How are the cuts affecting you? Small Woods Association

This is a big week for Britain. The Spending Review reports on Wednesday, an event that will be characterised by numbers and percentages that, for many of us, will be difficult to make sense of. It’s important therefore to remember that at the end of the day we are talking about resource decisions that will shape what happens at the frontline. With that in mind, we thought it would be good to get a sense of how spending cuts so far – which are an aperitif to the main course on Wednesday – are beginning to bite, and what future cuts will mean. We are clear from the many discussions we have with members that this is a time of both challenge and opportunity. Transition is a key word.

Judy Walker is the Executive Director of Small Woods Association, a national charity which promotes, teaches and demonstrates the sustainable management of small woodlands in the UK. Small Woods Association took part in the NCVO “Crowdsourcing the Cuts” survey, which seeks to find out what effect changes to planned central and local government spending are having on voluntary and community organisations. Judy has agreed to answer some further questions to help us understand what the future holds for the sector.

How will the cuts affect your organisation?

The cuts will reduce by some 50% the income to core, through the loss of grant income previously received from Government (Forestry Commission) at national and regional level (£30,000). The other half of the forecast reduction in core costs is currently derived from projects from which we take a full cost recovery based management fee.

Four of our diverse and innovative projects* will end by next March, as we have been unable to source funding for them from lottery distributors or charitable trusts. This could of course be due to our failings as application writers, but we have been successful over the last 6 years from these grant sources and others, so we think it is down to increased competition and a smaller pot due to the recession and the Olympics.

We will still retain a good number of projects, but the total amount of management fee will be reduced significantly by the loss of these four key projects. We are lucky in some ways; we have a loyal membership which is staying with us, and we have some ability to trade and take on contracts as they arise.

What would need to happen so that your organisation would be able to do its work as effectively as possible?

I believe the opportunity with this government will be in the movement of delivery from local authorities and quangos to the third sector and private businesses, but this is happening too slowly to help us in the short term.

In the longer term we are very keen to demonstrate how we can deliver an offender management service through training offenders in woodland management and making wood products. Our pilot project has shown excellent responses, not just from offenders, but from NEETS, and people with physical and mental health problems. The current review of offender management will hopefully throw up some real opportunities. Also the PQQ process (for obtaining ESF funded contracts) is incredibly complex and has almost defeated us.

What would you like to say to the government?

Get a move on in making your changes, and start moving delivery from local authorities to the third sector – we are here waiting to move into delivery mode.

*Of the five projects under threat, two are social forestry projects, ie using woodland training to help rehabilitate offenders and improve the mental and physical health of excluded groups, one is a national networking project which brings together and informs good practice in woodland projects,  the fourth is a community woodland networking project (which has won a temporary reprieve with additional funding last week). The fifth is a National coppice restoration project which aims to bring woodlands back into a stable coppice rotation to benefit ancient woodland indicator species (flora) and be economically productive at the same time.

All five have been really productive, doing good work, and three have been funded by grants from government bodies which are being withdrawn, others by charitable trusts which are unlikely to offer repeat funding.

The projects we have left are: Venture Out, funded by the Telford PCT to engage disadvantaged communities in Telford in a more active lifestyle through events and volunteering in green spaces. Volunteering at the Green Wood Centre, funded by Veolia Trust, using land fill community fund, aimed at engaging and training local people. Heartwoods, a major project funded by AWM using Rural Development Programme for England funding to develop the woodfuel supply chain in the West Midlands. An HLF funded coppice group support project to develop volunteering groups to help improve the quality and extent of coppiced woodlands in the West Midlands.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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