My MacEwen: Kielder Forest Park

A manmade space that works on every possible level

Kielder Forest was planted by unemployed people mainly from the mining and shipbuilding industries.
Kielder Forest was planted by unemployed people mainly from the mining and shipbuilding industries.

New trees, fresh water, clean green hydro-electric energy and pure air: a dedicated place for walking, cycling, running, water sports and to be outdoors; activities to support people with disabilities, a centre protecting wildlife with red squirrels in abundance and a salmon reserve; the darkest skies in Britain and an observatory to enjoy them, and a landscape with insertions to reflect on and emphasise the relationship of art and architecture within the natural world – as well as give the whole environment a contemporary buzz to attract people to a slower pace of life, even if just for an afternoon.

Kielder Forest in Northumberland is the largest manmade woodland in England, with three-quarters of its 250 square miles covered by forest. From its very beginnings in the 1920s, Kielder has had a social and ethical outlook – both in the manner of its construction as well as its purpose and facilities. The Forestry Commission bought the land before the 1920s to establish a timber reserve for the nation, and ever since it has been a national project, remaining to this day state-owned and developed – a stark contrast to the current development of British infrastructure.

The forest was planted by unemployed people mainly from the mining and shipbuilding industries from the North-east, supplied by the Ministry of Labour. Not only were they housed in specially built accommodation, but whole villages were developed to relocate their families. While management principles have changed, today Kielder is a sustainable public open space with economic value supplied by its timber and salmon, as well as a recreational facility for the benefit of all. At its heart is an art and architecture programme that was initiated in 1999 to enable the remote rural community as a client and challenge the notion that cultural activity must be concentrated in urban areas. This is supported by the Arts Council and has attracted creative practices large and small, from David Adjaye and James Turrell to Softroom Architects and Studio Weave. Kielder is a testament to public and private organisations working together to provide a multi-beneficial landscape at individual, regional and national levels. 

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