Posts Tagged ‘The Westonbirt Project’

A busy few weeks, by Sophie Nash, Project Officer

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

We have nearly completed the electric upgrade trenching work on site.

As well as eliminating the power shortages which we sometimes experience, this is an opportunity to move the power cables underground, contributing to the Westonbirt Project’s work in restoring the Grade I Registered Downs landscape.

The work has gone relatively smoothly and to time, helped by the freezing temperatures which make trenching far simpler than in the pouring rain.

If you are wondering why we haven’t yet removed the pylons and overhead cables, this has been delayed by the utility company due to poor quality poles from the power station across other landowners’ fields which haven’t been replaced since the 1950s!

Pylon at Westonbirt Arboretum

Next week the contractors will start creating a new stone track road from the gate near the A433 across the field used for overflow parking to the new ha-ha.

This will enable us to use the field more efficiently during large events but will also provide an alternative access road into the site which will enable us to minimise disruption when we construct the new Welcome Building.

Although this sounds like a very straightforward piece of work it has involved measuring the girth of some very old veteran Oak trees (one was a whopping 5.8 metres!) to ensure we stay well away from their roots.

We will also start repair work to the original ha-ha along Mitchell Drive next week, which involves repairing the dry stone wall. We have removed the iron railings from the ha-ha in preparation for the repair work which will continue into March.

Useful links
More about the Westonbirt Project

I’ll never look at a dry stone wall in the same way again, by Gina Mills, Marketing Support Officer

Friday, August 12th, 2011
Chipping away

Chipping away

Phew! I’ve just got back to my desk after a morning’s dry stone walling – or an attempt at it. Having grown up in the Cotswolds, these walls are a familiar feature in the landscape, so when staff were given the opportunity to take part in a half day workshop with skilled craftsperson Kath Wright at the helm, I jumped at the chance.

Kath works creating walls in the Cotswolds, but also teaches on a regular basis, amongst other things, preparing people for exams and taking her knowledge into prisons – where she says the skill really captures the imagination of the young people that she meets as they can see that there might be a job in it for them one day.

The wall is being built as part of a scheme to create a traditional ha-ha boundary on the Downs. This in turn will one day run into the welcome building that is planned as part of the Westonbirt Project. Although the foundations and structural part of the wall were built in conventional materials, Sophie Nash from the Project team is now in the process of organising weekend workshops and volunteer staff days to create a façade in Cotswold stone to match the other ha-has on the estate.

Cotswold stone

Cotswold stone

After donning our steel-toed Wellingtons and goggles, we set about getting to grips with the big heap of stone in front of us. You can see in the first photo that I am chipping away rather inexpertly, but I think to be honest this part of the day is to get you feeling comfortable with the stone. I had a bit of practice trying to get a ‘camber’ on the face of the stone, so that when it is placed on the wall it tilts at an angle and doesn’t collect water. I also had a go at knocking some corners off and trying to straighten up a few edges. Kath of course did some excellent demonstrations knocking things into shape with the deft touch of 25 years experience!

Next up was getting down next to the wall – a ha-ha has a ditch on one side, so it’s a case of clambering down with stones in tow (actually I think some of the larger ones had me in tow!) – and laying some stones. Once you lay a big stone, you need to wedge it into position with a small stone so that it doesn’t move about. You then find another stone that fits snugly alongside, and wedge that into place as well. Once you’ve done a whole row in this fashion (not so easy when you’ve got a load of first-time wallers working on small sections next to each other!) you need to fill in the area behind with even more small stones. If we were creating a normal wall rather than a ha-ha of course, we’d be building two skins and infilling the centre.

Luckily Kath was on hand throughout. Her skill for knowing what sort of stone should go where, when to put in a narrow stone to ‘tie’ the wall together, which side actually is the face and which stones will fit next to which was remarkable.

Section of dry stone wall

Section of dry stone wall

Needless to say we didn’t finish the ha-ha. We’ve had a good few workshops and a couple of staff days now and we’re getting there bit by bit. I was pleased with today – I wouldn’t say I learnt a new skill as obviously that takes years. But it was a pleasure to work with this material alongside someone with such knowledge and get an insight into their world of work. It is also great to think that a tiny bit of Westonbirt’s new ha-ha was created by me and some of my colleagues. And no, I’ll never look at those familiar old Cotswold stone walls in the same way again…

Green Inspiration by Sophie Nash, Westonbirt Project Support Officer

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I recently visited the Greenbuild Expo in Manchester which showcased sustainable energy ideas and technology. Sadly I missed the opening talk by Bill Dunster, the architect behind BedZed due to train issues, but I did manage to talk to lots of different suppliers and attend other useful seminars.

