A WOODLAND wonderland created by a former social worker is transforming lives as well as the countryside on the borders of Denbighshire and Flintshire.
Outside Lives is the brainchild of Lucy Powell whose team of almost 200 volunteers is repurposing the land around Aberduna Hall, near Maeshafn, into a four and a half acre eco-friendly field of dreams.
The project is being helped by two grants totalling almost £60,000 from the £1.3 million Green Communities Fund run by rural regeneration agency Cadwyn Clwyd.
The Green Communities project is supported by the Welsh Government’s Enabling Natural Resources and Wellbeing (ENRaW) programme and funded by its Rural Communities Rural Development Programme, paid for by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and Welsh Government.
The Fund supports sustainable community-led projects across the rural areas of Wrexham, Flintshire, Denbighshire and Conwy, and Green Communities aims to bring people and nature together to transform their local area into a more desirable place to live, work and visit and increase opportunities to volunteer locally outdoors while also creating opportunities for wildlife to flourish.
Green Communities has offered grants of up to £30,000 and over to more than 30 rural communities within Denbighshire, Conwy, Flintshire and Wrexham to participate in the project.
Lucy said: “The first grant helped us build the wildlife viewing platforms which are massively used by visitors to the site and since then the money from the Green Communities fund has helped us provide disabled toilets at the top and bottom of the network of wheelchair-accessible footpaths we’ve created through the woodland.
“We have also rescued the pond which was originally created by my dad – my parents live at Aberduna Hall – and that’s proving a haven for wildlife and we are also creating a wildlife corridor connecting our woodland with an adjacent patch owned by the Woodland Trust.
“The Cadwyn grants have meant we have been able to make sure that there are places for people here and places for nature which we can’t touch but we can see what’s happening there.”
Cadwyn Clwyd’s Green Communities Project Manager Haf Roberts said: “The team at Outside Lives have worked extremely hard to push through improvements onsite with the help of the support from Green Communities.
“It enables the local community to benefit from the environmental assets offered by the pond and viewing platform, and educational and wellbeing opportunities offered by the classroom and counselling spaces at various locations onsite.
“The work was completed in two phases – the first with a grant of just under £30,000 and the second with a grant of £28,600; a total of £58,600.
“It is great to see so much quality work done in an inventive and resourceful way in a short space of time.
“The project enables the local community to connect with nature by way of the outdoor facilities provided at the site, bringing environmental benefits whilst also supporting personal wellbeing and growth.”
Lucy’s concept had a difficult start as Covid hit with their launch just a few days away but they weathered that storm and she believes they have emerged from it a stronger and more diverse organisation.
They have also worked hard to make it sustainable, using solar power as much as possible and using rainwater harvesting to augment their main water supply which is taken from a local spring.
She said: “We started this project in 2019 and were ready to go in 2020 when the first lockdown hit but in a way that has worked to our advantage because we had to find other ways to carry on and so we took the project online.
“We took our classes online and created a community there which made us realise that Outside Lives wasn’t just a place, it was a concept that could be delivered in all sorts of ways.
“We are now holding community days in venues in Mold so that makes us a year-round organisation which is important because we don’t want to over exploit the site here.
“We have to be sensitive to the needs of this place and that means being on the road and going out into the communities where we are most needed.
“I certainly feel that I have been able to have a positive effect on more lives here than I was able to as a social worker.”
Outside Lives is based just outside Gwernymynydd, within the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is also being supported by Denbighshire County Council’s Countryside Services Department.
The Green Communities project is funded through the Welsh Government Rural Communities Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the Welsh Government.
This £1.3 million project is supported by the Enabling Natural Resources and Wellbeing Fund (ENRaW), that will provide financial support to community led projects in order for them to deliver green initiatives, in addition to supporting Covid recovery at a community level.