Nov 27 2020

The Smithills Estate – a place for enterprise and community

The Smithills Estate – a place for enterprise and community

Smithills Estate, near Bolton, is the largest site the Trust has ever acquired in England. Steeped in history and overshadowed by the famous Winter Hill TV mast, it’s a mix of grassland, farmland, moorland, wooded ravines and bog habitats, crisscrossed by dry stone walls. But it’s also home to a number of tenants who run a range of businesses, as well as the base for other enterprises.


The challenge

Social enterprise on the estate has been a challenge.  Our ambition for the project was light years away from where the local business community actually was in terms of developing social enterprise, particularly in a landscape setting.

However, by working with a local social enterprise consultant and investing in the development of the estate, including the Walker Fold carpark, we have managed to help 11 enterprises build their businesses on the estate.  There is also a growing social-enterprise collective which is working to bring social good by operating elements of their businesses from the Smithills Estate.  This is creating a business community around the estate and opportunities to provide social good via our site.


The enterprises

The Cakery, run by a husband and wife team, provides a much-needed hot drink and piece of cake (optional) from the Walker Fold Gateway, building a loyal following – not least among us and the volunteer wardens!  They also act as a great signpost to everything on the estate.

Blue Sky Learning run a thriving Forest School from our woodlands, offering family fun sessions, baby sensory groups, an after-school club and a really popular forest camp over school holidays, which has been a godsend for people during the pandemic.

A range of other enterprises use our estate as a venue, taking advantage of the beautiful landscape and diverse habitats to offer activities such as wellbeing workshops , running events, nature walks or forages.


The value of these enterprises to the estate

Some of the social enterprise businesses have formed a Smithills collective, in which they come together for mutual support, the sharing of ideas, and opportunities to explore ways to collaborate. We are really excited that three of the enterprises are now working towards establishing a community-interest company: The Smithills Collective. As a social enterprise, the collective will have a strong social mission to enhance wellbeing through connecting with nature; the founders sharing our passion for protecting and sustaining the natural heritage of the Smithills Estate.

The businesses which use Smithills make a valuable financial contribution to the estate, but perhaps even more significant is the social value these enterprises create. They enrich the Smithills Estate offer by helping us reach new and different audiences and by sharing with them their love of the estate. Some of our businesses have been able to create local employment opportunities and have enabled local people to learn new skills and gain confidence in exploring our estate. And our work continues….


Vicky Entwistle – Engaging Communities Officer, Smithills

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