A root and branch planning review

friends of westonbirt arboretum

"With two management teams coming together, David had to be quite sensitive in the way he handled the awayday. He is very good at building trust, making the effort to understand what each side is saying and communicating opinions clearly and even-handedly."


Westonbirt Arboretum, in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, is a world-class collection of trees, managed by the Forestry Commission (FC) and supported by FOWA through fundraising, volunteering and educational activities. In 2014/15 we carried out a strategic review for FOWA and subsequently recruited their first CEO as the charity went through a transition from a small group of enthusiastic volunteers to a professionally run organisation. More recently we provided FOWA with an interim CEO, Felicia Willow, who carried out a health check into the strengths and weaknesses of the charity while we set about recruiting a new full-time CEO.

Action Planning was engaged to run an awayday, where trustees would be presented with the FC’s strategic plan and Felicia’s initial health check findings, and then discuss the charity’s aims and ambitions with the aim of defining its mission, vision and values.

The FC management team and FOWA senior staff were invited to Westonbirt School for the strategic awayday. Prior to this, David Saint had spoken to the trustees individually to gauge their opinions, to help manage the group discussions inclusively. The FC’s Andrew Smith presented their strategy, followed by a discussion manage by David. After lunch, Felicia presented her health check findings and the trustees then discussed how these might be addressed. There then followed a strategy session, coordinated by David, to discuss values, mission and vision, and the day ended with group work on strategic objectives, before David summed up and proposed the next steps.

The trustees were able to consider and understand the FC’s strategy; they bought into developing a joint five-year plan, with a stronger focus on education and establishing the arboretum as a world leader on tree knowledge and understanding. The findings from the health check also received the support of the group and FOWA is already getting on with implementing Felicia’s proposals, guided by its newly defined mission and vision. A new CEO has now been appointed and the future looks very exciting for FOWA and the Westonbirt Arboretum.

Consultant’s insight:
This was a complex situation, with a number of different ‘interest groups’ – not in conflict as such, but perhaps not all pulling in the same direction. In situations like this, it can be enormously helpful to have an external facilitator with no axe to grind (pun intended!), who can help each group identify common ground that they share with others, and build from there. Once that is achieved, it becomes easier to rationalise areas of difference, in the context of areas of agreement.

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