LOCAL business leaders and stakeholders came together last week to hear about the exciting projects taking place in the Dean at what was the Forest Economic Partnership’s final stakeholder meeting of 2023.

The meeting at the Speech House last Thursday (December 7) had a bit of everything, with steel production, a new Forest-set TV series, innovative vertical farming and conservation grazing all on the agenda.

FEP Director and Human Resources Lead Wendy Jackson wrote the following blog after the meeting, which offers great insight into the innovation and “one of a kind” projects happening in the Forest of Dean currently.

Thank you to everyone who attended our final stakeholder meeting of 2023 last night (Thursday, December 7), writes Wendy Jackson.

We were brilliantly hosted as ever by the Speech House, and had 5 fantastic speakers.

Our chair Neill Ricketts opened the evening by welcoming attendees, before FEP director Ian Mean MBE began his regular Q+A with our guests.

First up was Kevan Spencer, Sales and Marketing Director of MSB Steel. 

The business started in 2018 and has rapidly gone from strength to strength, with their two sites based in Cinderford and majority of their 60 employees Forest based, they are as local as it gets. 

They have a number of projects ongoing in the wider area, including Malvern, Gloucester city centre and have recently completed work at Longhope Business Park. 

With a diverse portfolio, they remain confident that the global issues rocking the construction, steel and engineering industries will not affect them too much. 

In fact, they are currently focusing on growth, taking on new staff and sourcing high tech kit for the business. 

They are always looking at how they can address recruitment issues and in 2024 MSB Steel are working with the FEP to improve dialogue with local schools and colleges – watch this space.

Moving on to a different industry but continuing with a steel theme, Ian then spoke to Keith Thomas, author of ‘The Iron Rose’ and Hakam Poselay, CEO of Checklist Films. 

Keith and Hakam are working to bring to life the story of Robert Forester Mushet and his family, who in the 19th century pioneered production of inexpensive but high quality steel. Already ‘The Iron Rose’ has 2 episodes ordered by Lionsgate, 5 seasons planned, and BAFTA winning film and TV editor Nick Arthurs on board, who has previously worked on major Netflix shows such as ‘The Witcher’ - the potential here is huge. 

Importantly, Hakam recognises that often productions come to the Forest of Dean to film and then leave, but, if ‘The Iron Rose’ gets the green light, they will do things differently. Checklist Films want to work with the community and use local businesses where they can.

Hakam has specifically chosen the Forest as a filming location and declined offers for shooting elsewhere offering tax breaks, as he understands how significant this could be for the area. 

‘The Iron Rose’ could be a multi-million pound project filming right here in the Forest of Dean very soon, and, as Hakam explained last night the possible benefits for the area are really endless. From a Mushet family museum to job opportunities, Checklist Films want to bring something different to the Forest of Dean.

James Lloyd Jones, founder of Jones Food Company, was then invited to speak about his vertical farm in Lydney. 

After it’s opening in 2021, this is the second and largest of Jones Food Company’s sites, and currently supplies 600 tonnes of salads and herbs a year to 300 ASDA stores, Ocado, and 10 million pre-packaged sandwiches, to name a few. 

Vertical farming is a solution to the many issues around importing produce. If we can grow our own food using innovative methods, we can slash our carbon emissions, produce more nutritious food, and reduce our reliance on international markets. 

To hit our net zero targets businesses need to think innovatively and be proactive, and Jones Food Company has done just that. 

They are installing solar panels, have 54km of LED lights and are currently trialling methods of removing Co2 in the atmosphere. 

They are a business of the future right here in the Forest of Dean.

Finally, Ian spoke with Alex Crawley, of Grazing Management Ltd. 

We recently wrote a blog about Alex and Emily Crawley after our last visit, which you can read here https://fep2050.co.uk/blog/the-cows-that-are-doing-their-bit-for-the-environment/. Grazing Management operate by grazing cattle on land that is difficult to farm traditionally, in efforts to restore a biodiversity balance. 

This a business unique to the Forest of Dean and further afield, and like Jones Food Company, is an example of how a business can be sustainable and profitable. 

The FEP connected  Grazing Management to the Agriculture team at  Hartpury University and College, and are exploring opportunities around apprenticeships, work experience, and encouraging agricultural innovation, particularly among those not from a farming background.

After the Q+A, directors shared updates on the operation of the FEP including subgroup updates and governance. For more information, you can view the presentation on the FEP website.

These stakeholder meetings really shine a well needed light on the innovation going on all around us, and prove the Forest of Dean should not be disregarded as a once economically prosperous area that now only relies upon  tourism. 

The Forest is an exciting place, with world leading businesses, creatives, innovative start ups, and one of a kind projects all happening right here between the Severn and the Wye. 

The whole concept behind the Forest Economic Partnership is to connect these businesses with organisations, resources, and individuals to create a stronger and more vibrant Forest economy. 

One of the most inspiring things we see at the FEP is hearing how much passion and energy our stakeholders have for the Forest. 

We have both life long and new Forester’s championing the district through their business practices and want to see this area develop.  

The Forest of Dean has long been neglected, but with FEP’s help we are helping to turn the tides and  people are paying attention.