BLOG Inspiration Abound: Making Local Woods Work /CWA Conference 2017

Posted on February 5, 2018 by

At the end of October Maria Wilding (the MLWW coordinator) and two Llais y Goedwig members, travelled up to Scotland to attend the annual Community Woodland Association conference, sponsored by making Local Woods Work.  This is a report of their experience, from Jenny Wong of Coetir Mynydd and Jane Rigby from Dyfi Woodlands.      


Inspiring projects and food for thoughts at the CWA / Making Local Woods Work Conference. October 2017

 

Jenny Wong from Coetir Mynydd sets the scene, “I have long followed with some interest the development of community woodlands in Scotland but had not been able to visit to see things for myself. So the opportunity to join a car-full of LlyG members up to Cumbernauld for the CWA annual conference was too good to miss.”

Jane Rigby takes up the story, “after setting off at dawn the four of us arrived in good time with just one stop at the legendary Truck Haven for breakfast. Networking started in the marketplace area, with an opportunity to note interests and links on a map; we all used the string and post-it notes to make the map bristle with woodlandish activities.”

Jenny continues, “As to be expected the meeting was big and busy and it was impossible to keep track of everything. Amongst the many workshops and visits two things really stood out for me as being relevant to what is happening in Wales.

The first was the “Accessing Social Finance” workshop given by Pauline Hinchion of the Scottish Community Re:investment Trust (SCRT). Pauline argued that there is a serious market failure for loans below £50,000 to small businesses – which would include community and social enterprise. Banks (including ethical banks) charge very high interest rates to make it worth giving small loans which are unaffordable especially to rural businesses operating on small margins. This, we were told, could be addressed through the creation of “community bonds” which was new to me. A bond, is a bit like crowd funding and community shares in that people can buy bonds as an investment BUT they don’t get a ‘share’ or vote in the business or dividends. The holder of a bond can ask for their money to be returned at any time with interest. It all started to click into place with the example of a community bond operating in Argyll and Bute which started off 12 years ago with £50,000 of capital which was loaned out to local businesses in small amounts at 1% interest rate – the fund is now worth over £1 million and still growing. Several groups at the workshop had wind turbines or hydro and they thought that maybe they could channel some of their revenues into community bonds that could be reinvested and benefit the local economy directly.

This idea I really liked as Coetir Mynydd is helping to develop a community hydro and there are a lot of struggling micro businesses in our area – so I’ve started working this concept into our hydro plans. A look at SCART website reveals another angle… SCART’s vision is “is of an effective, socially-committed and prospering Scottish third sector sustained by a financial infrastructure aligned to its needs” which includes community bonds as an essential part of this financial infrastructure. I considered, is this perhaps something which would be applicable to LlyG? Might it be possible to generate bonds to be invested in community woodland activities so as a sector we can be less dependent on grants?

For Jane from Dyfi Woodands, the ideas that sparked inspiration were ones examining timber uses, the health benefits of woodlands, and the now closed Forest Land Scheme;

“Several encounters with people over the day made me aware of the radical effect of Scotland’s National Forest Land Scheme  and I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for the islanders of Ulva who have a chance to buy their island. Ian Hepburn of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company– told a truly inspiring story.

An opportunity to share ideas in a workshop ‘Adding value to homegrown timber’ brought suggestions for holtz hauses, bijou kindling, wood and firelighter sets for holiday homes, birch brash being incorporated into plasterboard and utilising ‘grown knees’ for boat making. Poplar is apparently great for swords, aspen for shields, and wooden jewellery another idea. Linking local craftspeople and woodlands is key, not just producing firewood. Steve Donagain from Hill Holt Wood had given examples of income streams earlier, and how little income actually came from firewood at their woodlands was surprising. It will be interesting to see what the other members of Dyfi Woodlands think of some of these ideas.”

Jane continues, “After an energetic ceilidh for some in the evening on Friday!  we started Saturday with several presentations. The Knoydart Forest Trust is a particularly inspiring foundation demonstrating how diverse talents within a small community can be brought together to overcome geographical difficulties of isolation and transport to create something unique and visionary.

The Eden-Rose Coppice Trust in Suffolk stood out as a fantastic example of holistic environmental and community support, with personal examples of how nature can make a huge difference to people’s lives.”

Jenny and Jane attended different field trips, both proving thought provoking for their own community woodland situations, here’s Jane again,

“On a trip to Beechbrae in Blackridge, West Lothian, I learnt about how this community and woodland are coming together to create something very positive; an orchard, garden and large ponds being used to enhance lives and biodiversity. One of my favourite discoveries was the table with hinged wooden benches, made by local prison inmates. The seats can be raised after use so you never sit down and get a soggy bottom – we definitely need to build one!

Jenny meanwhile visited Twechar, and saw immediate parallels for her own community, “my second eye-opener was a visit to the Twechar Community Action and its passionate and clever staff who since 2001 have used an old leisure centre to facilitate the resurgence of a dying ex-mining village. Their journey has not been easy and it was told warts and all which made their achievements even more impressive and inspiring. Within Twechar they have regenerated the town centre including demolishing rows of old cottages and building a new housing complex, turned scraps of orphaned open ground into edible gardens, provide training in horticulture, landscaping, hospitality and child care backed with a landscape enterprise alongside the more usual café, pharmacy, youth clubs, football club etc. expected in a successful community centre employing 26 staff.

Two things stood out for me: the commitment and time invested in consultation on a direction and plans for community development and the way in which everyone and everything had multiple functions. The community engagement for the 2017-2022 action plan was carried out over a period of five months including meetings, drop ins, voting on options and access to materials and staff for discussions seven days a week and into the evenings. I was very much encouraged that Coetir Mynydd is on the right track with our commitment to asking and listening to people in our community.”

Jane concludes with final observations, “my last inspiring story is that of Michael Connors of the Brown Rock Woodland Project near Bristol, which Dyfi Woodlands hope to visit soon.  I’m particularly interested in seeing how they have developed their health and wellbeing aspect of using woodlands, which is pertinent to us in Wales as one of the priority areas for the Future Generations Commissioner is examples of Well Being in projects.

Once back in the Dyfi Valley, I started reading the book I’d bought from Ninian Stuart of Reforesting Scotland – A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests. The effects of this conference will keep reverberating, echoes of inspiration happening here in the Dyfi Valley and beyond. ”

 

Thanks to Maria Wilding, Making Local Woods Work and the Community Woodland Association of Scotland for making the trip possible.

Making Local Woods Work

CWA

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