Norman Dandy is Making Local Woods Work programme manager, and joined Plunkett Foundation a year ago.
“One of the most exciting things about the first year of Making Local Woods Work has been the revelation that a huge appetite for woodland social enterprise exists across the whole of the UK. It’s been incredible to see the huge variety of activity being undertaken by social enterprises in British woodlands, but we’re still a long way off getting the full picture.
“I joined the project team at Plunkett Foundation in the midst of an application process that generated well over a hundred ‘expressions of interest’ from aspiring and existing woodland social enterprises from all corners of Britain. Selecting which of those would go on to benefit from the support of Making Local Woods Work was a long and hard task, but we’ve all been rewarded by the level of drive and passion shown by the cohort. The support needs of our groups and enterprises have proved very diverse, reflecting the breadth of enterprise activity they are undertaking; from art to tractors; timber to therapy; wood fuel to wood culture! As part of the project, the enterprises we’re supporting are both strengthening their existing activities and experimenting with new ideas. This diversity has underpinned our need to involve many advisers in Making Local Woods Work in the first year. We’re fortunate to be able to harness the skills, experience and knowledge of more than thirty advisers across the UK, and in the New Year we’ll be looking to bring our advisers together so that they can benefit themselves from each others’ experiences, and the project can contribute to the development of strong and sustained advisory capacity.
“This year’s work has already begun to reveal key barriers to, and drivers of, successful woodland social enterprise. The confidence of social entrepreneurs to explore their ideas and the active support of local communities are both critical, as is secure input to decision-making about the land and forests within which social enterprises are operating (be it through ownership, appropriate leases, a certain planning context or simply understanding how to better engage decision-makers).
“Knowledge exchange – from peer to peer – is at the heart of Making Local Woods Work. It was therefore a real highlight for me to see and hear the conversations that happened at our events during this year, especially at Hill Holt Wood in August and Young Wood in September. Principles of self-help, innovation and co-operation are what drive Plunkett Foundation and our Making Local Woods Work partners. Our central aim is to help build a self-sustaining network of woodland social enterprise, and evidence of that network is growing.
“During the second year of the programme the partnership will be looking to scale up its activities further: that means more events, greater support, reaching more groups and enterprises. Exciting things are on the horizon as individuals apply new skills, enterprises incorporate and grow, and more and more people are able to realise and capture the benefits of their local woods. We’re looking forward to enjoying everything 2017 holds in store for us all together.”
What are your reflections from the first year of the programme? What have been your highlights so far? What would you like to explore more of? Let us know in the comments below.