To celebrate the achievement, and as part of National Tree Week, Cllr. John Aldridge, Chairman of Essex County Council and Rose Griffin -Twidell, Chair of the Bowers Gifford & North Benfleet Residents’ Association and a Trustee of the newly formed Page Woods Trust, planted a tree in Page Woods at Bowers Gifford today (Tuesday 29 November).
The planting was followed by a tour of the wood by guests, including Cllr Keith Bobbin, Essex County Councillor for Pitsea Division; Christopher Evans Chief Officer at the Basildon Billericay and Wickford Council for Voluntary Services (CVS), Elaine Horwood, a Trustee of the Page Woods Trust, local supporters and volunteers.
Rose Griffin, Chair of the Residents’ Association said: “We are over the moon to have finally succeeded in our fundraising to purchase this little gem of a woodland which means so much to local people. A big thank you to Essex County Council, for awarding us the maximum grant possible from its Community Initiatives Fund, to Veolia, to our local Council for Voluntary Services and of course to so many members of our community who fundraised for and donated to our fund.”
The £33,000 land purchase is being made possible thanks to a successful bid by the Bowers Gifford and North Benfleet Residents’ Association to Essex County Council’s Community Initiatives Fund (CIF) for £20,000; a grant of £3,600 from Veolia North Thames Trust and dedicated fundraising by the Association working together with local schools, voluntary groups and businesses. A grant of £650 has also been awarded by Basildon, Billericay and Wickford Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) to enable the group’s first year’s running costs.
Cllr John Aldridge, Chairman of Essex County Council said: “This is exactly the kind of community led project that our Community Initiatives Fund was set up to support. Natural green spaces such as this are precious havens for nature and wildlife and I’m sure the woodland will contribute to everyone’s enjoyment, learning and well-being now and for generations to come.”
Page Woods spans almost three acres at Bowers Gifford, east of Basildon. It was part of an estate owned by a sea captain who joined the war effort in 1939 but never returned. He used part of the land as an orchard and some of the fruit trees still exist.
Local people looked after the site for 70 years before descendants of the sea captain claimed ownership in 2014. Page Woods was subsequently sold at auction to the Benson family, who decided to sell the land to the Bowers Gifford & North Benfleet Residents’ Association after hearing their pleas to keep the site open to local people.
Stephen Metcalfe, MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, who supported the campaign to preserve Page Woods as a public space, added: “Basildon boasts many green spaces but it has very little woodland. So how fitting it is, during National Tree Week, to bring the local community together to celebrate their imminent purchase of this fantastic natural asset. Congratulations to everyone involved.”
The Association has since set up the Page Woods Trust, a registered charity, to take ownership and manage the wood. A clause in the Trust deed ensures ownership of land by the community in perpetuity.
Rose added: “Today is just the beginning for Page Woods as we now look to finalise the purchase before embarking on a woodland management plan. We hope to attract more volunteers as we get to work to create better access via walkways and construct a little bridge over a bomb hole. We want to encourage wildlife to flourish here, particularly as our local school, which raised over £900 towards the purchase intend using Page Woods for nature projects.”
For more information about Essex County Council’s Community Initiatives Fund visit essex.gov.uk/cif
or for more information about the Bowers Gifford Residents’ Association visit bowersgifford.org.uk