Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

What makes a winter wonderland? by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Friday, November 18th, 2011

The answer to the question “What makes a winter wonderland?” is in no small part “Volunteers”. Along with our learning and participation staff, they’ve today started the task of transforming Westonbirt’s education centre into a winter wonderland for families visiting the Enchanted Christmas – which starts next Friday, 25 November.

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During the event evenings, our team will be working with children and families to help them create Christmas crafts, draw a picture for Santa, find out about winter customs, and learn about the history of Christmas trees.

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The setting for this will be a wonderful snowy, icicled education centre. Today our band of staff and volunteers were working together to install the textured panels which will eventually become a beautiful icy, glittering wall – a backdrop for the many Christmas trees and displays of greenery. Some of the Christmas trees will be supplied by Westonbirt’s Plant Centre when they get their delivery next week. Most will be be sold to the public, but a few are reserved for this winter wonderland. The greenery has come from the arboretum, the varied colours of our evergreens making a vibrant display.

Once the textured panels are in place a local specialist company, well known for creating festive scenes for Hollywood, will come in to make the finishing touches and flourishes which we hope will make this a magical space in the weeks running up to Christmas. This will all be supported by the wonderful creative lighting design that Westonbirt is so well known for at this time of year.

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At the same time as all of this activity, other volunteers have been working on the craft activities that will be on offer during an Enchanted Christmas, creating examples to inspire you to make your own creations and preparing the raw materials for use.

The Enchanted Christmas is open to visitors every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from 25 November to 18 December. Find out more and buy tickets on the Enchanted Christmas pages.

Useful links
Enchanted Christmas tickets and info
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

A tremendous achievement, by Jacqueline Dalton, Charity Manager

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

This is the total raised at the Volunteer Craft Fair on 29 & 30 October! This a tremendous achievement and not surprising – you should have seen the quality and variety of the crafts……… too many to mention. So many gave their time to make their crafts, help on stalls during the day and serve refreshments – thank you all. BUT none of this would have been possible without the good steerage from Maureen Gobbett – we thank you Maureen yet again!

Great Oak Hall - venue for the Volunteer Craft Fair

Great Oak Hall - venue for the Volunteer Craft Fair

Useful links:
The work of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity
Volunteering at Westonbirt
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum membership

Have you visited the new bird viewing area? by Tony Pearce, volunteer

Monday, November 7th, 2011

The workshop and wood sales team of volunteers have recently completed a new bird viewing and feeding area that is accessible to visitors seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. The previous bird viewing area had always been in the education centre, which couldn’t be accessible to visitors without staff there to open and close the building.

The new bird viewing area, located in the Old Arboretum just off Circular Drive and near to Holly Gate, is now open to the public. The RSPB have been hosting activities and working with Westonbirt Arboretum’s visitors (and wildlife) to make the most of this fantastic new facility. 

The workshop and wood sales volunteer team are a highly skilled group of volunteers who, once a brief had been agreed, began the construction of the new bird viewing area earlier this year. Here’s a closer look at how it all came together:

Initial design proposals were prepared which fitted in with other constructed elements of Westonbirt Arboretum. The design reflects the oak frame structures of the den building play in the Old Arboretum, the Great Oak Hall and the Silk Wood Barn.

The frame was made from 125mm by 125mm oak beams and 25mm larch boards to side elevations. The roof would be made from oak shingles of random widths, hanging on oak A-frames and larch purlins and battens. The design also had to let the building team manually move and lift the frame into position, and this determined the maximum length of the beams to be around 3.5m in length.

The basic design and budget was approved in early 2011, and initial milling of the oak butts was arranged with Alistair Williams for the first weekend in February.

Mobile band saw mill located along side Waste Drive. Alistair Williams operating mill with volunteers Geoff Fisher and Laurie Moir waiting to lift off cut timber.

Mobile band saw mill located along side Waste Drive. Alistair Williams operating mill with volunteers Geoff Fisher and Laurie Moir waiting to lift off cut timber.

With the timber relocated to the workshop area, material was selected for the initial components of floor and roof plates. These required an overall length of 6.6m, so three beams were scarf together using traditional framing joints to achieve the overall length. The scarf would normally use wooden pegs, but needed steel bolts to meet health and safety regulations.

The vertical posts were positioned in the floor plate and the roof plate was then located on the top of the posts. For this we used the standard mortice and tenon joint at each end of the post. All the joints were cut by hand using 50mm chisels and mallets, as through or blind joints depending on location.

