As we plan, learn and fundraise for our 'farm for Greater Manchester', we've been visiting various UK projects to help shape and inspire our plans....
"Ok so I know it probably seems like I say this about every place I visit, but I’ve just been to a really inspiring project called Hill Holt Wood.
As they say on their website, Hill Holt Wood is many things. A woodland. A business – a social enterprise with charitable status. A concept – a way of working with the local community to create a better environment, provide employment and reach out to those in need.
Hill Holt Wood and the people I met there inspired me for a number of reasons:
- It covers all its costs (including 34 members of staff on permanent contracts) through its trading activities.
- Trading activities include a health programme, green burials, hospitality & events, training and countryside services. They manage 33 miles of footpath and 1000 acres of woodland - which all started with Steve (now their CEO) on a temporary contract to cut the grass!
- They provide hands-on training for young people who are struggling academically in a range of practical skills from woodland management to construction to hospitality, with training opportunities varying from a 3 month course to re-build the workshop to a 2 year training programme (providing all of their education for that period).
- Their work with schools intertwines woodland skills with interesting discussions such as human rights and gender division in the work place.
- It has beautiful ecologically-sound buildings made out of a wider range of materials than you can shake a stick at (I’m not quite sure what that saying means, but you get my drift). They use their own timber, but different varieties (one building is larch, one scotts pine), they have a straw bale building, a rammed earth building and are about to build one using cork. Cork isn’t exactly a local material, but using it will help protect the richly diverse forest habitats supported by Portugal’s cork industry, which has gone into serious decline since plastic ‘corks’ and screw tops have grown in popularity.
- It’s completely off grid, so all water used - including drinking water - is rainwater, heating is from their firewood and toilets are all compost loos (so nice my mum would be totally comfortable using them – my vision of a perfect compost toilet!).
- The people running it are very down to earth - a mix of rangers, joiners, caterers, a teacher, a cleaner, woodland managers. When something needs to happen everyone gets involved – if you aren’t happy doing that then you don’t work there. And importantly those I met (including the amazing Steve Donagain who I got to chat to most) seem happy and calm and not over worked/stressed (even though they do loads).
- It is a beautiful place – the woodlands, the buildings, the whole environment.
- It is an example of what people can do, starting with just a couple and growing into an inspiring and committed team of people, demonstrating that working on the land in an ecological way can provide a good living and worthwhile training, independent of grant funding.
A big thank you to Steve Donagain and all at Hill Holt Wood for their time, information, hospitality and for reminding us it is possible".