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At the RSA I have the opportunity to meet and work with a diverse and motivated group of Fellows.  I’m always amazed how they manage to juggle the range of different ideas and enterprises that they are developing.  With 27 000 Fellows there are so many stories it can sometimes feel like you can’t see the wood from the trees but today I’d like to tell you a story of Fellows getting together, discussing an opportunity and providing a solution that helped the environment but more importantly a young man called Sam.


This year the RSA Fellowship brought together Hill Holt Wood founder and CEO Karen Lowthrop and Steve Coles, Salvation Army Social Enterprise Development Manager.

Hill Holt Wood lies on the borders of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and is home to an award winning social enterprise.  If you get the chance to visit please do, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and always offered a cup of tea.  In just over ten years of operation, the enterprise has transformed the woodland from a failing, flooded rhododendron-smothered patch of trees into a thriving broadleaf wood.

The main stay of the enterprise has been as a supplier of alternative education.  The woodland provides a developmental resource for excluded or marginalized young people to build skills, confidence and improved prospects.  Benefits to the young people and to the woods feed back positively one on another.  Kids need the woods to learn and in turn the woods are maintained by kids. So year on year a trickle of woodland converts graduate from Hill Holt Wood who are interested in sustaining woodland and so the story goes on…


The wood itself was privately owned but is now open to the public and community owned and the social enterprise operates from a stunning eco-build that incorporates an eco design team, meeting rooms, and a café.

Salvation Army enterprise manager Steve Coles was looking for a similarly sustainable project in which to invest a small fund of £10,000 donated as a bequest by the Booth family for the purpose of planting trees.  Hill Holt Wood seemed ideal and proposed the money be used to support a young person through a horticultural apprenticeship AND plant trees.   The long-term on-going gains are obvious.

Sam WelchSam Welch was 15 years old when he first visited Hill Holt Wood.  As part of his school curriculum he attended for a day a week on a junior rangers scheme.  He developed an unexpected passion for woodland and went on to attend Riseholm College in Lincoln but when he graduated with Level 2 and 3 qualifications in arborioculture he could not find work in Gainsborough. At this point a Job Centre advisor suggested that he return to Hill Holt Wood as a volunteer on the flexible support fund.  Sam proved to be a fantastic volunteer and an obvious candidate for the Salvation Army fund.

The award was given to Hill Holt Wood and they have funded Sam’s on-going apprenticeship in horticulture.  He says he has two main goals in life “the biggest one is to get a full time job at Hill Holt Wood which I would love, or work somewhere doing the same sort of job…

The Fellowship Team are always looking to hear about Fellow led projects.  If you know of work that is going on that would benefit from Fellows support and advice please get in touch directly, shout about your work at and apply to RSA Catalyst.  If that work is based in the East and West Midlands then I’m your first point of contact, email me at or tweet me @pickfordrich I love hearing about new ideas especially when they are told over a hot cup of tea and some cake.


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