Brain Young cutting mortice

Brian Young cutting mortice

Brain Carruthers and Michael Goom inspecting a roof plate

Brian Carruthers and Michael Goom inspecting a roof plate

Laurie Moir cutting tenon in post

Laurie Moir cutting tenon in post

Michael Goom  cutting housing in tie beam for roof A frame

Michael Goom cutting housing in tie beam for roof A frame

Having determined the location of the new bird viewing area, the kit was assembled in early June. The assembly of the basic frame and the raising of the roof A-frame was completed in a weekend, with all volunteers working hard over the two days.

Basic frame structure

Basic frame structure

Basic frame with roof A frames fitted

Basic frame with roof A frames fitted

At this stage of the build a delay occurred due to a requirement for planning approval. This slowed things a bit and we were only able to fit wind braces over the next eight weeks.

Marion Wilding fitting wind brace

Marion Wilding fitting wind brace

Given planning approval, all volunteers were keen to complete the project within the September target date. The boarding of the side elevations and fitting of the window frames were completed and the roofing battens, shingles and ridge were fitted over the next few weeks. During this time we were joined by a number of new recruits to the team.

New Volunteers, Roly Holtzgrave and Peter Burden, with Michael Goom

New Volunteers, Roly Holtzgrave and Peter Burden, with Michael Goom

10_11_12_near completion (1)10_11_12_near completion (2)10_11_12_near completion
With the one way windows fitted, the facility was opened for public use from 1st October. Benches were installed, leaving access for mobility scooters to enter and exit.

Some photographers have commented on the problems of taking pictures of feeding birds through the glass. This is a problem with automatic focusing cameras which has been experienced previously. It is to be noted that access for cameras have been left in the side hurdles for the serious photographers.

We hope that visitors will see this project as one which enhances their Westonbirt experience, and that birds will appreciate the new source of food when winter arrives and insects, fruits and berries are in short supply.  

My thanks go to all of the volunteers who have supported this project with their time and effort. We are now engaged on new projects, including additional play equipment for Silk Wood and some smaller projects for the Learning Centre and Family Events. In the New Year we hope that we will undertake some additional oak framing which will take the form of shelters in the arboretum.

You could help us by donating any carpenters hand tools (chisels, planes, hand saws etc) If you have any power tools please let me have details by email to

115 years of hard work, by Sally Day, Database and Records Officer

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

In August 1896 the owner of Westonbirt, George Holford, wrote to Mr Thistleton Dyer the director of Kew Gardens. “I will certainly take your advice about having a catalogue made of the trees and shrubs. In fact I have left instructions with Chapman and Rattray to begin it while I am away from England.”

Mr Chapman the head gardener in the bowler hat - Mr Mitchell to his left.

Mr Chapman in the bowler hat - Mr Mitchell to his left.

Mr Rattray the forester

Mr Rattray the forester

The final result of this was a catalogue published in 1927.

When the Forestry Commission took over in 1956 they embarked on re-cataloguing the collection. From an article in 1964: “Unfortunately, neither Jackson’s original catalogue nor Mitchell’s subsequent planting records were specific enough about the planting site for us to run down the specimen in all cases”. Also, a large number of labels had been lost, especially the lead ones which were often gnawed to illegibility by squirrels.

The present day labels give a wealth of information about the plant. They are however still enjoyed by the squirrels.

Identifiying a tree

Identifiying a tree

Eventually a printed catalogue of many pages and a set of maps provided the information about the plants in the collection. To deal with any updates new plantings or plant deaths a new list would be printed and dots drawn on the maps or rubbed out. Searching for a particular number on a map was time consuming.

The next step was to create a more modern database and a computerised map. On this in-house map we can display all the live trees but we also retain information about the location and type of a deceased specimen (great if there is an error as the tree can be brought back to life!) Now you can type in the number and the map will zoom to the correct location. This combined system is the engine behind all the work we do on the collection and our decisions about what to collect, propagate and plant in the future. Regular checks are made (much of it done by skilled volunteers) to keep the information up-to-date.

Why keep this information to ourselves?

What have we got and where is it?

These were the main questions we posed when asking a company to develop a web based interactive map for us. Since the site was launched in April it has been used by more than 2,000 different people worldwide.

So if you want to know if we have a type of plant, go to the map and follow the steps in the Quick search wizard:

– Select from a dropdown list (saves having to remember how to spell it: is it ginkgo or gingko?)
– then follow the steps to find out the location in the arboretum

Magic: the result of 115 years of hard work.