Posts Tagged ‘Events’

A career in trees, by Hugh Angus, Head of Collections

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Hugh Angus, Head of Collections

Hugh Angus, Head of Collections

Hugh Angus leaves the Forestry Commission and Westonbirt, The National Arboretum after 24 years this September. Here, he sums up how he followed his childhood dreams and helped to shape Westonbirt into the international success it is today.

“My focus on trees started at the age of seven when I decided that I wanted to be a lumberjack after studying a book on trees. After leaving forestry college in 1977, I joined the Forestry Commission, first in Wales and then to Northumberland. I was given the Curator’s job at Westonbirt on the 24th October 1987.

Back then the Curator’s post carried the responsibility for all activities at Westonbirt, so I became a shop keeper, tree manager, café co-ordinator and many of the other various tasks that our Director does today. Visitor numbers were 160,000 per annum and we ran at a loss of £600,000 a year. We had an annual ticket scheme and 600 Friends.

A priority was to increase income and manage the trees more effectively. My line manager Rod Leslie, was of great support. I was also encouraged by the Arboretum Advisory Committee – many of whom have become good friends over the years.

During my time at Westonbirt I have worked with many different people. If Westonbirt is to be judged a success today then Peter Gregory, Tony Russell and Phil Morton have also played significant parts, as have Margaret Ruskin, Neville Hayward, Tom Maisey and Kath Beard. Today’s team continue to play their part and I am confident that Westonbirt’s future is safe in their hands.

The first things we focused on were the day to day activities and how we might reduce costs while increasing income. The visitor centre came under attention and as we had no one to maintain the exhibition area, the shop eventually expanded to fill the space. Jenny McDonald was the person that brought real professionalism to the shop in those early days.

It soon became obvious that increased visitor numbers would mean an increase in income. We moved Tony Russell’s focus to promoting Westonbirt and recruited a new Superintendent, Phil Moreton.

During this time we also added more events to the calendar. This led to the start of the concerts, Sculptree, now Treefest, and the Illuminated Trail, now the fully fledged Enchanted Christmas event.

I remember the sleepless nights leading up to the first Illuminated Trail evening, thinking about whether people would come to look at bare branches on a cold winter’s night. As it turned out they came in thousands and as they say, the rest is history. Lynn McCracken was a real catalyst in the success of these events in their early days. She joined the team from the National Trust, where she had previously spent many years running such events.

One of the great partnerships that we formed at Westonbirt in the early years was with Stan and Diane Hynes, who opened Maples restaurant in 2000.

Closely following the success of the restaurant, the Great Oak Hall was opened in 2002 and the Plant Centre in 2003. The Great Oak Hall was a collaboration between the Friends and the Forestry Commission. Within their new base, the Friends took a higher profile and numbers increased to around 3000. We dropped our season ticket membership and converted everyone to Friends. The Friends have become everything that I would have envisaged in those early days and even a bit more.

With visitor numbers up to around the 300,000 and a relatively secure income base, we began to consider what the next step for Westonbirt should be. We needed more staff if we were to achieve even greater things and this led to the amalgamation of Bedgebury Pinetum and Westonbirt and the creation of a Director’s post.

I wanted to concentrate my efforts on managing the trees and took on the Head of Collections role. I oversaw the Bedgebury and Westonbirt tree collections and helped develop their plans and policies to the national and international status they have today.

This partnership ended a few years ago allowing me to concentrate mainly on Westonbirt. I have also worked on the Forestry Commission Tree Collections nationally; analysing current plantings and looking to the future.

What of the future then, and what have I most enjoyed over the years? In a letter to the Westonbirt magazine editor in 1987, not long after my arrival, I wrote: ‘I personally feel exhilarated, excited, slightly apprehensive and honoured to name but a few.’ Westonbirt has certainly delivered all these things in varying quantities over the years.

We all know the importance of the collection and I have enjoyed nearly every minute of managing the tree collections and all that it entails. Westonbirt has also offered the opportunity to meet people who have influenced and supported me over the years. Both external people but more importantly staff and Friends. It is they who bring the tree collection to life.

Our only major catastrophy happened late one January afternoon in 1990 when we had a severe storm. 350 big trees were blown down and many smaller specimens damaged. However, this did create some wonderful planting spaces and taught us how to reduce damage of this nature in the future. We learnt that nothing can stand up to the really big gusts of wind – we had trees weighing five tons with root plates weighing ten tons blown over. It was also clear from the amount of Norway spruce that snapped, that if we wanted to plant trees for long term shelter, this was not the species to choose.

