Wasteland near University Campus Suffolk set for £250,000 charity regeneration
Ambitious plans have been launched to give a £250,000 facelift to an area of wasteland in the centre of Ipswich.
Rob Brooks plans to transform an unkempt woodland that is largely hemmed in by urban development into a haven of peace and tranquillity – an Ipswich town centre oasis bristling with biodiversity and bursting with benefits for the people in society who need them most.
There is also the small matter of finding £250,000. It’s a tall order. But Mr Brooks has done something similar before.
The former inventor “retired” about 13 years ago at the age of 50. But he became more busy and driven in a new life when, in 2007, he utilised all his inventiveness to establish the Eden-Rose Coppice Trust charity. He had lost his wife to the curse of cancer and set about helping others who were in the grip of the disease.
He acquired woodland near the centre of Sudbury – it was more of a “wasteland” – and it has become a nature-filled retreat where people with cancer can have quiet, stress-frees times as they face the end of their lives.
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Undeterred by fighting his own battle with bowel cancer, a disease which he overcame, Mr Brooks steered the Sudbury venture’s evolution. It now also offers opportunities for young people with special needs and behavioural problems, and adults who have been unemployed for long periods – all of whom gain practical skills, increased confidence and better communication skills when they work with the charity in the woodland.
Now Eden-Rose is evolving still further. Its Sudbury site is to be used as the blueprint for a second woodland project – in busy, bustling, central Ipswich.
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The charity has secured long leases on Brickmakers’ Wood, a three-and-a-half-acre site near University Campus Suffolk (UCS), which owns most of it, and Suffolk New College, which owns a smaller part.
It is rubbish-strewn, overgrown and dense – a site where a range of unseemly activities take place – but Mr Brooks and his charity staff and supporters are undaunted.
“It is a very big step for us, and a very exciting one,” he said.
“It will entail a lot of work but the benefits to Ipswich’s environment and, of course, to the people we help – the people with disabilities and those who are terminally ill and who need palliative care, the young disadvantaged people and those with special educational needs – will certainly make it all worthwhile.
“We have set out with the aim of raising £250,000 to fund the project and we have made good progress with a lot of support already given by many organisations – but there is still a long, long way to go. We want this to be an icon of partnership working.”
The first tangible evidence of environmental improvement will soon be seen. Fencing has already been purchased and will be installed in August. Anyone who has been using the wood and who is displaced will be given information about the project and Eden-Rose’s work, and will be offered help if they need it.
Two buildings that date back to the Second World War are on the site, their early uses including the storage of war-time barrage balloons. One will be transformed into an indoor woodland area, the other will be transformed into a skills centre.
“We know that there is a demand in Ipswich for the things we can offer and we could not meet that demand at our Sudbury site,” said Mr Brooks.
“Demands at Sudbury are such that waiting lists have had to be set up. We have people coming from places as far afield as Bath to be in the woodland retreat for end-of-life care and many cancer and other health groups use it. The demand is just so great, so we were really delighted to get the chance to transform Brickmakers’ Wood on similar lines.”
Funding from the Suffolk Foundation has enabled the trust to employ Mr Brooks’ daughter Jo – who has worked for the charity voluntarily since her father established it. Jo will manage the Ipswich site, with the trust’s staff member Sam Chamberlin establishing the woodland management plan.
“All newly planted trees will be of native species – that is vitally important to us,” said Mr Brooks.
“We want to see as much flora and fauna as possible returning to the wood so that it is an important feature for wildlife as well as for people who need a pleasant, tranquil place where they can hopefully find peace and have a chance to think if they need to, or simply enjoy nature.”
UCS director of external relations, Polly Bridgman, said the partnership with the trust fitted well with the university’s philosophy of community engagement.
It would be a “mutually beneficial” arrangement with environmental and ecological gains as well as health and educational benefits for the people served by the trust – and university students and staff would also gain benefits from the site.
“It links in with all sorts of things for us, such as social work courses, counselling, the arts – the possibilities are endless,” she said.
Caroline Wojcik-Gammell, radiology and oncology lecturer at UCS, said the opportunities the venture offered for the university’s therapeutic radiography students were especially exciting.
“We envisage students being introduced to the site in their induction and they can make use of it during their course in any way they see as beneficial tom them,” she said.
Suffolk New College associate principal Mary Gleave added: “Suffolk New College is extremely pleased to be involved in this joint project with UCS and the Eden-Rose Coppice Trust.
“The work which is already carried out by the charity in areas such as Sudbury is having a tremendous impact on people with terminal illnesses and disabilities and we are proud to be involved in a project within Ipswich which will enable a similar provision to be available for our community.
“From the minute we heard about this opportunity we have been keen to be involved and to offer a space which has no identity at the moment but with the work of Rob and the team will become a transformed section of wood.”
The charity’s woodland at Sudbury was the first sanctuary of its kind in the UK and since it was established it has enabled more than 150 people with terminal illness to have a better quality of life in their final months, enjoying some form of solace with their families in the wood.
Through his own experiences of cancer, Mr Brooks knows only too well the requirements of sufferers of the disease. After the loss of his wife to lung cancer, he underwent major surgery for his own cancer on his birthday in 2012. Clear now, he has used his cancer experiences to good effect in his charity work.
“It’s had a huge impact on me personally in relation to the work we do,” he said. “I am fully aware of what cancer means and what it does in society. I am comfortable with it in that respect.
“Personally, I had no time to deal with it for myself – I didn’t think about it too much as I was too busy making sure I got back here to Eden-Rose and making sure it continued to do its work, but it did have a positive effect on how I respond to the people we help.”
Eden-Rose’s work in Sudbury has gained widespread acclaim - it triumphed in the Community Project category at this year’s Suffolk Creating the Greenest County Awards, for example.
The Ipswich venture is under way and there is a monumental amount of work ahead for Mr Brooks, his staff and his charity’s supporters. There will be frenetic activity in preparing the woodland for its new roles – and that will all be in stark contrast to the tranquillity to come.
Mr Brooks can be contacted on 07811 111788. Donations to the charity can be made direct to www.withnature.org