Danny English is a remarkably determined individual who says he wants to, "get people into woodlands and to help them connect with themselves and nature." He's not just about theoretical ideas but initiates dozens of events on a semi-commercial basis at a site called "The Island" in Summerseat, Lancashire, near to Ramsbottom. For example, he organises "Nature art", forest school and play-based learning around stories. One of Communitree's most popular activities is children's parties - these are typically for 10-15 visitors and last for 2-3 hours by which time everyone is exhausted and muddy but they have, hopefully, got closer to nature. Such parties include games, woodland art, cooking and eating a meal with chilli and bread cooked or heated on a fire. They had four parties scheduled for the weekend when I met up with Danny and he's also organised woodland weddings which he says are very "earthy and memorable".
The idea for Communitree sprung from Danny's background as a graduate of Outdoor and Environmental education at Liverpool University, which inspired him to base his project at "The Island" woodland - which was council owned but now belongs to the village, The community have been totally integrated with the work and have even helped plant an apple orchard and created raised flower beds. When it's raining Communitree sets up a 6 metre tarpaulin to make a dry space for cooking, washing and camp craft. Although the site is 12 acres in total, the Communitree Initiative is able to do most of its activities in the 2 acres which it controls, demonstrating how much can be done in a small woodland.
Problems with vandalism have been the most difficult part of Danny's project, but he home in on the perpetrators: "my strategy has been to engage with the people who did it and we succeeded in getting them involved. They ended up helping with the site maintenance. I told myself these people at least want to be in the woods - they just don't know how to engage."
Communitree has an inspiring website at www.thecommunitreeinitiative.com which explains their vision for what can be done in local woodlands and they believe that "people grow healthier, wiser and more content when they feel part of a strong community and realise their deep connection with nature."