September 16, 2020 Forest Plans, Surveys 4 Comments

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n our first survey in August 2020 we were told that 95% of people wanted a forest planted to remember the loved ones lost because of Covid-19. In our 2nd survey, at the start of September we asked people for their views on what exactly they would want from this ‘Forest of Memories’. We put some innovative (and perhaps challenging) suggestions out there to see what people thought.

Will you agree with the survey results and what other people have said? Read on to find out…
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Key things we learnt from the survey

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In summary, the main takeaways we were told in the the survey were:

  1. People are overwhelmingly in favour of the Forest of Memories idea.
  2. One tree for every life lost because of Covid-19 is a fundamental concept people want to see achieved.
  3. We may need to change the original plan for a single forest and have multiple locations around the UK.
  4. The forest should be for peace, tranquillity, and reflection – not recreation
  5. An educational element should exist teaching the next generation about what we went through in a pandemic, but also social challenges, climate change, and biodiversity.
  6. Accessibility for all groups should be designed into the forest from the start.
  7. Building interactive technology into the forest will support remembrance, accessibility, and education. But needs to be unobtrusive.

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89.8% of people felt ‘Very Positive’ about creating the Forest of Memories

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The idea of the Forest of memories is supported by nearly everyone. It is overwhelmingly clear that people want this forest but more encouragingly, the comments left by those who had lost a loved one because of Covid-19 were entirely supportive of the Forest. It is predominantly for these people that our nation should be planting this Forest of Memories so their views should be respected and carry great weight with everyone.

Testing key concepts for the Forest of Memories:

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There were 3 key concepts that we wanted to test with people for the Forest of Memories. These concepts, and the feelings of people towards them, are below.

1. A tree planted for every life lost

We were told in the first survey, and were told again in this survey, that people do not want a ‘cold stone memorial’ somewhere. Whereas planting a forest of trees in symbolic remembrance of 65,000 souls lost because of Covid-19 is seen as the fitting tribute that most people want.

NOTE: We say 65,000 people here because there were about 65,000 excess deaths in the UK this summer. Whether these deaths were a result of Covid-19 infections or because of the impact of lock-down measures, they are all still people who died because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Such a sudden and large-scale loss of life for any nation deserves remembrance.

2. ‘Memory-Trees’

‘Memory Trees’ is an idea conceived to help bring a lasting connection of memories, people, and physical trees. It is an idea that uses technology in a new way and introduces this within a forest setting. So, we were ready to be told after testing the idea that it wasn’t what people wanted.

As it turned out our concerns were unfounded. Whilst there were a handful of people against the idea, the response from 92% of people was that it was an idea they liked. 61% said it was a fantastic idea, and within the comments received it was clear that many of these were the bereaved. Here’s one extract to show the strength of emotional support for the Memory-Trees idea.

“This is a great idea and actually made me cry. I would love for people to be able to visit my dad’s tree, to find out more about him and to see him. I would also love the opportunity to learn about others who lost their lives.”
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There will, of course, be practical things to address in how we will bring this Memory Trees concept alive in the Forest of Memories and at the same time address some genuine concerns from some. But, we are working on that right now and will announce how we will do this soon.

3. ‘Groves of reflection’

This idea was tested to recognise other specific human challenges that have been highlighted by this pandemic, and remember those who have been affected by them.

There are victims of this pandemic who did not die, but they have still suffered because of Covid-19. The impact of the pandemic range across unemployment, domestic abuse, lack of access to healthcare, mental health issues, poverty, and many more issues. These have all been highlighted and compounded this summer for millions of people.

So the idea of ‘Groves of reflection’ was suggested for how the people impacted by these issues could be remembered.  Its also suggested how people in the future could use technology to interact with elements in the forest to learn more about these issues and gain the support they might need themselves.

Again, the one concern here was that technology should not get in the way of a tranquil reflective experience. But, the support for the concept was strong with 52% saying it was a fantastic idea. It is something, therefore, we will see if we can pursue further in the final forest designs.

Forest Features

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The first survey in August told us very clearly that the fundamental basis for any Forest of Memories must be one that creates sustainable ecosystems and biodiversity. In the second survey, we tested what specific physical features we should also be thinking about building into the forest. Here is what people told us.

The first thing we learnt from people was the continuing theme that the Forest of Memories should be a tranquil place for peace, reflection, and education. It should not be a place for recreation.

The second thing we learnt was that there is a clear desire from people to ensure that the Forest of Memories is accessible for all regardless of their age or disability. This was clear by the response to the question of wheelchair access, but also from many comments received.

Location of the Forest

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Whilst a specific question on the location of the forest wasn’t included in the survey, we did receive many comments and questions regarding this.

The key theme that we have listened to is that if the Forest of Memories if to fulfil its purpose of being a place of personal and national remembrance then people need to be able to visit it. This point was further highlighted because of the concept that the Forest will have specific trees for specific people. Given that, then the location of the trees needs to be within reasonable travel distance for people so they can visit the trees dedicated to their loved ones.

That is of course obvious if you think about it. But, it does mean that whilst there may be a place for a single ‘National’ Memorial Forest, there is a more important need to have a number of local (and probably smaller) locations for Forests.

Should we have separate Forests of Memories in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Should there be 2 or 3 in England as well?
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This is a question we will come back to in the next couple of weeks. It does change what we thought we would do, but there are clear and understandable reasons people have raised as to why this could be a better solution.

Selling trees

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We put some questions in the survey regarding buying a tree for obvious reasons.

To create any forest requires money (even after grants are taken into consideration). To create the Forest of Memories, in multiple locations, and include the technology elements people said they wanted, will take even more money. That must be financed in some way.

77% of people said they would consider buying a Memory Tree in the Forest of Memories. That is good news for everyone as it means there is scope to raise funds for the Forest by selling trees (in some way) so people can dedicate a specific tree(s) to a specific person.

However, we do not wish affordability to be a barrier to helping anyone who has lost a loved one to remember them in the Forest of Memories. We also don’t think it would be helpful if any critics of the Forest of Memories idea to throw accusations around that the Forest is just a ‘money-making scheme’ (yes, there are still a few Trolls out there on Social Media trying to undermine the project!). So, we need to find a way to ensure that any person who has lost a loved can get a free memory tree and online ‘memory-book’ created without any fee, but at the same time ensure we can raise the funds required to make the forest work.

Achieving the above aims are a difficult balancing act of course, but we believe we have found a way to make it work. We will let you know these thoughts soon once they are fully formed..

What next?

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So, over the last few months, we have learnt a lot about what people want from any forest planted to remember the loved ones lost because of Covid-19. The ideas for the Forest of Memories are now becoming fully formed and the consultation period we set is now starting to end.

The next steps will now be to finalise the aspects of the plans we require to start creating the Forest of Memories.

These are:

1. Find land and finalise the locations for the Forest(s) of Memories around the UK
2. Convert the concepts we have tested into final forest design principles and communicate these.
3. Implement the financing models that will pay for the Forest of Memories.

We already have our thinking caps on are well advanced in mapping out what the next steps are, we will be coming back to you very soon on all of the above.

Please leave your comments in the comments section below. We really want to hear from you.

Written by Robert Streeter