Keeping communities warm

CLA members in Northumberland have been crucial in supporting an initiative to alleviate fuel poverty in the area. Henk Geertsema speaks to Northumberland Log Bank founder Kate Thick
Northumberland Log Bank

Rural Northumberland is one of the country’s most deprived areas, with more than a quarter of residents facing fuel poverty – something exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.

This winter, the Northumberland Log Bank (NLB) is offering support for up to 400 vulnerable rural households that suffer from fuel poverty. Launched in 2019, the NLB has doubled its delivery of seasoned wood fuel year on year. Originally from Hertfordshire, Kate Thick moved to Northumberland in 2006 and fell in love with the surrounding countryside. In addition to being an acupuncturist and physiotherapist, Kate is a social affairs journalist and drystone waller, which inspired the log bank idea.

“I had written an article on food banks, so was aware of associated issues such as fuel poverty,” she explains. “When out in the wilds building drystone walls, I noticed lots of wood lying around, so came up with the idea of a log bank. My mind see-sawed between ‘brilliant idea’ and ‘daft idea’, but I sought some advice from my brother and a wood management cooperative called Axewood. I started the initiative without a plan to keep it as simple as possible.”

Kate identified a farm with a spare polytunnel and sourced wood from the Ford and Etal Estates, launching the first log bank near Wooler. There are now three log banks delivering across much of rural Northumberland, with the other two at Haydon Bridge and Capheaton.

CLA involvement

Much of the timber is donated free of charge by local farmers and estates owners, many of whom are CLA members; Northumberland Estates, Ford and Etal, Wallington and Capheaton Estates have all generously contributed. Many trustees are also CLA members, including chair Kitty Anderson and treasurer Charlie Bennett.

Kate, who lives at Capheaton, says: “Estate owner Willy Browne-Swinburne has been very kind in letting us collect wood from the estate and also by allowing me to store wood here when there was a crisis. We also have a store of unprocessed wood at Kirkharle estate. Local estates and farms have been amazing and generous in supporting the log banks.”


Each of the three main storage sites has a team of volunteers who meet at each site on specific days to cut logs and coordinate the delivery of seasoned wood to vulnerable households. Recipients are identified by a range of agencies including social services, Community Action Northumberland, food banks and parish councils. Such households are typically suffering from financial hardship, chronic ill-health, disability or isolation, and residents with the greatest need are prioritised.

Reflecting on her diverse team of more than 20 volunteers, Kate says: “Our team are fantastic but it requires coordination with due regard for their individual skills and availability. In addition to our volunteers, the local fire brigade and army’s support has been incredible. They also do home safety checks.

“Training volunteers in handling chainsaws, logsplitters and axes is essential from a health and safety and insurance perspective. As I am the main coordinator, I also have to be the main supervisor.”

The biggest challenge for the NLB is sourcing enough seasoned wood to fulfil demand. When Storm Arwen caused havoc across the area in 2021, it received many immediate requests from residents who had suffered power cuts. Incidentally, the log bank also benefited from lots of felled wood, albeit unseasoned, via coverage in regional media, as well as Radio 4.

“This unexpected boost enabled us to meet growing demand over this winter,” says Kate. “Keeping our log depots stocked is a continuous challenge, and we will continue to call for landowners who have excess wood to donate. We are always thinking about the future.”

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Future plans

Kate is not planning to expand the log bank for fear of it becoming too big to be effective. She wants to focus her energies on fine-tuning operational aspects to make it more efficient and encourage other communities to establish their own log banks. The initiative currently has ‘non-registered charity’ status, limiting its fundraising to £5,000 per year. Kate and the trustees are planning to establish it as a Community Interest Company, which would enable it to fundraise without limits.

“At some stage it would benefit us to appoint someone to help coordinate our operations and also to purchase a vehicle - there is always room for improvement,” she adds. “I would also like to continue advising other individuals or groups who would like to start their own log banks, and have already spoken to interested parties in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire. I would like to be a proponent of fuel poverty issues while championing the role of landowners and community groups in resolving it.”

Reflecting on Kate’s initiative, Middleton North Estate’s Charlie Bennett says: “Kate is a force of nature, and has literally sparked a virtuous revolution with the launch of her log bank concept."

Estates and farms in Northumberland are always willing to help those in need, and it is highly rewarding to help those in our rural communities suffering from fuel poverty

Charlie Bennett

"It is a pleasure and humbling experience to work with Kate.”

To find out more about establishing your own local log bank or to donate wood in Northumberland, contact Kate Thick by texting 07900 963234 or emailing