I had the privilege a couple of weekends ago to spend two days at Hill Holt Wood, a community-owned ancient woodland in Linconshire, talking conservation and enterprise with around 90 others.
Hill Holt Wood for those who do not know it is a special, special place – no other organisation could get the group of people they brought together in one place. Very different interests were united in their admiration and support for Hill Holt Wood and what it has achieved at it’s 10th anniversary event. It is a place that feels wholly and truly good – a wonderful place to be. The woodland is being managed brilliantly, it’s seen as an important community asset, it provides employment, training and life opportunities and it runs on an enterprise basis. Hill Holt Wood is proof that the highest standards of conservation and community enterprise can and should work together.
The event itself Enterprise and Conservation – A Meeting of Minds did exactly what is says on the tin. It brought together the social enterprise world including Plunkett, Locality, Co-operatives UK and Social Enterprise UK. It also brought together public sector stakeholders including the Forestry Commission, Natural England and North Kestevan Council, a wide range of academics from various disciplines, funders like Big Issue Invest and Big Society Capital and those involved in different ways in woodland management, conservation and land management. Here are a few of the key talking points from the event that I picked up on:
- Enterprise needs to be the basis for community woodlands – without enterprise, communities will be unable to deliver whatever economic, social or environmental outcomes they are looking to achieve.
- Collaboration is key – collaboration between those attending, collaboration between policy makers, collaboration between communities were key themes for the day.
- Beware the unintended consequences of government action – short term policy cycles (in woodland terms) have created uncertainty for woodlands – community owned and otherwise.
- Removing silos – delegates were challenging policy makers to remove silos but also many were recognising that they were guilty of silo working also – lots for all of us to work on!
- Recognising multiple benefits – Hill Holt Wood delivers so much to so many people but policy makers and funders rarely recognise the full spectrum of benefits that they provide.
- Influencing policy – We all felt that policy makers should learn from Hill Holt Wood but we, as a movement, need to identify clear policy asks to go to government with.
- Maintaining momentum – the event felt like a watershed. The challenge now will be to continue to the momentum generated by the event.
- Long term planning – woodlands do not work in government cycles of 5 years. Longer term thinking and planning is needed.
- Risks? What risks? – It was highlighted a few times that Hill Holt Wood has taken a few risks over the years. But to Nigel and Karen, they don’t think that this is the case as they understood their woodland, their people and their enterprise. The public sector could learn a lot about risk from Hill Holt Wood.
- Think differently! Beware toxic thinking – Hill Holt Wood would not have happened without radically different thinking.
- Replication not franchising – Nigel was clear that he sees the future as inspiring others to adopt and adapt the Hill Holt Wood approach not to directly replicate.
Congratulations to Karen and Nigel Lowthrop and the whole of the Hill Holt Wood team on the event and what they have achieved through Hill Holt Wood over the past ten years.