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simon dawson

Head of Centre

Developing people and teams, often in the outdoors, has been a consistent theme in Simon’s career.
Starting out as an infantry officer in the Fusiliers, he went into corporate roles in the City before heading outdoors again as a ski instructor in Norway and Italy.

He became an executive coach, focused on leadership and change, working with senior managers around Europe.

Being the Head of Centre at The Wilderness is a wonderful opportunity to continue this work. For Simon it’s all about helping people, of all ages and backgrounds, create a life worth living through experience in the outdoors.

 
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Deborah Blackmore

Business Manager

I was born in the UK, but spent my entire childhood in Australia returning to the UK when I was 17 (by way of an overland journey with my mum, dad and younger sister - a journey that I shall never forget).  Following varied roles in sales and marketing, subsequently running my own professional support business (while raising my young family), all culminating in a career in law... I moved to the Forest of Dean.  Shortly afterwards I heard an interview on BBC Radio Gloucestershire about the Wilderness Centre... this led to a period of excitement and a meeting with the new owners - the rest is history!  

Ever since I left Australia I had missed the great outdoors. Memories of climbing trees, running around barefoot and generally having the time of my life had never left me. The burning desire to "return to nature" for want of a better expression was there.  Always.

What makes the wilderness special?
Working at the Wilderness Centre in its 30 acre site offered me more than just a job.  It offered me the way of life I had been missing.  It even allowed me to satisfy my passion for farming as the grounds offered me an opportunity to graze some sheep on the fields.  But more than that... it allowed me the pleasure of watching other people enjoy the Wilderness; watching children grow and their confidence bloom, for many watching them experience the outdoors properly for the very first time.  But it's not just children - it's family groups, celebrations and businesses too. 

The Wilderness Centre is a special place; it is almost impossible to put into words - it is simply something you "feel".  It's a gem hidden in the Forest of Dean with so much to offer to so many. I am honoured to have been instrumental in the revival of the Wilderness Centre since it's re-opening in 2015; never before have I enjoyed coming to work so much!  

 
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laurence mezo

Chief instructor

I've been at the centre now for I think four years! Initially as an Activity Instructor, but now as Chief Instructor. My role involves looking after all the activities the centre offers and ensuring all school visits run smoothly and that everyone has an ace time! Working at the centre is amazing, lots of great instructors to work with and get to meet lots of new people on a weekly basis.

In my spare time I love going on holiday! Whether that's sitting by the pool in Portugal or committing to a ten day kayaking expedition down a river in the Himalayas. A bit of a contrast I know, but anything that allows me to explore different countries and cultures gets me excited.

What makes the wilderness special?
The centre has lots of amazing points, but the main two that makes residential trips great; the quality of the instructional team and the freedom and independence the children get whilst away from home.

The instructional team is pulled together from all over the country, locals from the Forest and staff all the the way from Cornwall! (Still not sure if it's jam or cream first on scones!) The team play a massive part in the children's experience at the centre, on activities that can be setting the right amount of challenge for students, giving words of advice and encouragement, or just being a friendly fun face allowing the kids to have an amazing time.

Whilst away from home the children get the opportunity to grow as individuals, explore, experience new things and becoming more independent. This ranges from making their own beds on arrival, making their sandwiches for lunch or having the freedom to explore and have adventure with our onsite orienteering course.

The centre allows both children and adults to experience the outdoors. That can be sleeping the Tent Village, lighting a fire and cooking your own food or just taking in the views and scenery or the River Severn and Gloucestershire.

 
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John Owen

Estate Manager

I’ve been involved in the centre since March 2015 when you needed a machete to get from building to building.. At the time the centre had been closed for about 3 years and was being reclaimed by nature!

My role here is maintaining and developing our site. Mostly I am outside strimming, mowing,  and bringing the old gardens back to life, but sometimes I get called in to chase down the pesky gremlin that likes to cause mischief with the house!

You might also see my cocker spaniel Evie around with me; she grew up here and loves nothing more than to play fetch with a group until no-one has the will to carry on. 

What makes the wilderness special?
There aren’t many places of work that can claim to have an air of mystery about them, but that’s exactly what the wilderness has. You can’t help but wonder as you walk around:
How old is that tree?
Who planted that?
What was this ruin?
Who lived here?
Why does the stone change there?

On top of that the wildlife here never disappoints; I see Deer here pretty much every evening and the Wild Boar have made a big mess recently (The swine!) Badgers and Foxes frequent our site (you can find their ‘runs’ everywhere) and Bats and Mice fill the night with tiny sounds.
We have Nuthatches nesting in the old stable, Swallows in the saxon house, Treecreepers here there and everywhere, Jays swooping from treeline to treeline and a Buzzard guards the black gates when the site is quiet.
I could rave about the geology or the meadows or the ancient trees or many more features we have on site, but I’d be taking the opportunity away from yourself. Simply, every part of site has gone through a long and fascinating transformational journey since it was first deemed Wilderness 1001 years ago."