Welcome to the Friends of the Wilderness Centre
We are a voluntary community organisation formed in December 2010 to support the continuance of the Wilderness Centre as an Environmental Education Service in Gloucestershire, UK.
Having failed to persuade the County Council to retain environmental services the friends of the Wilderness Centre began to campaign to run the service. A Community Interest Company was formed called The Wilderness Project. The Wilderness Project CIC has been trying to persuade Gloucestershire County Council to transfer the Wilderness Centre to the project as a community asset to be run by our social enterprise. The outcome of our efforts are presented in our final Community Newsletter which is published in full here – as follows …..
Final Community Newsletter. February 2015
Dear Friends and supporters of the Wilderness Centre
This Newsletter is being issued to inform you of the final outcome and to formally thank all those who have supported the Friends of the Wilderness Centre in our community effort to save the environmental education service once delivered out of the Wilderness and Plump Hill Centres in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK.
The End Game
Our efforts have not been totally in vain – for although we failed to get the Wilderness Centre transferred to a community run social enterprise, the county council has resisted selling the estate to property developers and has sold the centre to an education business that may well offer an education provision to the past community of users.
A big thank you to all supporters
Throughout our campaign it has been heartening to receive widespread community support from all those who did what they could, when they could. Thanks are due to all those who have given support in terms of your time – thousands of hours of volunteer effort have been clocked up. A big thank you to all those who have donated money and borne the financial costs to support the campaign expenses. Thanks also to individuals and organisations that have provided resources, advice and expertise when required. Finally, a big thanks to those organisations and individuals who pledged further funding support and volunteer expertise if we had been able to start up business as a social enterprise. The list of supporter names is much too long to list here and we don’t want to exclude any by identifying a few – it really was a whole community effort.
This thank you is going out to all our supporters, to be found in our schools, colleges, community groups, business community, local citizens, politicians and the celebrities who all did what you could when you could to help.
Lest We Forget
- The need for high quality learning outdoors in the natural environment and the provision of safe, affordable residential education facilities for all, continues to grow as a matter of national concern.
- The Forest of Dean remains one of the best outdoor classrooms in the country and now, increasingly, is underexploited due to education cut backs, shrinking provision by historical providers, rising transport costs and health and safety, risk assessment hurdles for schools and youth organisers to overcome.
Back in 2011 Gloucestershire County Council decided that it was “no longer in the business of running environmental education centres.” This ideological and financial decision was within the rights of the council to make, however, the community of users of the Wilderness centre – schools, colleges and community groups, felt that the council could at least be pro-active in supporting the community or some other agency to take over a valued service that was running to full capacity.
When the council opted to sell the centre as a vacant property and to make the experienced staff redundant it was left to the community to argue and fight the case to establish a social enterprise to run the centre as a viable business. We had hoped that at some point, as our business plan grew in financial support, the county would look to its own policy on localism and proactively support our bid. However, the council has consistently maintained that the centre could not operate as a viable business – even though this view was never supported by environmental education experts or the business community who scrutinised and supported our case. A final Hybrid bid with local business man Neil Ricketts had all the components to succeed.
It is an ironic twist of fate that in the final days leading up to the sale the county council received a purchase bid from a private education provider, who was chosen as the preferred purchaser.
This has to be seen as a fortunate outcome as the Wilderness has now been saved from the fate of property developers and has instead been sold to an education business that may well offer an education provision to our community of past users.
The new owner, Dr. Daniel Sturdy has expressed an intention to continue the education traditions of the Wilderness. He has provided this short introduction :
“I am grateful for the opportunity to help revive the proud traditions of outdoor education at The Wilderness and for all the help and advice received so far from the Friends. After many years in classroom education the views and the atmosphere of the Wilderness are, for me, an intoxicating and inspiring reminder of how education can and must do more than just restrict children’s outlook to the sterility of some modern classrooms. Refurbishment of the main building is gathering steam and plans are slowly taking shape. We hope that this is just the start of our conversation and look forward to many more meetings, brain storming sessions, discussions and sharing. Many, many thanks for your support.”
The Friends of the Wilderness community action group has now stood down. The Friends web site and the Project web site are closing down and the community interest company is being struck-off Companies House register.
We wish Dr. Sturdy every success as the latest custodian of the Wilderness. He is aware that he starts with the goodwill of the community and can call upon our support whenever needed.
Final words fittingly come from earlier occupants – the Colchester family, who’s family motto has now rung out from the Wilderness since 1643
“I am here today, you tomorrow, who knows who may follow”