Sharing our enthusiasm for trees with visitors through education and interpretation has always been hugely important for us. This is one of the many things that allows us to say we are a world class collection. This was started in our early days by Mary Barton, replaced by Kevin Beckett and now by Ben Oliver and his team.

I am particularly proud of how professionally the collection is managed today and it is great to see us actively collecting seeds from places like Japan, Chile, USA and Turkey. I truly believe that we can say we are today managing to a world class level. That is not to say that improvements cannot be made, but that is for the next generation. Although my professional contact with Westonbirt has ended I am now considering how my retirement time will be spent here, so I am afraid you have not seen the last of me. I wish you all well for the future.”

1000 metres of bunting? must be Treefest! By Julie McKellar, Events Coordinator

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

It’s very exciting here now and starting to feel really like a festival.

Danco Marquees have been here working very hard all weekend and yesterday, and we already have 27 small marquees, plus the big indoor and food hall up. But the really exciting marquee is the music one, it’s huge, in blue and white stripes.

The Treefest music marquee

The Treefest music marquee

The stage is due in on Wednesday, then Holmes Music Shop in Swindon is coming in on Thursday to deliver the drum kit that they’ve loaned us for Treefest. The lights and sound system are due to be installed later this week, and Jon and Ells from The 4014 Project will be here from Thursday preparing the music marquee.

Most of the caterers are in, they will be selling baguettes, burgers and new this year is the carvery. Andy from the Tree Team and the caterer have an interesting job this morning; they are going to be skinning the wild boar and the venison ready for the weekend. The Victorian-style Helter Skelter is due in this afternoon, that’s going to look great and I bet it will be a great view of the festival from the top.

Catering ready to roll at Treefest

Catering ready to roll at Treefest

There’s an endless list of things left to do and get delivered, like bins, toilets, showers for the camping, though Special Event Parking (SEP) are working hard preparing the campsite ground. Although the field has been mowed, SEP are busy mowing each row, and it’s a BIG field.

Later on in the week we will be putting up the festival flags and we have lots of them this year, then we have 1,000 metres of bunting, yes that’s right, 1,000 metres.

On Thursday the exhibitors will be arriving to put up the rest of the marquees and settle into their campsite.

Martin, one of the caterers, will start cooking the hog roast, wild boar and venison from 3am every morning from Friday, not much sleep for him then! He is also running a local real ale and local cider bar in the music marquee: that will go down really well.

So by Friday morning, when you all arrive for Treefest, everything will be ready and very colourful.

Setting the stage for Live Music, by Simon Hough, Events Business Manager

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

It’s that time of year again unbelievably – the week before Westonbirt’s first Live Music concert weekend when it’s all hands on deck to get the site ready for thousands of music fans.

Approximately 60 people will be involved in the set up over the week, installing the stage, sound and light systems, marquees, fences and toilets, setting out the car park – the list goes on.

Rigging the stage

Rigging the stage

The first thing to go in is the stage, as it’s the biggest structure and takes the longest to be built. Also, there are lots of sound and light systems to be installed and the sound engineers need at least one full day to do that. The location of the stage is also the most critical thing. We have the arena digitally mapped to give the best sound coverage, so we have to locate the stage and its associated speakers first and build everything else around it.

Next to be installed are the beer coolers! We have two large containers that have been converted into giant chillers and they are installed behind the bar location. We need to give these two full days to settle and reach the correct temperature before the beer can be delivered, so it’s important to get them set up early.

The team at work

The team at work

The smaller structures like marquees are next. These house a lot of the support crew, the catering and their equipment. The fencing, toilets and setting out the car park into neat rows and erecting all the signs all happen over the next few days. Most of the work is done by specialist contractors, but the local Forestry Commission team have lots of roles to play during this time, assisting and supervising the contractors.

We hope to finish the build by Thursday morning, so that we have a day spare should anything unforeseen happen. Sometimes some equipment is delayed getting onto site from a previous event and this can delay things.

Of course this will all happen seamlessly so that you can enjoy the concerts in the beautiful surroundings of the arboretum – so if you haven’t yet got your tickets, visit!

The result! Happy concert goers

The result! Happy concert goers