Centrally located, the three woodland venues that make up Huntley Woods cater for corporate and private events of all scales.
Since buying the former quarry in 2010, Robert Corlett and his team have transformed it into a beautiful outdoor event venue comprising 170 acres of woodland, grassland and lakes set in the picturesque Staffordshire Moorlands. We talk to Robert about the mammoth task.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
For most of the 20th century Huntley Wood was a sand and gravel quarry and ceased its activities in the 1990s. Until 2009 the land was left derelict with several unsuccessful schemes including landfill and a golf course. The land was mainly used by walkers, bikers and illegal activities including shooting and motor sports.
When we purchased the land in 2009 local residents, councillors and police were very keen for us to put forward a viable long-term solution for the land.
We purchased Huntley Wood with the specific intention of converting it into an outdoor recreation and events venue. During the first two years we put together plans for land development, forestry, construction, and change of use. After significant consultation with local authorities and local residents we were granted planning permission.
Tell us about your location and site
We believed that Huntley Wood would make an excellent events venue as it is located very centrally within the country, just north of Birmingham, outside of Stoke-on-Trent, with easy access to both the M6 and the M1 motorways.
Huntley Wood consists of over 170 acres of ancient woodland, planted woodland, lowland heath, wild gorse, lakes, and large areas of cultivated grassland created by us.
With around 170 acres we decided to break down the total area into three distinctively different sites: The Greenvale (70 acres), The Wyldwood (30 acres), and The Deepmere (60 acres).
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
The Greenvale is the largest of the three sites at Huntley Wood, approximately 70 acres in size. It is dominated by a wide, grassy valley which provides a substantial camping area capable of accommodating large groups of 500 people or more.
The Greenvale makes a fantastic venue for outdoor activity groups, schools, universities, clubs or private parties/gatherings. Small parties of 10 or large gatherings of 500 can be accommodated and it is equipped with disabled toilet and shower facilities and our oak frame Club House. This has a log fire, internal oak beams and other traditional features. It is a very special indoor space suitable for lectures, banqueting, weddings and other similar activities. There is also a substantial car park with room for over 300 cars, with overflow parking available if necessary, and areas suitable for most sized marquees or pavilions.
At approximately 30 acres in size, The Wyldwood provides an intimate venue for groups up to 150 people. Characterised by an enchanting pine wood in which the main camping area and facilities nestle, the Wyldwood also benefits from a wide variety of terrain including beautiful open areas of deciduous woodland, oak pasture containing numerous large glades connected by winding paths, and a small picturesque lake. The Wyldwood provides woodland camping for groups of up to 150 people, and parking for approximately 100 cars. There are also toilet and shower facilities, 150m² communal cabins, and a kitchen and bar, all finished to an extremely high standard.
The Deepmere is the mid-sized venue at Huntley Wood. It covers some 60 acres of land which includes 40 acres of stunning and environmentally important ancient woodland. The Deepmere’s defining feature is a large, shallow lake at the centre of a deep bowl, next to which is the camping field and nearby facilities. The field provides space for medium-sized groups of up to 200 people and a car park for approximately 100 cars.
What services do you offer?
We can help with event planning, catering and accommodation. We provide in-house assistance, catering and licensed bars, plus we have built up relationships with local reputable suppliers that can help our customers with their event requirements.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
We were granted planning permission to construct a number of single story timber cabins around the whole site, to provide communal space and ablution facilities. We initially spoke with a number of Scandinavian timber frame building manufacturers, however we decided to design and construct our own buildings, which we built in a local warehouse and transported to Huntley Wood in sections. Ultimately we created cost efficient, environmentally friendly buildings that are sustainable and meet the very latest building regulations.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Communications with our customers usually starts a year or two prior to their event. We assist with planning all their facilities, services and help find suitable suppliers.
How do you publicise yourself?
We attend a few trade shows throughout the year, maintain a good website and social media presence, but generally use word of mouth and recommendations.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
We offer exclusive use and privacy, are located centrally in the country, and can accommodate groups from 10 to over 500. We have a lot of repeat business from organisations, private groups, schools, charities etc. We also develop strong long-term relationships with all our customers, and provide as much assistance as possible to ensure their events are a success.
What challenges have you faced?
Converting Huntley Wood from a derelict ex-quarry to an events venue has been a mammoth task and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
We firstly had to ensure the infrastructure was suitable; roads, fields, forest clearing, and then add power, water, gas and internet.
The biggest single element of our planning conditions was ecology. We had to hire specialists to ensure we maintained the flora and fauna of the ecosystem that has evolved within Huntley Wood. This had to be completed before any form of land management could be started.
Next we had to redistribute the soil which the quarry company had removed, so that large areas of wasteland could be restored to grassland, while laying ducting down all the roads to allow for the distribution of services.
Further we had to get in tree surgeons to inspect and classify all the woodland areas, to obtain forestry permits and a future strategy for the land. This involved felling some existing trees, clearing invasive species (rhododendron, ragwort and thistle), and planting over 3,000 new trees.
During the process we discovered Huntley Wood is located over a significant and protected aquifer, so we had to put in a sewage pumping solution that transports all our sewage waste to the main sewer line located in Huntley Village over a mile away.
What are your plans for next season?
Most of our customers book Huntley Wood over a year in advance, so we generally know how our season is looking well into the future. Things are looking extremely good for the 2018 season; we are constantly developing and adding facilities, features and services, and have several planned in the near future.
Describe your average day mid-season
Generally our weekday business is educational or corporate. Weekends are when we see organisations and private groups/parties.
Why do you enjoy the business?
Huntley Wood is an extremely large and ambitious project, and we expect to be in development for many years to come. It offers incredibly varied opportunities and challenges along with working in a small part of Britain’s beautiful countryside.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have quite extensive planning restrictions, so opportunities for festivals and public events are quite limited, however we are expanding into other opportunities like glamping for holiday makers. We are 10 minutes from Alton Towers and the Peak District so there are a number of opportunities available to us.
What are you most proud of?
Getting this far!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Patience – everything will take a lot longer than you expect! But stick with it, the rewards are good.
Jackson’s Marquee Hire – www.jacksonsmarquees.co.uk
Strictly Tables & Chairs – www.strictlytablesandchairs.co.uk
A-Plant – www.aplant.com
AceLoos – www.aceloos.co.uk
NFU Mutual – www.nfumutual.co.uk
01782 479947 / www.huntleywood.uk