Currently we plan to heat the new Welcome Building using an Air Source Heat Pump which will heat underfloor heating in the toilets and the new interpretation room. This basically works like an air conditioning unit on reverse. I also attended seminars on rainwater harvesting and designing buildings using Glulam (strips of timber glues together to form curves, like the front of the Welcome Building.)

I am now going to follow up discussions regarding rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment and woodfuel to find out if they are suitable for the Welcome Building. I also hope to hear soon from a company who produce floor slabs which power schools and shopping centres to see if we can utilise the 300,000 visitors we have each year as a power source!

A grand day out, by Sophie Nash, Project Support Officer

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Last week we finally managed to make some time to look at examples of other Forestry Commission projects. Key people from the FC kindly showed us the fruit of their hard labour whilst also explaining the highs and lows, costs and timescales of each project.

Cannock Education Centre

Cannock Education Centre

First stop was Cannock Chase and their Education Centre. It’s a lovely timber framed and clad building which was nestled into the landscape. Along the total length of one side was a wall of glass which looked out onto a balcony and out towards the trees surrounding the building. Inside you still felt as though you were within a forest with huge tree trunks that form the piles and balcony supports, project up through into the classrooms above.  

Hicks Lodge cycle centre

Hicks Lodge cycle centre

Next stop was Hicks Lodge. This FC building was on the verge of completion when we visited. It has been built as a cycle centre, bike hire with an on site flat. It was quite a contrast in both appearance and location compared to the building we had just visited. The one thing that fascinated some of us was that the site foreman (lead builder) was so pleased with himself that he had managed to reduce the construction waste to just one skip by recycling as much as he could! An amazing feat for a construction site.

Wyre Education Centre

Wyre Education Centre

Our final destination was Wyre and their Education Centre. It’s very similar to Cannock in form, materials and construction although the level of finish was more refined. My favourite part however was a lovely hand painted woodland mural with one way glass windows for watching birds and other wildlife.

Both buildings at Cannock and Wyre were clearly well loved with everyone that uses them. We have picked up lots of useful information and ideas from all projects which we will apply where we can to the development of the Welcome Building. See more photos of the trip on

The Project begins with a ha-ha! By Sophie Nash, Project Support Officer

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

You will see from Monday (7th March) contractors on site by the mini roundabout starting Phase 1 of the Westonbirt Project. They will be digging a new ditch, laying foundations and constructing a concrete block retaining wall. They will also be using any leftover top soil to smooth sections of the overflow car parking field. This work starts the first phase of works for the new ha-ha which will become our boundary between cars and visitors.

Once the contractors have left we should see about 78 meters of block work wall. In May two courses will complete a single skin dry stone wall, depending on the speed of the participants we may also need to plan another course to finish the straight section of wall. Those with beady eyes will notice that we aren’t building the entire wall of 95 metres. The last 20 or so meters will be a curved wall which connects to the new Welcome Building.

We can’t complete this section until work begins on the Welcome Building and car park as it’ll be too close to the existing entrance road!
It’s quite exciting for us after all our preparations to see work starting on site!

Walking the Line, by Miranda Winram, Project Director

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I ran out of time in my blog entry the other day, so I couldn’t jabber on to you about the Planning Inspector’s verdict on the Welcome Building design itself.

The Welcome Building design has been a tricky one to get right. Setting aside any considerations of cost, there were originally two schools of thought. The first that it should be a building that stood out and shouted ‘come and find out about the Arboretum’, the second was that anything we built should be very much subservient to the landscape it is to sit in. I know that the various Friends I’ve spoken to over the last year veer between the two views themselves – and I know that to some people in both camps we’re never going to be able to get the balance right.

We took the opportunity of the appeal period to put up a temporary exhibition on the hazel hurdles near the outdoor café to check what our visitors thought of the design – if we’d got it wrong we wanted you to tell us. We provided feedback cards and we were really encouraged that there was almost unanimous support for the proposed design. The most frequent comment was relief that we weren’t going to ‘spoil’ the arboretum with a massive and obtrusive design.

