Willson Avenue

Willson Avenue, beside Holy Cross church, lined with Kanzan cherries, was named in memory of BWT's Founder Trustee and Life President, Peter Willson. 

BWT Chairman Richard Ashness gave this tribute at Peter's funeral on 1st August 2013

I find it hard to be solemn when I think of Peter. Thinking of him makes me want to smile, because he was simply such a good person. After volunteering to work with me 10 years ago, Peter dedicated his life to Bearsted Woodland Trust, and we are all the beneficiaries. It is no exaggeration to say that Peter’s inspired leadership made BWT what it is today.

This is not the time for a history of BWT (although, if Peter were here, I’m sure he would be saying "go on, Richard, do it!") But Peter’s work for the charity demonstrated many aspects of his character, which it is appropriate to recall as we celebrate his life. Peter was incredibly enthusiastic; an enthusiasm which infected us all. He was selfless; never looking for personal reward, other than the satisfaction of knowing that he was contributing to his community. He was extremely hard working and had boundless energy. He personally led the project in the early years: undertaking lots of the early physical work, delivering countless leaflets, filling in lots of tedious grant forms, making presentations to anyone who would listen! The list is very long. He was totally loyal to the cause, to the village, and to me.

Peter had tremendous vision. He was full of ideas, some of which seemed crazy at first, but usually turned out to be correct. And on the rare occasions when the vote did not go his way he was always gracious in defeat. He was very ambitious; he wanted BWT to be the best, and made sure we were (evidenced by the many prestigious awards that BWT have won). He was a natural salesman, recruiting countless supporters, promoting the project to anyone and everyone, winning fantastic levels of grant aid for the project. Who can forget the People's Millions?

Peter enjoyed excellent working relationships. He had a real way with people, brought so many people into the project, got people to do things and made them feel good about it. Many of us found ourselves doing things we hadn’t known we wanted to do, until Peter persuaded us! He was truly kind and compassionate; always the first to visit colleagues who fell ill and keen to help anyone whenever he could. He was very well organised with meticulous planning of every detail, and this continued right up until his final days.

Soon after being told of the severity of his illness, he asked me to pop round. ‘And bring your notepad,’ he said. He then issued me with a list of instructions about things needing to be done at BWT. A little later when he was in hospital, he asked me whether I had done anything about Item 7 on the list (which was to apply for a Pride of Maidstone grant). I confessed that I hadn’t, because I thought we had no chance. He pressed me to progress it. One of our team did. We won a grant. Once again, Peter was proved right. Peter was a winner. He made things happen.

It was a real privilege to work so closely with someone who was simply (as I said before) such a good human being. Peter achieved so much in his retirement years, and we in this community are the beneficiaries. He has inadvertently created his own memorial, which will stand the test of time. Whenever we think of Bearsted Woodland Trust, we shall remember that it was Peter’s dedication and commitment that did so much to turn a plot of wasteland into a great community project.

Peter Willson (centre) with Richard Ashness at the President's Tree in 2009 watched by Valerie Willson.


In 2006 Peter was interviewed for the BWT newsletter by Judy Buckley

The Honorary Deputy Chairmanship of the BWT is a demanding role in terms of time, and Peter Willson, who has held the post from the formation of the Trust in 2004 until 2010, devoted at least 20 hours a week to it.

Peter was born in Hoo in 1937, one of six children, in the house his father had built two years earlier. At 13 he went to Rochester Technical School where he studied printing and bookbinding, and in 1953 was apprenticed to Mackays of Chatham when the firm numbered only 40 staff. Apart from his National Service (spent on active service in Cyprus 1956-58) he stayed in the firm, seeing it grow hugely, and finished as Manager of the Diary Division. It was a hefty and stressful job, and Peter, responsible for administration, editing and sales, was forced to retire at 59 on health grounds. Once recovered, however, he was soon looking for voluntary work, and decided to help people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, at Darland House in Gillingham. The Matron was amazed at his offer, but the work, assisting residents in all sorts of practical ways, never depressed him, because he is a true optimist.

In 2001 Peter and Val moved to Bearsted where he had already been a member of the Bowls Club for 17 years. One day in 2003 Peter spotted someone he didn't know putting a notice up in the Church Landway, went to talk to him, and met Richard Ashness for the first time. Richard's ideas for a gift of land in Trust for the village caught Peter's imagination, and he immediately offered to help in any way he could. The die was cast. Since that day Peter has worked on the site himself, arranged dozens of meetings, delivered hundreds of leaflets (in his 1968 tartan red MGB roadster) organised countless volunteers and made innumerable contacts by phone and email. Richard says "without Peter the project just wouldn't have happened."

Peter says that the high point for him so far has been the completion and opening of the paths for wheelchairs (a task very dear to his heart) for which he personally delivered invitations to more than 40 organisations. 250 people (including children from five schools) saw the paths opened in September 2005. Since then the Deputy Chairman's diary has continued to be dominated by his work for the Trust. Recently a site meeting at eight am by Major´s Lake took place in pouring rain because Peter refused to have it postponed!

So as you walk around the new paths, think of the man who, on the first planting session in 2004 lined up the donors of 50 trees with 50 plaques and 50 planting holes, arranged experts to help, and made sure that there was absolutely no muddle. In 2005 a similar operation involved 90 trees over a much larger area! Planned like military operations, both days went smoothly. The Deputy Chairman's organisational flair, and that buoyancy which overrides endless opposition from all directions, have been invaluable assets to the Bearsted Woodland Trust.