@NTErddig and @ChirkCastleNT Taking people back to nature.

Last week I dashed north to visit two National Trust properties and see if there were any community volunteering projects where EW could help them. Firstly I went to Chirk Castle. This is not a property I have really done any work with before or a place I know at all. It is a truly impressive beast of a building, obviously built to be defended, low, grey and lowering, hugging the top of the hill. It also has 5 acres of gardens and a large park surrounding it which is a SSSI because of its amazing veteran trees and the creatures they support. The park is a testament to 1000 years of habitation and management of this spot.

Chirk Castle

Where you enter is a more modern addition, Victorian I believe, that was once the home farm. Here they have developed a very nice community growing area and this was one of the projects I was there to discuss.

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They would like to involve more of the community in the project and possibly consider working with another organisation to develop this area so that it provides vegetables for local people, the café and the shop. This would be a great opportunity for a group but, as usual, I can always think of the perfect group but they are never in the right place to take up the offer. So we have put out a few feelers and will see what happens on that one.

The other project they wanted to discuss was less clear cut. Bush craft says Shane. Tell me how it will benefit the environment says I. As so often is the case when you start to talk a project through what they say they want to do is only a means to an end. This time the end being to engage people with and get them to appreciate the natural environment and so before long we were wondering how ‘Green Olympics’ could be brought into the project and I was getting over excited. Now back in the cold light of the office I need to think through what is possible and what innovative ideas can we use to get people not to just use and abuse the environment, quad bikes would soon deliver that, but to use, appreciate, support and understand it. So if a Green Olympics meant identifying the most types of trees, maybe they don’t have to be able to name them just demonstrate they are different, or find and photograph the most fungi and this gets people to suddenly notice how bio-diverse the environment is, that can only be a good thing. And if youngsters walk and observe what is there because they hope to eat it again, as long as it is backed up with the sustainability message, it has to be a way to bring in a different audience and to move away from always trying to sell ideas to ‘people like us,’ although I am as partial to a nice field mushroom as the next forager.

And so then to the nearby property of Erddig. I have done a lot of work with Erddig over the past 9 years and Sue’s innovative community engagement, originally funded by EW, is renowned throughout the NT. Again there were two projects to talk about. The first one was around making more of  Erddig Youth Clubs environmental volunteering. The youth club has had a volunteering aspect on the estate almost since its inception. This has been an important part of engaging young people with the estate, the National Trust and the impact of vandalism on the estate. This work has almost eliminated vandalism which was a big problem before it started. Now Sue feels that she would like to establish a route for young people to volunteer on the estate, and maybe off of it too, without having to be part of the youth club. She wants to move away from ‘you come to the youth club so therefore you volunteer’ to getting them to volunteer because they want to and because they appreciate the positive impact their contribution has on the environment. I was very interested in this as, as part of my internal role, I had been thinking about a young volunteering offer within Wales and with Sue’s experience and training this is the perfect test bed to develop something that could be used as a template for other NT properties and other organisations to follow.

The other potential project was very dear to my own heart as it starts with hive bees and goes on to encompass pollinators, insects in general, hedgehogs and the whole wonderful web of life which we have unfortunately become rather disengaged from and are absentmindedly destroying despite being totally dependent upon it. Hopefully that one should come for registration later this month.

While I was there Sue took me to see the new natural play area currently being developed and due to be opened in late March. I have read up a bit about these areas so thought I knew what I was going to see but, as usual for Erddig, I was totally unprepared for the magnificence of what they were doing. No two logs in a neglected corner this but 2 or 3 acres of wooded space with all sorts of opportunities for creative play being developed.

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There are picnic benches and brash and poles for den building at one end then at the other a range of logs, tunnels, walkways and other exciting wooden structures to stimulate active innovative play and suitable for a wide range of ages, even 56 year old DOs could not resist one of the walkways although jumping down was a bit of an ordeal.

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If my grandchildren had something like this near them they would be there all the time, rain or shine.

I found its juxtaposition through a gate from a very formal garden really interesting too, nature tamed and then into a secret Wild Child experience. Also all the work has been done by staff and volunteers and all the materials so far have come off of the estate.

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