The Planning Inspector showed a real grasp of this design challenge for the Arboretum and described it better than I can: ‘such a building has to walk a fine line between deference and empathy with context whilst establishing a visual presence commensurate with its purpose.’ His verdict is that ‘the sum of the building’s attributes constitute a simple, even self effacing building, intelligently designed to use the local topography to its advantage, engage and empathise with the existing landscape features of the site whilst fulfilling its role as both a focus and a prelude for visitors entering the arboretum. In incorporating these elements the proposed building achieves the difficult task of walking the line, delivering a well mannered building with the desired visual presence whilst avoiding material harm to the designated heritage asset and its setting.’

We’re delighted that an impartial observer feels that way – it’s what the capital works team have tried so hard to achieve. I know that to some people – dare I say it? – the building isn’t inspiring – to those people I’d ask you to wait until it’s a living breathing building, serving its purpose and looking like to was always mean to be in that location. We’re confident that we’re walking the right side of the line the Inspector describes.

The best thing about the Inspector’s verdict? We can really get cracking with the fundraising now – funders like to see that what they’re contributing to has planning permission, and that’s a problem that we can now put in the past.

What’s the difference between a shed and a barn? by Miranda Winram, Project Director

Friday, December 17th, 2010

‘What’s the difference between a shed and a barn?’ It’s a question the Planning Inspector asked the Cotswold District Council Conservation and Design Officer on Wednesday this week. We were attending the meeting set up for the Planning Inspectorate to ask us why we thought we should have received planning permission for the proposed new Welcome Building, and to ask the Council why they had refused it.

On this particular part of the discussion the Council had to concede that there was very little difference, and that they could have used the word barn instead of shed to describe the proposed building. Of course we didn’t ask the Inspector why he challenged the use of the word ‘shed’ (at these meetings Inspectors are all powerful – you do not question them about anything), but the Inspector seemed to be having some fun at this point, and we’re hoping that he felt it wasn’t a very professional planning term to have used.

We felt the meeting went well – we certainly had plenty of opportunity to put our case, and it did feel like the Council’s views and opinions were challenged more rigorously than ours. But of course they may have felt the same! As FOWA Trustee John Kendall wisely pointed out, he’s been involved in planning appeals before when he’s been sure he’s won and then the decision came back negatively.

It was certainly an interesting experience, and we were most encouraged that the audience for the meeting included a member of the public who we’d never met before and a local councillor (not unfortunately our Ward Member, Carolyn Nicole, she is opposed to the plans, and stood us up when we’d invited her to visit to the Arboretum to find out about them). Both of these people had given up their time, unsolicited by us, to come and make public their support for the Westonbirt Project and the Welcome Building.

So, the result? Well, I’m crossing everything and we’ll just have to wait and see, the decision will be with us in the next few weeks. And we’ll keep you posted of course.

I Am The Project Director by Miranda Winram

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

This is my first blog as Project Director, so in time honoured Blind Date fashion I thought I’d tell you what my name is and ‘whur’ I come from (as my in laws are from Liverpool, I reckon I’m allowed to make Scouse jokes…).

So: I’m Miranda Winram. I’ve just moved to Nailsworth from Yorkshire, and I’m here because this looked like a fun job with the great opportunity to help more people enjoy what a brilliant place the Arboretum and Gardens are.

I’ve been in post for exactly three months now, and it’s gone in a blur. So far, I seem to have ‘Directed’ the appointment of a company to develop architects drawings and plans for the new and refurbished buildings and conservation stonework we need (both for the Arboretum and the Gardens), to have helped choose a very beautiful Walkway and Tower for the arboretum (on view in the Great Oak Hall reception), and to have recruited a Head of Fundraising for the Project. I’m hoping she’ll come in handy at raising the cash to build all these wonderful new things….

The Westonbirt Project blog

Friday, September 25th, 2009

The Westonbirt Project is an ambitious plan to take Westonbirt into the future. At it’s heart is a vision of connecting people with trees.

This section of the Friends Of Westonbirt blog aims to help achieve that by connecting you directly to the team, supporters and volunteers behind the Westonbirt Project.

We look forward to hearing your views and opinions on the project.