We often tell people that Warley Woods is run in a unique way - that there really is nothing else like it in the UK. "Be part of something special" we say. But is it really unique and even if it is, does it matter?

What's in a name?

The title "Community Trust" is just a name. It is the one the original trustees decided on when they registered the charity with the Charity Commission. It doesn't actually mean anything in legal terms. When people say "it is run by a Trust" this is just shorthand for the word "charity". There are over 1,800 organisations with the name "Community Trust" in their title registered with the Charity Commission. But it doesn't mean the original Trustees chose our name lightly; "Trust" is a lovely word. It implies we can be trusted with Warley Woods. I love my job title and that my role is to “manage trust”, as well as “manage The Trust”.

So you are just a charity then - don't lots of charities manage green spaces?

That is true. The National Trust manages lots of land. So do all the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust but these organisations don't manage urban parks with all the expectations that come with that. A park is very different to a coastal path, farm land, landscaped parkland or wildlife sites. Warley Woods can be visited free of charge and is open 24 hours a day. It was a great source of pride last year during Humphry Repton's Bicentenary when we realised how few of his landscapes were free to visit. Warley Woods was one of those few and the only one in the West Midlands.

 Aren't there some Parks Trusts?

There are trusts which manage groups of parks or a large park site. The majority of these were established to ring fence an asset and provide for its future management. Some of them were set up by local authorities as a way of managing green spaces. The main difference from our Trust is that is they were set up with some kind of asset as an endowment – sometimes a large amount of money which is invested to bring in an income or commercial land which can be rented, but Warley Woods Community Trust was not. If they have been set up by local authorities, or even English Heritage, then their constitutions often require some councillors or representatives to be Trustees – to keep a measure of involvement, if not direct control over what happens in the long term. Warley Woods Community Trust has no such rules. We may have councillors on the Board, or council staff, but they are Trustees from personal choice and can be because they are members of the Trust. Some of these parks trusts manage very large areas of land or a large collection of green spaces and tend to be run more like businesses, but with the benefit of being registered charities.

Sometimes we do find smaller organisations that are genuinely charities running sites. But usually there is something that sets them apart from our Trust. Some are country parks. Others find most of their running costs from an endowment - perhaps the individual who used to own the land left assets to help run the site in the future. Or they are charities that charge an entry fee.

Many charities apply for grants, but in my research I have not found any who rely substantially on public donations for their survival. Warley Woods Community Trust has to raise every penny of what it needs every single year. Each 1st April, a new financial year starts and every penny has to be raised all over again.

Is Warley Woods held “in Trust”?

Some people think that the name Community Trust implies the site has been “put into a Trust”; as if this provides some extra legal protection for the. Some parks are registered as "Fields in Trust" for example. This can be the case, but isn’t so for Warley Woods. We don’t even own the site or have a direct lease with the landowner. We lease from Sandwell MBC, who leases from Birmingham City Council. Our equipment and tools are the only things we actually own.

Who Manages the Charity?

I’ve already mentioned some charities have local authority representation on them. There are also some charities that manage just one park, but, especially with parks that have some historical significance, the charity’s trustees are frequently people with specific knowledge or influence. In contrast, the Trustees at Warley Woods are all local residents – and that is written into the constitution. So Warley Woods will always be run by people who use it and who know it well – with no particular qualification other than a love of the Woods.

Small but large

Compared to many of the other charity types I have mentioned here, Warley Woods is very small – just one site and a small number of staff. But then compared to others we are very large. Most of the other charities which also have local people as their trustees tend to be very small – either small in acreage or small in staff (or both) with most of the maintenance done by volunteers. Some charities are, in reality, "friends" groups, with the local authority, or other organisation, taking physical responsibility for the site, but with the charity raising funds, organising events and encouraging volunteers. We have found several parks which are managed by local residents, but they are “key” parks, like Moseley Park, and are not open to the public 365 days a year.

So “Something Special”?

There is much overlap between different types of charities who manage green spaces and we have much to learn from each other. But I haven’t (yet) found another charity that is run anything like our model: a single large urban site, run by the community around it, independent of any local authority control and without any endowment or capital behind it. If you throw in the curve ball, that we also manage a golf course and a Repton landscape…….

We are not just run by the local community, we are supported by it – over 200 volunteers, 1000+ members, voted one of the UK’s favourite parks in five different years, 5000 Facebook members…

Are you part of Something Special?

Are you a supporter? Now that you know quite how special Warley Woods Community Trust is - please become a supporter (member).  If you really want to help, when you sign up tick the box to make your donation "a regular gift".  This will save us saving you send you a renewal letter in 12 months time.  Thank you.

Meet some of our closest relatives

Catton Park, Norfolk www.cattonpark.com is managed by the local community, it is 70 acres in size and is even a Repton Landscape (his first). It is a countryside site and its Trustees are parish councillors.

Riley Park in Marlowe is a town park www.rileyparktrust.co.uk. It had an endowment, but it has been spent. It faces similar misconceptions to Warley Woods – as people think it is council run.  

Astbury Mere Country Park, Cheshire www.astburymerecountrypark.uk The local community took on its management when the site was under threat and it has to generate its own income – this includes selling donations post they designed themselves – we have three of their posts at Warley Woods.

Particularly novel non-relatives

Wicksteed Park, Kettering, also has claims to being unique. Its country park is free to visit, and income for it is partly generated through the income from the play park. https://wicksteedpark.org/

Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol is a historic site, trying to preserve itself through events and activities and involving the local community. https://arnosvale.org.uk/