From its inception in 1990, the concept of community forests has been very much about people. Indeed, the transition of the Thames Chase Community Forest project into the hands of a community-led Trust exemplifies the success of this programme over the last 25 years. Looking to the future, the Thames Chase Community Forest has a significant role to play in continuing to transform lives. It is more than just about providing opportunities for leisure and recreation, but also about improving people’ health and wellbeing, strengthening pride and confidence in the area, supporting local economic growth and providing chances for people to directly share in these benefits through volunteering, learning, employment and skills development.
With the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities – already established partners of Thames Chase Community Forest – there is a new opportunity to strengthen the role that Thames Chase plays in supporting better local health and well being. The health benefits of the natural environment are well documented, extending beyond the tangible, physical benefits of exercise to improved mental well-being through stress relief. Thames Chase can help save the health care system significant money by preventing higher-cost health interventions through improved local fitness and mental well-being. Furthermore, it is a freely accessible resource available to all elements of the community that has a role to play in reducing health inequalities across the Thames Chase area. Opportunities to strengthen the role of Thames Chase in supporting better health and well-being will be actively pursued through this Plan.
As a landscape scale intervention, Thames Chase can also contribute towards increasing local pride and the sense of being part of something special, in turn improving community cohesion. Tapping into its rich heritage represents the most effective way of creating a cohesive, unified narrative of the local area that combines modern day landscape regeneration with the past to generate a sense of shared identity amongst all local communities.
However, the history of the landscape within Thames Chase Community Forest is a complex one, influenced both by geology and human geography. Geology and the end of the Ice Age left the land in the southern half of the Forest covered in a blanket of gravel with England’s most important river close by and the northern portion rich in woodland. The establishment of London on its doorstep has shaped the landscape since Roman times. Ease of cultivation, opportunities to supply the capital as well as local people with food, has shaped a rich agricultural history within Thames Chase. Proximity to London made the landscape an attractive place for the rising stars of commercial and political endeavour to choose and establish country estates within a day’s reach of London.
Evidence of the impact this way of life had on landscape and buildings still remains. Archaeology has uncovered patterns of living from the first arrival of man in this part of the world from the 8th century BC, through Roman occupation to more recent times. Fragments of former country seats are still there. Farming methods of former times can be read through the buildings and records that remain. Landscapes of a former age can be uncovered by careful attention to place names; Bulfen being an example. However, proximity to London and the ever-changing demands made of land and communities that serve the capital has meant this heritage is often difficult to see and appreciate on the ground. Enabling local communities and visitors to gain a better insight into the cultural history and heritage of Thames Chase will be a critical element in strengthening sense of place.
Finally, the Community Forest is a resource that directly supports the growth of jobs and employment relating to forestry, land restoration, food production and natural approaches to mitigating climate change. More indirectly, by raising the profile of the area as an increasingly attractive place to live and do business, Thames Chase can support growth in locally based employment. Strengthening the links between Thames Chase and the business community is a key focus of the Trust so that the broader economic benefits of a connected, attractive environment can be better realised and supported by a wider community than just the environment sector. More generally, the opportunity to draw on the natural and historical assets of Thames Chase to support volunteering, education and skills development continues to be a key focus for the Trust and its partners, both to support further delivery and to change lives.
Summary of People programme
People programme and strategic objectives 1-5
|Objectives||Fit with Programme|
|1. To protect, improve and expand the woodland character of the Community Forest||
|2. To maintain the natural integrity of the Community Forest’s air, land and water including wildlife||
|3. To develop a connected network of links and accessible, vibrant greenspaces throughout the Community Forest||
|4. To integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation responses into the developing Community Forest||
|5. To use the Community Forest to improve local health and well-being, volunteering, learning and employment||
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