A fond farewell
After 3 years leading the Friends, I shall be stepping down as CEO of the charity in December. In the Interim Felicia Willow who previously stepped in to support FOWA will be back at the helm while a new leader is recruited.
During my time at Westonbirt, I could not have foreseen the challenges that were to face the Arboretum. However, I am proud to have seen the resilience of the staff on-site and you, our members, and shareholders in the face of significant adversity.
The impact of the global pandemic saw Westonbirt closed for a prolonged period and yet you stood by the Arboretum and the charity to ensure that membership donations were saved for our conservation, education and participation aims.
Those aims were revealed in the launch of our Westonbirt 10-Year Vision in 2019, something that both the Friends and our partners Forestry England signed up to achieve and it is only right that the Arboretum must now deliver on those promises in the coming years. Some of the work you have helped to fund includes the near completion of the Quarantine House, which will allow us to monitor and inspect new plants and apply the correct biological controls needed, better protecting the arboretum propagation from pests and diseases.
2022 will also see the opening of our delayed Community Shelter project, which will see community participants get the opportunity to build a long lasting structure as a home for further generations of community participants from disadvantaged groups including those that would ordinarily have limited access to nature.
The next phase of our ambition will see the reignition of the master planning development. This will enable Westonbirt to put together a timeline of site infrastructure improvements over the course of the decade to significantly improve the site and deliver on the vision aims. These programmes of work will be built around the core themes of conservation, education and participation and will require significant investment and support to achieve.
Through this period, Westonbirt will face challenges and external pressures, not least by national Forestry England who are the government agency established to run the Arboretum on your behalf but whose focus is that of national forestry interests, with Westonbirt a very different proposition to the wider estate. I have already seen how some of those national decisions have affected you from the many comments and concerns I receive. However, I can assure you that the staff at Westonbirt are some of the most passionate and dedicated I have worked with and care deeply for the Arboretum. Although I understand and support many of your concerns the best way you can make change is to engage with the AGM in May, put them in writing to the Chair of the Friends or use the influence of your local politicians who can engage Forestry England at a national level. Can I ask that our Visitor Services Team are left free to manage the visitor welcome and that our members and supporters engage passionate concerns positively using the appropriate channels.
Our charity will need your support as members and shareholders more than ever over the coming years to stand up and put the Arboretum first. By donating to the Friends, your membership donations are protected by charity law in support of Westonbirt. This means that we can financially support Forestry England but only in advance of the Arboretum vision which means you have complete visibility of where your money is spent in our public audited accounts.
Following my departure I know that there are more plans being developed to engage our members and supporters including events and exhibitions so that the charity can reconnect following the challenges of the pandemic. In doing so I hope we can secure this once in a generation legacy to fulfil the ambitious vision and continue to improve Westonbirt as a world leader in trees.
Kindest regards and farewell,
CEO Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum