Welcome to Our Woods

Using many community organising and forestry techniques from the past, this scheme could change the whole narrative of the place locally.

Welcome to Our Woods' story

Residents of the ex-mining town of Treherbert, in the South Wales Valleys, had always been told not to go into the woods. The trees had once been planted for pit props, the timber splints used to prop up coal pits. In the years since the mines closed, the forests had become overgrown. Older people passed on the stories of danger intended to keep residents away. At night, young boys crept in and set fire to trees or cars.

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.

What have you learnt that others will find most useful?

  • The project was started with grant funding, but there are plenty of opportunities for it to become fully self-funded. We’ve got a hugely productive community, lots of tradesmen and skilled practical workers, but they leave the valley each morning in white vans driving over the mountain. This project is all about realising the very obvious opportunities that are there.
  • 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 but the fact that no arson attacks have happened since is proof that engagement of this kind works.

Measures of success?

We measure improvements against three social issues we are tackling: Health and Wellbeing Skills and Jobs Poverty

Read more: https://welcometoourwoods.org/

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Welcome to Our Woods