Westonbirt Arboretum Community Shelter

A wooden structure shaped like an armadillo shell made from long wooden laths and wooden shingles to create a Community Shelter

We've built a new Community Shelter

In late 2017, our old Community Shelter was condemned and dismantled, leaving the community groups we work with no permanent shelter on site. This presented us with an exciting opportunity to assess our needs and provide fit for purpose facilities that enables us to continue to build on the success of the Community Programme.

We wanted the Community Shelter Project to be led by those who will be using the space. We worked with community groups on the design of the shelter and throughout the build process, ‘by the community, for the community’.

Behind the scenes

Long thin planks of oak wood that have just been cut to size sit concertinaed on a lifting fork
Westonbirt Woodworks helped to make laths out of Oak from our collection to be used to create the unique domed structure of the shelter.
a young male in a wheelchair in a high vis jacket and gloves looks down whilst learning to operate a clamp. A male adult looks on feeding instructions on how to do it.
The Apperley Centre were the first group to be inducted onto the building site on Tuesday 11 January. They are one of our regular community groups.
A cameraman stands in the foreground pointing a large camera at a young man in a wheel chair planing a long thin piece of wood. Another man holds a mic boom overhead, while two adults assist the young man planing.
Ken Goodwin from ITV West Country visited the Community Shelter to find out how we are getting on!
Young boys kneel down clamping pieces of wood together to create an arch.
The 32 arches are being produced using a method called steam bending... But what is steam bending?
A group of young adults in high vis jackets hold a wooden arch up to pose for a photograph
Working with our community participants our skilled carpenters from Xylotek completed all 32 arches in just 9 days!
Ground works for a construction site. 5 concrete circles with a steel bracket coming out from the ground.
Before we could raise the Community Shelter arches work had to be done to prepare the foundations.
A wooden structure resembling a very large spine - nicknamed the stegosaurus - is held together with clamps to bend wood into a unique curved shape.
To create the unique shape for the side openings of the shelter a jig had to be built and used!
A wooden timber set of arches stand from the ground to form a semi circle shape of arches that people could walk under.
Over the course of a week the steam bent Oak arches were installed into place by Xylotek alongside our community participants.
A woman dressed in a long sleeve purple top with a pink scarf sits astride a shave horse - a large wooden structure. She holds a draw knife - a long shaving tool - which she cuts into the wooden block.
Over 3000 shingles will form the roof for the Community Shelter! Find out how to make a shingle.
A wooden structure shaped like an armadillo shell made from long wooden laths and wooden shingles to create a Community Shelter
On Tuesday 17 May we threw a celebration of the opening of our brand new Community Shelter.
A wooden structure shaped like an armadillo shell made from long wooden laths and wooden shingles to create a Community Shelter
ITV returned to see our completed Community Shelter and speak to one of the Access Centre.
Community Westonbirt

What is the Community Programme? 

Despite the arboretum attracting over 550,000 visits per year, we are aware that many people are unable to visit because of a range of societal barriers. To address this, we developed a Community Programme as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded Project in 2014. The project aimed to reach out into our local community to enable more people to benefit from the arboretum. Evidence gathered during this project led us to look at growing the programme further to enable more people to access Westonbirt and take part in activities that support better mental health and wellbeing.

Find out more

More than just a shelter

Through our work with community groups we have learnt that the provision of suitable facilities is a key enabling factor to the success of engaging marginalised communities; both in terms of providing physical shelter from the elements and, more importantly, giving participants a ‘home’ that provides a safe and familiar space they can take ownership of.

Through consultation with participants and group leaders we developed a wish list of key ingredients that will make the new space more than just a shelter. This includes both the basic functional elements (such as size, weatherproof, lifespan, storage) as well as more intangible aspects that will provide the space with an inclusive, uplifting and welcoming ambience (such as lightness, warmth, the ability to participate and celebrate success).

Most importantly, through this discussion we came to realise that the key to the project is not just building a structure; it is building it with the community. We wanted participants to be involved throughout, not just the initial ideas phase but the build process as well. This enabled them to develop new skills, learn to work with others and grow in self-confidence.

A young man dressed in a red coat stares down at a long piece of wood that he is sawing to fit to size. A gentleman in a green coat watches over to support him.
2 gentlemen dressed in winter coats and hats look intently over a wooden arched structure.

Building the Community Shelter

We were delighted to be working with Xylotek on the build, along with the help of our community groups, to create this unique and bespoke Community Shelter in Silk Wood.

We have been fortunate enough to have worked with Invisible Studio (Piers Taylor) and Xylotek (Charley Brentall) during the design phase of the shelter. 

Xylotek is a recognised leader in the UK’s oak framing industry and has led some of the UK’s most important oak-frame conservation projects, including the restoration of the ceiling at Windsor Castle and the restoration of Shackleton and Scott’s huts in Antarctica. The perfect choice to build our new Community Shelter.