Welcome To Our Woods' story
Until one day, 22 years ago, a project worker had an idea to stop the arson attacks: open up the forest to young people and teach them how to start controlled fires. Ian Thomas, who now directs Welcome to Our Woods, remembers the controversy around the project in its infancy. But there hasn’t been an arson attack since.
“We’re not reinventing anything,” Thomas says. “What we’re doing is using many techniques that were used in the past. It could change the whole narrative of this place and where this place is going for the better.”
Welcome to Our Woods has opened up the woods to residents of nearby towns. It generates income from a hydroelectric scheme, rents growing spaces in polytunnels and it just bought a library in the centre of Treherbert to host yoga classes, a pay as you feel cafe and other community groups.
Since 2017, Thomas and Martyn Broughton, a personal trainer who runs exercise and wellbeing classes through Welcome to Our Woods, have joined with other groups in the Welsh Valley as Project Skyline. The project is working with residents to reimagine their relationship with the land around where they live.
“We’re not talking about ownership because as far as we are concerned we already own that land, so it’s about what level of stewardship we get,” Thomas says. “This land is opportunity for us.”
Welcome to Our Woods' story has been reproduced with kind permission from Change The Rules. Visit www.letschangetherules.org to discover inspiring new economy projects across the UK.
Image: CC Stock Photo
Useful learnings from Welcome To Our Woods
The project was started with grant funding, but there are plenty of opportunities for it to become fully self-funded due, in no small part, to the support from the community – lots of tradesmen, skilled practical workers, etc.
There are many different ways, sometimes unexpected, to be effective in engaging people. For example, the initial idea to teach young people how to make safe fires – rather than have them set fire to things illegally and in an unsafe way – was met with a lot of criticism initially. The fact that no arson attacks have happened since this programme began is an indication of its effectiveness.
Welcome To Our Woods' metrics
- We measure improvements against three social issues we are tackling:
- Health and Wellbeing
- Skills and Jobs