A season for change

The leaves are not the only thing changing at Tortworth.

Tortworth Forest Centre CIC was pioneered by a woman who has an innate ability to bring people together and inspire them to create something that is much greater than the sum of its parts. After more than 9 years, Bec, the founder of Tortworth Forest Centre is stepping away from the staff team to work her magic on new projects and adventures in Somerset. 

Bec at the first volunteer day in 2014

Some time in June 2014, Bec was offered a unique opportunity – to take on the restoration of an old abandoned arboretum near her home. When she got the keys to the site it was overgrown and unsafe, and Bec was not sure of the difference between an ash and an elm. However she decided to take a leap, took on the lease and started talking to as many experts in woods and trees as possible. 

Being an inspirational soul Bec sowed a seed with a small group of volunteers who began the huge task of reversing years of neglect, uncovering forgotten trees and restoring the arboretum which has historical and botanical significance locally and nationally. As the community project gained momentum, more and more volunteers joined and we needed to become a registered organisation. A few months later Tortworth Forest Centre was born. 

It wasn’t just the trees waiting to be discovered

Eight years later, and some of those initial volunteers are still with us today. A few have joined the project permanently as invaluable members of staff. This is a testament to Bec’s ability to bring people together and to create a team with strong shared values. She has an innate gift for seeing the potential in people, and places, whilst gently encouraging them to grow into the best version of themselves. 

The arboretum became the new home of the Hawthorn project, the first of our nature based wellbeing groups. Our Tuesday management days were created, to improve mental health and isolation and enjoy the many benefits of working outdoors. In 2022, after witnessing the impact of these projects, the Oak Tree Project was created to further our reach enabling us to work with more people. 

The site was mostly overgrown after years of abandonment

As part of the restoration work over 400 volunteers have worked alongside staff to plant 59 new trees and shrubs, and re-labelled 72 trees in the collection. We have run over 270 wellbeing sessions, benefiting more than 100 people. 

Over the years, demand for the support Tortworth offers has grown and Bec built a brilliant team to support delivery, reach more people and grow the impact the CIC has on people’s lives.  We have been lucky to have had Bec’s calm hand guiding us on the latest chapter of Tortworth’s journey. Countless people, from staff and volunteers to project participants and visitors have benefited from her abundant knowledge, energy and infectious love for nature. 

Creating space around and relabelling specimens has been a huge part of the project

Bec’s muddy boots are hard to fill, but she left us in superb hands with our new Managing Director, Amy Walsh. Amy is a qualified Forest School Leader with a background in environmental education and play work. She’s experienced in strategic and operational project management in the environment and community sectors. 

Amy joined the Forest Centre in 2022 as Operations Manager, and very quickly became an integral part of the team. Over the past year and a half she has diligently and diplomatically introduced new ways of working, creating more time to focus on the fundamental task of fundraising so as many people as possible can benefit from all that Tortworth has to offer. Her calming, supportive presence has guided the team through some huge milestones already, from monumental funding bids to finalising the business plan for the future of the CIC. Her mission is to enable people from all backgrounds to discover the magic in nature.

Amy and Bec in 2023

Thank you Bec for bringing us together and for making Tortworth Forest Centre the beautiful place it is today; we hope you are rightly proud of your incredible achievements. We wish you luck and love on your next chapter and are certain that with Amy at the helm Tortworth will continue to see people and trees thrive for many years to come.