The woods of Castlemilk Park in Glasgow were once part of the landscape of the now demolished Castlemilk House. They are in one of Scotland's most deprived regions and had become a no-go area, but over the past six years they have been transformed into a much-loved community asset.
In 2010 Cassiltoun Housing Association formed the Castlemilk Park Steering Group. A feasibility study was carried out and one of the recommendations was to employ a community woodland officer, who started in May 2011.
Paths were badly overgrown, fly-tipping was an issue and the park felt unsafe thanks to graffiti, drinking dens and broken glass. The initial phase was about breaking the spiral of decline, addressing maintenance issues and antisocial behaviour. The community was engaged and events began to be delivered in the park, with 125 cleanups, health walks and family events held in the first year.
Local unemployment is high, with 39 per cent of the working age population claiming benefits - more than twice the Scottish average. In 2012 Cassiltoun secured funding to start an employability project. Over five years more than 100 unemployed people have participated in an eight-week programme, with around 80 per cent gaining qualifications while carrying out much of the park maintenance and woodland management. Some 40 per cent moved into jobs shortly after completing the project. Three trainees were employed for 26 weeks in 2015-16.
The woods are also used to address physical and mental health challenges for local people, around 13 per cent of whom are being prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression or psychosis. Working with Forestry Commission Scotland, the housing association delivers Branching Out, an innovative programme for adults who use mental health services. It also holds evening walks, tea in the park and photography sessions.
In five years, more than 17,500 people have enjoyed more than 800 free events, the woods have been transformed and the community now has a sense of ownership and pride in the park.