and this latest programme has undoubtedly had a positive impact on our client’s health and well- being.  Our thanks go to Claire and the team at Westonbirt for giving us the opportunity, for having endless patience, encouragement and a vast array of resources to inspire and educate!” Beanie Cooke, Horticultural Therapist from Women’s Service, Nelson Trust

Find out more about our Community Inclusion Programme…

Claire Goulding, Community Inclusion Officer, Westonbirt, The National Arboretum