Buxton Civic Association's Stronger Roots project will deepen connection between community and environment

While the last year has been heartbreaking, difficult and stressful for many people, it’s also brought with it a renewed appreciation for our parks and open spaces.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 9:41 am

With exercise one of the constant and most welcome things we’ve been able to do over the last 12 months, many people have spent their time exploring nature and the world around them.

Now Buxton Civic Association (BCA) is using a grant of nearly £250,000 from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund to regenerate its 100 acres of woodland and deepen the links between the environment and the community through education, entertainment and the arts.

Managing that project, known as Stronger Roots is Will Ward, whose previous job have seen him working to improve social inclusion in Manchester.

Frag Last, (left) and Will Ward (right), from the Stronger Roots project being organised by Buxton Civic Association

“A lot of my career has been spent with The Challenge, a leading charity for building a more integrated society in which there is understanding and appreciation of each other’s differences,” said Will.

This involved supporting people with dementia and creating opportunities for young people who are excluded from mainstream activities to take part in outdoor activities and develop new skills. “Some people for a variety of reasons don’t get to take part in things that are common experiences,” he added.

Will later moved into outdoor management and shares his working week with the BCA and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as a project manager.

But the Stronger Roots Project brought the two themes together: “When I joined, I got this really clear vibe that there is a real effort to reach out to people who for whatever reason cannot access the woods,” said Will, who is currently helping the BCA as it fells trees being killed by Ash Dieback disease.

The beauty of the project is that the woodlands will eventually return with literally stronger roots as local people will be involved in collecting and planting seeds for a more diverse mix of trees.

Felling will also enable the creation of glades which are vital to wildlife, and also as spaces people can use to connect with nature.

“It’s absolutely essential that we have spaces where we can all be a community together.

“There’s something child-like about a wander through the woods,” said Will, who would like the legacy of the project to be young people who have never been interested in the outdoors going on to be involved with the ongoing conservation of the woods.

“This is a gift for the next generation.”

The BCA’s Stronger Roots project will not only protect and improve the natural environment its cares for, but also use art, theatre and storytelling to deepen the town’s understanding of nature.

The grant has enabled the BCA to employ Frag Last as its Community Engagement Officer.

Frag, who has lived in the Hope Valley for 18 years where he worked for the Linley Educational Trust in Castleton, will organise events including woodland appreciation, bushcraft, walks, family activities and performances by local theatre groups like Babbling Vagabonds, and stories from much-loved local performer Gordon MacLellan, better known as Creeping Toad.

“Rather than just walking through the woods, we want people to really take notice of them,” said Frag, who believes that the more people understand about the natural world, the more responsibly they will act on behalf of the environment.

“It’s about something more tangible, so they are far more connected.”

Like many people in the area, Frag had not realised the extent of the work done by the BCA, which includes protecting the built environment as well as the natural world while attempting to influence future planning and economic development.

“I’ve been really impressed with the involvement they have across the town and how keen they are on trying to develop things and look after the people’s interests,” he said.

Frag’s interest in promoting an understanding of archaeology and history are also reflected in the Stronger Roots Project’s aims.

“It’s really close to my heart and values,” said Frag. “I love unravelling landscapes and the palimpsest of people, places and the past. I’m really excited to be weaving threads with the folk of Buxton throughout the coming year.”

But topping the Stronger Roots priorities is Ash dieback disease which is decimating ash trees across the country. As they begin to die, they create a health and safety risk particularly adjacent to footpaths, and work on felling affected trees has already begun in Grin Low Woods.

“In the clearings where the trees have been felled, more light will be able to reach the ground. This will encourage new growth and a diversification of species. This will in turn create a mosaic of varied habitats throughout the woodlands, further improving biodiversity which will be of benefit for everyone.”

To join Buxton Civic Association, visit buxtoncivicassociation.org.uk.