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There’s Something In the Woodshed

Words: Paul Chapman

Images: Bolsover Woodlands Enterprise

Bolsover Woodlands Enterprise (BWE) is one of those places I love, described on their website as ‘a social enterprise that manages and protects woodlands in Derbyshire. All our team members are adults who have a learning disability.’ A short and simple description, yet the place really is so much more than that.

I was introduced to BWE by John King, a fellow tenant at West Studios and past cover artist who is the longest member of the staff team at Bolsover. We were discussing BWE after John read our recent piece on High Ashes Rural Project, so I popped up for a chat.

“The project started in 2000, a small Derbyshire Social Services supported environmental project to provide opportunities to adults with learning disabilities to go out with the Derbyshire Ranger Services, to help with pond clearances, hedge cutting, thinning of small trees on old pit sites etc,” explains John.

“The guys were using bow saw and hedge cutters to support the rangers and were based on our site at the Business Park in Bolsover. Back then it was a small team with a single funded staff member.”

Today the enterprise has a staff of seven people working with 35 team members who spend between one and three days a week working with BWE, depending on their skills and personal requirements.

“We have two strands to our work,” says John. “The field team are out and about maintaining woodlands, paths, hedge cutting and general conservation work for a variety of clients including Derbyshire County Council, Bolsover District Council, Parish Councils, local associations, we also work for private individuals that have their own woodlands.

“Our team now have skills in operating chainsaws, petrol hedge cutters, petrol brush cutters, a chipping machine, an industrial flailing machine, a portable milling saw, plus others.

“We maintain the Five Pits Trail, Peter Fidler Park and Snipe bog which has a meadow, so we cut the grass and rake it aside to stop the long grass depleting the ground of nutrients, to encourage wildflowers to grow. At Peter Fidler Park we thin the woodland areas, to ensure the woodland floor gets enough light which allows the woods to flourish.”

There will typically be a works team of up to 13 team members taking on a variety of tasks each day. The staff are Lantra (the National Training Organization for the Land Based Industries) Land and first aid trained to ensure people are working safely and are picking up skills. The project ensures people are able to work safely with the tools available allowing a real mix of skills on site, all year round.

Alongside the field team there are a few people in the workshop working on smaller projects. “This smaller team works with me,” says John. “We make tables, stools and smaller items, door stops, chopping boards, door wedges, cedar blocks as insect repellents and a range of other small wooden products which are sold from the workshop.

“Over time the team have built larger items, but we now stick to a range of items the adults can make almost entirely unsupported, I just need to do some of the marking out for them.”

BWE produce a range of outdoor products which you’ll see alongside local trails and paths; bench seats, picnic tables etc. installed and dug into the ground to make them attractive, long lasting and unremovable!

All of the timber used in projects is from local estates and parklands, any trees used are felled for genuine reasons not just for projects. “For instance, when Sherwood Forest relocated their visitor centre, they had to remove a number of trees which were gifted to us,” says John.

“We have a portable sawmill, so if wood is very large, we are able to mill it into planks on site.”

I was keen to understand how adults make their way to the project and how it was funded.

“We’re linked with various local agencies but operate independently, people come down with their carers to see if the project is right for them. We have a limited number of places and operate a waiting list, demand is high, at present we have just one space.

“The project receives some funds from Derbyshire County Council, generates income from contracted work, plus the smaller products are sold through festivals, shows and from the centre” explains John. "We aim to self-generate much of the money needed to run the project and support the team members, as a Social Enterprise all the income we generate is for the benefit of the team members.

I was impressed with BWE, the workshop was immaculate! The products for sale include, chopping boards (much cheaper than commercial products, John was keen to highlight), tea light holders which are very popular at events, stools and tables, the handmade stools seemed a real bargain at £49, each one unique and lovingly finished. BWE also have logs and kindling available to collect or for delivery, check out their website for more info and prices.

I felt uplifted when I left the project, a small team of staff, a handful of volunteers and some very happy adults. A round of applause for BWE please!


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