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East Anglia Future 50

Charity transforms town centre woodland and works to change lives

PUBLISHED: 15:17 04 May 2019 | UPDATED: 18:51 04 May 2019

Eden-Rose Coppice Trust founder Rob Brooks in Brickmakers Wood  Pictures: Ross Bentley

Eden-Rose Coppice Trust founder Rob Brooks in Brickmakers Wood Pictures: Ross Bentley

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The Eden-Rose Coppice Trust has worked wonders in Brickmakers Wood in central Ipswich - supporting young people involved with drugs and gangs - and is now turning to the community for help to secure its future.

The herb garden in Brickmakers Wood was built by young peopleThe herb garden in Brickmakers Wood was built by young people

Rob Brooks believes in the healing powers of nature.

He says it is because he spends so much time among trees that he has been able to fight successfully against his own cancer illness.

And for more than a decade, through the charity he founded – The Eden–Rose Coppice Trust – he has used woods to help others, by gaining ownership of run down and neglected town centre green spaces and developing them into welcoming urban woodlands.

The Trust has developed woodlands in Sudbury, Cornard and Ipswich, which previously were in poor condition and created green oases for those requiring end-of-life care and people living with challenging issues such as dementia.

Since its inception over ten years ago Eden-Rose Coppice Trust has helped more than 280 people through their end of life experience and traumatic times.

READ MORE: Ever dreamed of buying your own piece of Suffolk woodland?



Transformation

In recent years, the Trust has also been involved in another venture: using a woodland environment to support young people from the wrong side of the tracks, who are in danger of being involved with drugs and anti-social behaviour. Most of this important work goes on in a thin slither of woodland in central Ipswich called Brickmakers Wood, and over the past two and a half years, since Rob and his daughter, Jo Brooks, have been working there, the transformation has been incredible.

Before Eden-Rose's intervention, this embankment of trees, including over 20 towering elms, was a gathering place for drug users and the homeless, where hammock space was rented out to rough sleepers and the worst kind of prostitution took place. With the help of volunteers, Rob and Jo have cleaned the woodland of needles, erected a £30,000 fence around the perimeter and faced down intimidation.

Today, the wood is a delightful place to spend time with surprises around every corner. There's a herb garden, a large wildlife pond, a camp fire area, a composting toilet and even a small outdoor amphitheatre. Plans for a woodland Passivhaus massage and reiki centre are also well underway.

Conservation students from the neighbouring University of Suffolk now visit for part of their studies while Rob says homeowners in nearby Back Hamlet Road feel more secure and have seen the price of their properties go up.

Wildlife pond in  in Brickmakers WoodWildlife pond in in Brickmakers Wood

Long-term

Central to this wonderful woodland metamorphosis has been the work carried out with young people excluded from the conventional educational system, says Jo.

“We run a mentored trial programme working hand in hand with Pupil Referral Units and those involved with County Lines, and encourage learning programmes to encompass skills such as the restoration of biodiversity, bespoke woodwork, woodland conservation and bush craft sessions,” she added.

Currently, she says, the charity supports more than 120 disadvantaged young people a month - some have learning disabilities or behavioural and mental health challenges, others are involved with drugs and gangs.

The Trust receives a fee for this work, while some of the projects the young people are involved in also make money for the charity - the bird boxes and planters they fashion are sold at markets, as is firewood while woodland events have been held. Over £60,000 has been generated since the Trust started working with the young people, but with the trial coming to an end and the charity keen to continue its life-changing work, it has had to look at how it can continue into the long-term.

Rob BrooksRob Brooks

READ MORE: Coppicing volunteers are the latest in a long line of guardians of the ancient wo​ods



Community Benefit Society

In the current economic climate, Rob says finding funding is hard and will be increasingly difficult to come by, so the charity has taken the ground-breaking step of forming a new, not-for-profit Community Benefit Society (CBS). Rob believes the charity is the first in the country to launch a CBS, which is owned by its members who hold shares and have a say in the organisation.

To kick-start the new business, Rob needs to raise £40,000 in shares - the total will enable him to qualify for some match-funding, which will make all the difference, and provide a self-perpetuating long-term funding stream.

So far the community has contributed £28,000 but now the clock is ticking for the charity to find the additional £12,000 by the deadline of May 10 and Rob is appealing for people to come forward. He says shares cost £50 each and is keen to emphasise that this is an investment not a donation, enabling investors to qualify for tax breaks, earn interest and be free to take back their investment after a certain time.

“In today's climate the future of funding seems uncertain and unless you plan for a secure future, you are putting those you care for at risk - which is unacceptable,” he said.

“It breaks my heart to think we would have to stop or reduce our support of these young people but we cannot continue to support this highly successful programme just by ourselves.

Wooden pieces made by young people working with Eden-Rose Coppice Trust in Brickmakers WoodWooden pieces made by young people working with Eden-Rose Coppice Trust in Brickmakers Wood

“It's a unique opportunity to be able to invest in something that is going to provide a sustainable future for your local cancer care charity whilst providing mentored guidance for those young people who have lost their way in life.”

To find out more phone Rob on 07811111788 or visit the website www.ercommunity.co.uk for a full accredited business plan, share offer details and online share purchase or printable forms.

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