Forest of Dean: Building bridges between the community, businesses and local government for sustainable growth

Founded by the Forest of Dean District Council in 2018, the Forest Economic Partnership (FEP) is an award-winning voluntary community partnership with the vision of making the Forest of Dean a vibrant and thriving place to live, work, study and do business. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, plays or studies in the Forest of Dean District or is interested in participating in FEP’s activities. FEP’s mission is to deliver a thriving economy in the Forest of Dean District by connecting businesses, councils, people, ideas and resources.

The challenge

Forest of Dean is an area of over 203 square miles that includes expanses of woodland along with extensive parts of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that are within the district. The council and its partners are proud of the distinctiveness of the region and the variety of its natural landscapes from the Severn Estuary and the Wye Valley to the rolling hills to the north. The council wanted to bring partners together to give the Forest of Dean a voice in the Glos2050 conversation and deliver a thriving and sustainable economy whilst addressing the climate change emergency alongside building better connected communities – socially, digitally and through improved transport. An underlying challenge facing the district was delivering economic opportunities for employment and leisure whilst maintaining the district’s heritage and distinctiveness as a national landscape.

The solution

The Forest of Dean Economic Partnership (FEP) was launched in 2018 by the council. Through its meetings, a range of essential issues that affect all in the district are discussed to identify problems and issues. Where more information is required, or solutions are proposed these are put forward as projects for approval by the Stakeholder Group. Chaired by a local business professional, there are over 230 organisations and individuals registered as stakeholders who can participate in the quarterly stakeholder group or sub-group meetings.

The partnership, working with the council and others, enables the environmental qualities of the area to be protected and for the needs of the community to be supported in a manner that can recognise and develop its economy. The partnership has provided a voice where the wider community can be heard and influence priorities and policy within the district.

“We need to thank our local volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain the profile of the FEP locally and across our borders.  It is their energy that drives participation in the Stakeholder Group and the Sub-Groups who are connecting people and delivering real change on the ground.”

Mr Peter Williams - Head of Paid Service, Forest of Dean District Council.

How is the new approach being sustained?

In 2019, FEP became a Community Interest Company to create a distinct legal identity and help facilitate the development of projects put forward by its stakeholders. The partnership’s input is helping to put the Forest of Dean on the map as a sustainable economic location with a sizable manufacturing presence, working to influence and change perceptions that the Forest of Dean is primarily a visitor destination by shining a light on local industry and innovation.

The impact

Since inception the FEP has added value to several projects across the district, including:

  • acting as an accountable body to enable two local communities to access community broadband grants for faster broadband, targeting the final 3-4 per cent of properties in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire that still need access to superfast broadband of +30mbps
  • working with the Arts Council to test the public’s appetite for the Forest of Dean to become a Biosphere Reserve following a report commissioned by the partnership and published by ONS on the economic benefits of being a Biosphere Reserve
  • building insight into rural transport locally, in partnership with Rural Technologies Ltd on a project funded by the Geospatial Commission. 

In November 2018 FEP won the ‘Most Innovative Small Business Campaign’ by a council for the Gloucestershire and West of England Federation of Small Business region. This was early recognition that the Forest is ahead of the game on creating a balanced economic strategy for the area by bringing all parties together to discuss openly.