• Beverley Thompson

Not out of the Woods yet! Navigating the PR challenge in Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest in the heart of Sussex is a very special place – rich in wildlife and special habitat and of course home to A.A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. It has always been free to access the forest, so the idea of introducing car park charges for the 1.4 million annual visitors and locals was always going to be a big PR challenge to navigate.

At the heart of the matter is a hard simple fact – the Forest needs money. Without it the extremely rare habitats will not survive and without them the area loses its national and international protection.

Our strategy with our new clients was simple – Clear, Consistent and Honest communication. These were the guiding principles of the route from announcing the idea, to navigating a six week consultation, public meetings and media appearances. With Forest Chief Executive James Adler spearheading our coverage we secured appearances on regional television, local radio and multiple press and online mentions. We were careful to ensure that even when the subject of coverage wasn’t strictly about car parking – we were happy to engage on the subject. We kept the idea in the public domain – boosting the public engagement with the consultation process and keeping the debate factual.

Now we await the decision of the Conservators – the body responsible for the management of the forest. Whatever the outcome – the Forest faces many future challenges.

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