Anniversaries always make you reflective don’t they? Well, having reached my 15 year anniversary at Warley Woods, I’m going to indulge myself with a good reflection. I need to make sure before I start out though, that this is very very personal and that practically nothing here was achieved solo and I would very much like to thank Marion Blockley and Paul Leadbitter who were the Trust’s Project Managers who took the Trust through those very early years and handed it on in such fine fettle.

Our Early Successes

The early days meant lots of easy successes. My job was a new one and there were plenty of opportunities to have an idea and run with it.

I loved being part of the first theatre event (thank you Helen Rushby), leading the first Halloween story-telling (thank you David Yates); seeing the first eggs rolled at Easter (thank you Jenny Middleton); deciding what to do with the soil dump that became the Wilderness. Then there was that amazing moment a few years in when we got that very first Green Flag Award when every Trustee was squeezed into the office waiting to hear!

I have one very personal special moments. One was raising the funds for the drinking fountain restoration and then managing the project. I had never raised that amount of money before, or managed a physical project. The park infrastructure had been restored by other people’s work, but the fountain project felt like my very own contribution.

The medium term

An early initiative for me was understanding early on how important engaging our supporters in regular giving was going to be. It was also part of our need to communicate how the site was managed by a charity and not the Council. I worked with subsequent Treasurers, Liz Haydon, John Turnbull and David Read, and Kate Slade our Comms Chair. Each Treasurer would look at me quizzically at first and then the penny would drop and they became converts to the idea. Thank you to them for their faith in the idea and I hope they feel rewarded by the fact that donations from the public have from gone from £3,000 to £50,000 a year.

The joy in the team

I did warn you that this was a personal reflection, but of course nothing is done alone – that is one of our strengths and there is so much joy that comes from a massive group effort with you playing your part. This has been the case for me, playing just a tiny role in the Picnic in the Park – which has long been our signature event. Kathy Hodgkinson has been our admin mainstay every year, working with John Wormald, Jon Harris, Bearwood Promoters, John McBride and Chris Ashford.

Another collective occasion was when the travellers arrived on the meadow. I had come out of a particularly difficult period personally, and when they told me to sling my hook and come back with a court order, I just stood on the driveway and cried, feeling powerless – then I saw through my watery eyes, two trustees, Mick Guy and Arthur Ward walking towards me. I could feel this fill me with such strength as I knew we would work it out together. This was then further bolstered by the sight of the community coming out in our support and trusting us too, to do what was needed and listening when we asked them to keep things very calm. It was an evening of strong team work, ideas, problem solving and strategy that I was so proud to be part of and part of the positive outcome.

Well into my stride

If there were baby steps at the beginning, then the teenage years were about projects and initiatives. I managed the oral history project and got my first book into print. I raised the money for our IT project (I remember a big hug from the treasurer, John Turnbull, that day -as we had gone from looking for £3,000 for “a new till” to a £90,000 project to introduce a full “Community Relationship System”). I really felt I was completely settled and valued in my role when the Board nominated me (behind my back) for the inaugural Green Flag Employee of the Year award. That was a very special day and I still totally glow at the memory of it.

The sadder side

I know you know it isn’t always success and happiness. Dealing with the public and a big open space are fraught with potential drama and complications. There has been dishonesty, disrespect, vandalism, bad behaviour.

But I’ve also been able to see the good side of things that might have hurt. I’ve laughed at the ingenuity of the young people who managed to get benches onto the roof of the Pavilion so they could enjoy the view. I think fondly of the person who felt the need to compare me to Hitler invading Poland, saying I was going to spoil golf for everyone. I hope I have proved them wrong.

I loved our day saying Farewell to the Veteran Beech which involved woodworkers, poems, flowers and stories. If you’ve got to chop down an iconic tree, then you can make it special.

Happy Tears

I am a bit of an easy crier, but the things that to come to mind are:seeing the horses pull Santa’s carriage through the dusk. Just magical. Watching Steve Eling talk about Warley Woods being his legacy, his proudest achievement, on camera for the oral history project.

Taking our time

Sometimes you have to take your time on a project and accept it won’t happen instantly or maybe for years. We waited for the first theatre in the woods until we were financially stable enough to take a risk. We waited for Green Flag Award until we had covered all the bases. We talked about monthly golf passes practically from day one and we have finally found the way to make them worth a trial. The bears in the play area were about 10 years in the “would love to have” folder, and they too make me smile every time I see them. The original ideas for what morphed into Wild Warley, would have brought very different results and I am confident, we have found the right project for the long term benefit of Warley Woods.

Present day

When I told Dick Marsh 15 years ago that I would stay longer than 5 years if it was interesting and work needed doing I had no idea I’d still be here way past five years. COVID certainly made it interesting! There is still more to do.  We still have to replace our building and that is becoming more and more acute (and is on our current agenda). I still hope at the right time we will be blessed with a legacy or two which will help secure the Trust against future bad winds of all kinds, or allow us to undertake major projects of renewal. In the meantime I’ll remain in my blessing of a role and thank the day I spotted that small advert in the Guardian.

At 54 I also know if moved jobs now, like Steve Eling said for himself, I would never be able to achieve anything more significant, than I have at Warley Woods. When I thanked him at Volunteer Thank you night, this year, for his vision he said: “but we never knew it would be like this – that this is what it would become”. That the original unique vision of a community managing its own space, had been very much exceeded, and that I had played my part in that. Who could ask for a better collective compliment?

I’d like to share my special mementos with you. My tree marking the successful conclusion of the restoration project, my ring to celebrate when I had raised my first million and my bronze hare for my management of 2020. Physical treasures but just a tiny manifestation of countless very special memories and moments.

If you love Warley Woods like I do, but you aren't a member of the Community Trust yet, then please please join us.  It means so much to have your support.  You don't have to volunteer and give time, just that little bit of financial help and your support is all we need to help keep providing and improving Warley Woods for now and for future generations.  Thank you.

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