Sarah Spencer, World Wildlife Fund UK green ambassador teacher of the year, shares her top 10 tips for community involvement in a woodland social enterprise:
1. Find a small group of like-minded people – they are out there. A range of skills is ideal, but enthusiasm and time commitment are probably more important.
2. Visit other projects. A great inspiration is Hill Holt Wood in Lincolnshire, but every project you visit will give you ideas and guidance.
3. Research legal structures. Different legal structures affect a group’s abilities to raise finance and limit liabilities. The co-operative society (formerly industrial and provident society) model offers the ability to raise money from community shares, but other structures such as community interest companies and charities may open up more grant opportunities.
4. Look into permaculture. This is a fantastic design system for creating sustainable spaces and organisations that are productive but also good for people and the environment.
5. Think wider than timber. Woodlands can be great spaces for growing food, education and events as well as producing timber products such as coppice and firewood. Multiple yields is the key and there is strength in diversity.
6. Involve the whole community. The community becomes your membership but they can help in all sorts of ways, from raising finance to supporting planning applications. Have the community plan the site at a ‘planning for real’ session.
7. Set out your aims and objectives. This will help avoid mission drift as the project expands.
8. Think sustainability – how will the project be sustained long-term? Often the projects that pay their workers a living wage (or provide them with goods in kind) are those that endure
9. Celebrate failures. There will be setbacks but it’s your ability to deal with them that counts.
10. Make it fun! Many people get involved because they get to meet great people and do new and exciting things. Make time for play as well as work.