Ten years ago, Jim Grogan was looking to have the woodland measured against a standard, to gain an independent view of what was being achieved and what improvements might be recommended. He discovered the Green Flag scheme that is operated by Keep Britain Tidy on behalf of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
The scheme recognises and rewards well managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world. Its purpose and aims are:
* To ensure that everybody has access to quality green and other open spaces, irrespective of where they live.
* To ensure that these spaces are appropriately managed and meet the needs of the communities that they serve.
* To establish standards of good management.
* To promote and share good practice amongst the green space sector.
* To recognise and reward the hard work of managers, staff and volunteers.
* To recognise special innovation in the creation and development of green spaces.
Wow, plenty to go at there! The trustees had to establish a Management Plan and get things in order for an application and inspection. Being the optimist and man of ambition that he was, Jim applied for a Green Flag award and a Special Innovation Award and in 2009 we won both. He was so pleased. His patience and determination to use land belonging, in those days, to the Highways Agency had been rewarded by an arrangement that was unique in Britain. The follow up saw hundreds of villagers planting hardwood trees whilst Jim, his brother Ben and others sourced materials and laid down the main path, creating the basis for what we have today.
Winning an award is one thing but retaining it is another. Many people will know that, after the 2019 inspection, the woodland has received its 10th consecutive Green Flag (Community) Award. This really does reflect on the work and support from the whole village as well as that of the trustees and volunteers. It also won a further Innovation Award in 2017 for the way that the Saxon Heath extension was created by the partnership of the Trust, local landowners and Taylor Wimpey working with CWaC to achieve a successful Planning outcome.
The full inspections are every two years and in the intervening years a "mystery shopper" makes a visit. We receive comprehensive feedback after each inspection and we react promptly to their suggestions where we can. Over the years many of these have been about signage and now we have signs to be proud of. Some of the comment this year was about the state of the noticeboards which are currently part of a major refurbishment.
There is an overall "score" out of 100 that is banded. In 2015 we were in the 66-69 band, in 2017 we were in the 70-74 band and in 2019 we were in the 75-79 band. The next band is 80+. That reflects the continuous improvement that is the title of this piece. We aim high and expect further improvement in 2021.
Jim had a vision that there could be a woodland corridor from the roundabout to Austin's Hill. It has been partially realised but there is still a gap from the roundabout to Townfield Lane. The Trust has worked with the Neighbourhood Plan team over the last few years to ensure that the aspiration to extend the woodland should be part of planning considerations in the future. That possible extension, together with a possible extension of the footway on the A54, would provide the community with the ability to walk round the village in a largely tranquil environment.