A Roundfield excursion to the foremost woodland social enterprise in the country proved to be both enlightening and inspiring!
Our search for a truly sustainable land based enterprise finally led us to Hill Holt wood in February 2011. Set in 34 acres of degraded ancient woodland in Lincolnshire, this project is restoring the wood to its former condition through a number of measures such as rhododendron clearance and planting of native broadleaf species to replace those felled during a period of heavy logging prior to the purchase of the wood.
What is remarkable about Hill Holt Wood is that contrary to most conservation projects, it actually turns a profit that is reinvested back into the social enterprise. This is possible through numerous contracts with local councils that pay Hill Holt Wood to train and educate permanently expelled school children for a period of 2 years. Interns learn woodland based practical and social skills through activities such as eco-building, iron mongery, livestock rearing, vegetable growing, cooking, wood carving, role playing, coppicing, foraging and charcoal burning to name a few.
Since the Hill Holt Wood project began to reach out to the community in 1997, a diverse range of additional income streams have been established with no less than 11 local parishes, including supplying bridges and signage to local councils, litter picking services, firewood and construction grade timber production. Corporate team building events, ‘experience days’ and woodland courses such as green construction and environmental conservation are also now available. Of particular interest to Roundfield was the now annual placement of architectural students within the wood who undertake an eco-build project as part of their year out. The original students have since completed eco-build contracts in the local community and are forging a very interesting and positive career path for themselves.
Founders Nigel and Karen Lowthrop are gaining recognition for their work, having been recently nominated for the Earnst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011. Earlier in the year they won a Sustain Magazine award for the impressive WREN Community Hall that sits at the heart of the site. Designed and built by Simons design with help from the University of Lincoln, the building was constructed from local timber and earth sourced from the woodland site, and features a beautiful reciprocal roof. Largely ‘off grid’ and equipped with compost toilets with a separate reed bed and pond for cleaning grey water, this building demonstrates how a more integrated approach to architectural and landscape design can be achieved at low cost and with minimal impact to it’s natural setting –something Roundfield are keen to explore further in the work that we do.
The wider benefits of an environmental social enterprise such as this cannot be understated, and there is a growing awareness amongst environmental and educational professionals that this type of project crosses a range of government policy areas.
To quote from the website www.hillholtwood.com :
“The role of social enterprises in rural development and rural diversification is becoming an issue of increasing interest. The government sees social enterprises as a way of providing public goods.
Hill Holt Wood started life over 300 years ago, now in the 21st Century Hill Holt Wood is a thriving community project with visitors from all over Europe..”