Timbmet, a Business WildSpace at Cumnor, Oxford

With commendable wisdom the founders of Timbmet, the UK’s largest hardwood distributor, purchased several agricultural fields to surround their new yard near Oxford.  That was back in 1952.  In the intervening years the operation has relocated on to yet another new yard but the fields still remain, nowadays surrounding semi complete, affluent housing estate. 

For the family shareholders the opportunity to leave a lasting monument to the once bustling Oxford timber yard was realised in the form of the Cumnor Hurst Community Woodland, a fully independent charity owning a 17 acre field dedicated to the concept of creating a community woodland.  Over a ten year, phased plan thousands of indigenous trees will be planted to complete the foundation of the woodland, with the first two thousand saplings already established and thriving.  We are now in year four.  Already wildlife thrives including badgers, birds of prey, insects, foxes, flowers and small mammals.

Cumnor Hurst was kick-started by volunteers, mostly drawn from the staff of Timbmet but some from local schools.  The charitable template was provided by GLT who modelled an off-the-shelf structure covering ecology, charitable structure, school and community engagement and expert arboreal knowhow.   It’s a model that closely follows the Lawshall example where wildlife, people and trees share the land for the lasting benefit of the whole community.

Of particular note is the enthusiastic engagement with local schools.  Teachers are excited to support the project; which allows pupils to gather seeds, nurture their own saplings, plant them and then tend them as they progress through their school years, and even in one school establish a relationship with a village school in Ghana.

As for the company a project of this kind is a remarkable talent contest for latent managerial energy.  The leaders revealed depths of enterprise and drive that somehow Timbmet previously never succeeded in triggering.  It is true that the initial enthusiasm found expression in more committee members than we really ever needed, but when the stars surged ahead the rest contented themselves with occasional attendance at planting sessions…not that this went unappreciated; especially since it facilitated broader participation and engagement from family members who previously had little or no experience of our workplace community.  Familiarity with the spouses and children of colleagues’ bonds teams remarkably effectively.

For routine management every month Cumnor Hurst volunteers gather on the field.  Throughout the summer we maintain the weeds, landscape and tidy.  In the cold winter months the charity really springs to life with regular tree planting involving schools, community groups, faith organisations, enthusiastic volunteers and prodigious quantities of hot tea.  A monthly management meeting guides the project which is funded by private donations and the Forestry Commission.

What is really exciting is that as the charity matures the driving energy is gradually passing from Timbmet to the community.  The Chair of the committee is no longer held by a company employee and much of the initial input from GLT is being supplanted by local teachers and parents.  The organisation is growing with the trees, and in time both will be sustainable in the best possible sense of the word.