Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

‘By the community, for the community’

The problem

The lack of a suitable shelter has a profound impact on the community programme. We work with adults and young people with a wide range of needs. Including people at risk of isolation or exclusion; autism; mental health conditions and learning disabilities. Bringing them into the collection and enabling them to reap all the physical and mental benefits spending time amongst nature can offer.

Community Shelter sketch
Community Shelter workshop

However, for many of these groups and individuals, spending all day in the outdoors is a new and daunting prospect that can create a barrier to them visiting. Often they do not have suitable outdoor clothing, limited or no outdoor skills and already have a mindset that it will be a cold, wet and scary experience. A permanent, bespoke shelter will provide familiarity, cover from the elements, a space to warm up, help create a sense of belonging and show participants they are welcome at Westonbirt. It will go a long way to making the idea of spending all day in the woods less intimidating and encourage under-represented community groups to come to Westonbirt.

Without the shelter, we will not be able to reach those who would most benefit from visiting.

What we’re doing

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we’ve raised £185,000 to design and build a bespoke shelter with the community. We’re working with an expert team of designers and architects to reinvigorate an area of Silk Wood to be used exclusively for community activities.

Local community groups came together during autumn and winter 2019 to learn expert design and woodworking skills to help with the build of the shelter, to be made out of Westonbirt's own timber, come to life. Working with Invisible Studios (Piers Taylor) and Xylotek (Charley Brentall) was a brilliant experience for our community groups as well as Westonbirt staff and volunteers.

Community workshop
Community workshop

Piers Taylor, Invisible Studios - Award winning architect, broadcaster and academic:

‘This project is at the heart of what we do, representing the marriage of home grown timber, inventive technologies and local community engagement. We aim to build in the success of that project and show how rural and making skills can be effective vehicles for engaging local community groups.'

After a thorough tender process, Xylotek Ltd has been appointed to build our Community Shelter. The organically shaped dome timber structure has been designed in collaboration with our community participants who worked with award winning architect Piers Taylor to develop this iconic structure with input from the Xylotek team, including leading the prototyping sessions held in 2020.

The building has been designed to use Westonbirt oak and to create an organic shaped building which will showcase what can be achieved with locally grown and sourced timber. The majority of fabrication will be undertaken onsite.

Community workshop
Community workshop

The build phase will give our community programme participants a sense of empowerment and a unique opportunity to participate in a range of traditional green timber carpentry techniques including steam bending, laminating and shingle making to build a visually stunning structure. All of the timber used for construction of the structure has been or will be extracted from Westonbirt’s own collection as part of the woodland management cycle.

The community participants will not only gain a huge sense of achievement but will have the opportunity to build a long lasting structure that will be used as a home for further generations of community participants, which will leave a long standing legacy on the arboretum’s landscape. The build programme has been developed by Xylotek to maximise participant engagement in each element of construction by working with the community team and taking into account the various skill levels, maximising the use of hand-tools and responding to the needs of participants.

In 2020, much of the project had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, over the course of 2021, we’ve gradually brought back community groups to familiarise them with the arboretum again. The build started early in January with community groups being inducted onto the building site ready to begin helping with the construction of this bespoke structure.

See day one of the build:

ITV West Country visited Westonbirt in January to see The Apperley Centre community participants building the Community Shelter with Xylotek:

Steam bending the laths:

Making the arches:


Raising the arches:

Making a jig:

How to make a shingle:

Check back soon for more updates.

Once again a huge thank you to everyone who has helped fund this project - without your generosity our community groups wouldn't be looking forward to spending extended periods of quality time at Westonbirt in 2022.