Trust manager Vivienne Cole believes that it is this sort of commitment that has helped Warley Woods become such a valuable local resource: "I can’t think of anywhere else where this sort of thing would happen. The amount of time local people contribute is quite wonderful."
Warley Woods is in Smethwick, just outside Birmingham, on about 40 hectares of land that was once attached to a large house. One-third of the land is now taken up with a nine-hole pay-and-play golf course, one-third is traditional park and one-third is woodland. The entire estate is managed by the trust.
Warley Woods is run with only a minor (£65,000) grant from the local authority. This is possible because the golf course generates income and the trust’s membership of 850 also contributes to income. The trust has run the site since 2004.
Cole explains: "The volunteers decide how to manage it, they employ me and I report to the trust." The trust also has corporate volunteers — for example, local banks encourage staff to lend a hand with maintenance.
Cole says the Green Flag has been very useful: "It provided us with a sort of blueprint of how we should run the woods. It made us realise that communication was very important. We have a website, a quarterly newsletter, a monthly email and eight notice boards around the park."
Although Smethwick is one of the most deprived areas of the Midlands, the woods are a sort of country estate. The park was originally laid out by Repton, the great 18th-century designer. Cole says: "It’s like a piece of countryside in the city.
We want it to be a special place for local people."
Using volunteers, the trust is trying to do some serious planting — the first since the 1970s. "A lot of the trees were planted 250 years. They now have to be replaced,’ says Cole. Two years ago, the trust put in 70 semi-mature trees and 800 whips — primarily oak and beech. Last year the trust planted another five mature trees and 400 whips. Most of these have escaped being vandalised.
The trust runs 23 events and encourages others. The most successful was the Picnic in the Park, at which 4,000 people enjoyed a free concert by local bands playing everything from jazz to bhangra. It is the community involvement that is essential in the park’s revival. Cole says: "We pay for four hours of litter picking on Monday. But the site is clear all week because many visitors pick up any litter they see. They have a tremendous pride in the place."
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