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Garvagh People’s Forest project is a five-year project funded by the Big Lottery Fund to grow Garvagh Forest as a shared space where connections, friendships, skills and ideas will be nurtured bringing worth to people, place and the environment. The forest sits adjacent to the site of a former high school and the project seeks to reconnect the local population with the land through several different activities.

Garvagh Forest lies on the former Canning estate at the edge of Garvagh town, a mixed forest with broad leaf and conifers covering around 600 acres. It is a working forest owned by the Northern Ireland Forest Service with responsibility for social & recreational activities sitting with the local Causeway Coast and Glens Council. The land itself has a long history connecting it to human populations: a burial urn was found dating from 1300 BC. And it contains one other unusual feature – there is a pyramid in the forest built by Lord Canning in the 19th Century after a visit to Egypt.

It is this point of curiosity, explains Karin Eyben, Development Lead at  Garvagh People’s Forest which contributed to sparking the creativity of a number of local people and organisations led by Garvagh Development Trust to explore the potential of the forest as a place of learning, growth and new connections between place, people, and the natural world.  Claire Millar, Project Lead, said: “This is a really exciting project for the wider Garvagh area and beyond. There is so much potential to use this forest with people of all ages, our local schools, skills based programmes, health workers and the whole community.”

The Trust spent a year piloting different events and activities, growing relationships with the Forest Service and the Council and testing out with the wider community the potential for developing these ideas. “This foundation year gave us the confidence to submit a Big Lottery application for a five-year development project which we have entitled Garvagh People’s Forest” says Karin.

With five different strands of work, the project seeks to:


  • grow Garvagh Forest School, a collaboration between seven primary schools and three pre-schools

  • work with health workers to value and develop the forest as a space to grown physical and mental well-being

  • create opportunities to develop skills and learning

  • use imagination to design events & activities that allow people of all ages to play and connect to the natural world

  • work towards an integrated community led plan for the Forest that connects the bio-diversity, social and production value of the forest


Although as Karin adds: “Whilst we may have this route map, we know that this will often bear no relevance to the journey ahead as this will be a story that is dynamic, complex, unpredictable, probably often messy and definitely full of excitement!”

Garvagh is a small town in Co Londonderry with a population of 1500 sitting at foothills of the Sperrins in the lower Bann Valley. Garbhach, from the Irish meaning “rough place” or Garbhachadh meaning “rough field” was developed into a formal settlement in the early 17th century by George Canning from Warwickshire, agent for the Ironmonger’s Company of London. It was later grown into a middle-size market town by the Canning family.

Please remember, for those interested in woodland social enterprise based in Northern Ireland, we will be holding a networking day on Saturday 23 September. Have a look at our events section to join Karin and Claire, Project Lead at Garvagh People’s Forest, and learn more about Garvagh and the woodland social enterprise.

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