Warren Woods, in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in North Wales, has been transformed, tree by tree, into an award-winning ‘community woodland’.
The site hosts 80-100 courses in woodland management and traditional courses including basket making, countryside skills, hedge laying, chainsaw operations and bush skills. It is a regional hub for the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.
During a typical visit, two people were doing a one-day course in using a chainsaw, two youth workers were making pole lathes, several people were doing First Aid for outdoors and a group was on a two hour ‘mindfulness’ walk in the woodland. Life here is thriving.
Instead of producing charcoal, the site now produces £5,000 of coppiced hazel grown from 3,000 hazel plants. Hazel grown in North Wales does not produce good weaving material, so the stock used for coppicing comes from Kent and Herefordshire. 35 tonnes of firewood were also produced in the last year.
The well-designed training centre blends into its surroundings
Having worked to establish the site, founder Rod Waterfield was keen to ensure its long-term future. This wasn’t to be a personal project, one bearing his name. He wanted it to be owned by the community. The Woodland Skills Centre became a Social Enterprise Company, in 2005. Rod presented the new management team with their first challenge: to build a new training centre. This was to be built using local materials and traditional skills. It needed to have full planning permission, to have disabled access, to fully comply with building regulations, and to be energy efficient. It would also need to fit in to the landscape of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
An early meeting with planning officials was organised, where the challenges of building within an AONB were conveyed to Rod and his team. There were hurdles to clear. Many would have paused at this stage to focus energy elsewhere. However, Rod appreciated the importance of the building to the site, and for its future. He worked carefully on the design and the brief (the roof is carefully pitched to maximise access of solar panels to the sun). The building is enclosed with a thick later of sheep’s wool. It is heated by a single log burner.
After an 18 month journey, the plans were approved by the local authority and work began on construction. Today, it is the centre of life at this busy centre. Since it was built, ten more timber buildings have been erected across the site, based on its template and providing facilities for the various activities taking place.
The training centre blends into the landscape
Engaging with Visitors
Having a background as a teacher, it is perhaps little surprise that Rod has been keen to encourage visits from children at local schools. Numerous groups were being accommodated and summer schools were run. However, towards the end of 2018, Rod reflected that many of those attending events were from backgrounds where such opportunities were more readily available. He decided to focus on encouraging those who were less likely to
have such opportunities. Today, visits are increasingly from children with autism and other needs.
Adults with dementia can visit and enjoy walks in the woodland and those with learning difficulties are learning to work with green wood.
Inside the training centre
Summer camps are run for families of those who have attended during term time, when they can spend more time exploring the setting.
The well-equipped training centre
For more information visit the website www.woodlandskillscentre.uk