Winner of Center Parcs UK’s Top Treehouse Competition revealed

Image of forest floor and tree trunks

06 September 2016

Winner of Center Parcs UK’s Top Treehouse Competition revealed

‘The Faraway Treehouse’ in Norwich has gained the coveted title of the UK’s Top Treehouse, as judge and adventurer Steve Backshall has revealed the winner found as part of Center Parcs’ nationwide search.

Launched to celebrate the arrival of four new treehouses at Center Parcs Elveden Forest, the contest saw fierce competition from entries across the UK. Coming out on top was ‘The Faraway Treehouse’, which won the hearts of the judging panel.

The winning treehouse was built by the Jennings family from Norwich, as a joint project between dad Matthew and his six-year-old daughter Ruby, with mum Becki acting as assistant.

The winning design was dreamt up when Ruby thought she saw a fairy at the bottom of the garden after reading the fantastical Enid Blyton series ‘The Faraway Tree’ with her parents at bedtime. She became so captivated by the tale her dad Matthew, an Architectural Technologist, began to collect recycled wood from the local area to create Ruby’s very own magical treehouse. What followed was two months of busy weekends where Ruby – complete with her own hard hat and tools – and her father worked to build the treehouse that had only previously existed in Ruby’s imagination.

Family standing next to a treehouse they have built in their garden

A shortlist of 10 was revealed earlier this summer, including treetop creations complete with double-length slides and climbing frames as well as family-made structures that had been passed down through multiple generations. However the judging panel, comprised of Backshall; CEO of Center Parcs, Martin Dalby; and Center Parcs’ ‘Chief Treehouse Builder’ Tom Courtney (from Cocksedge Building Contractors Limited), were blown away by the imagination behind ‘The Faraway Treehouse’, the teamwork involved and the ongoing commitment to improving and evolving the treehouse as a space that the entire family can enjoy.

One such example of this is on the morning Ruby turned five, she visited the treehouse as normal to find a new addition – a new little blue wooden door, steps and windows at the base of the tree, for her favourite character ‘Moonface’ to live in. Since then Ruby has played in her treehouse through all seasons and all weather, eating her meals in there, birdwatching and imagining her own adventures.

Matthew Jennings said: “We are so excited to have won the Center Parcs UK’s Top Treehouse title. Ruby and I spent almost every weekend for three months working tirelessly to build something that matched her creativity and we’re so proud of what we have made. Ruby is ecstatic that her treehouse has been chosen, and as a family we can’t wait to visit a Center Parcs Treehouse. Not only does ‘The Faraway Treehouse’ give us so much joy as a family, it just shows that a small budget and quality time spent together can really turn into something special. This is just the beginning, if I have my way we will keep adding to the garden for years to come.”

Steve Backshall said: “I’ve loved seeing all the entries flood in from around the country and it was really tough deciding on a winner as there was such an array of structures submitted. As a judge the number one thing I was looking for was a project that involved the whole family. With 'The Faraway Treehouse' you can see the input and creativity from the whole family, particularly Ruby who clearly has a passion for fairies. I think one of the coolest things about it is the little touches from fairy doors and windows, to a ship's bell to announce your arrival and the signs that invite you in – it’s simply a place that is meant to make your imagination run wild. It’s not just a building, this treehouse tells a tale and, in my opinion, any place that can do that is really very special.”

CEO of Center Parcs Martin Dalby said: "The quality of ‘The Faraway Treehouse’ was absolutely fantastic and it was great to see the Jennings family spending time together building and decorating it. The story behind this particular treehouse really tied into one of the key Center Parcs focuses - spending time as a family – and we were really taken by the story of the build and Ruby’s imagination. I do like to spend my spare time working with wood in my own workshop at home, so being asked to be a judge for this competition has been a real privilege. The quality of the treehouses entered has been absolutely fantastic and it's been great to see that families have spent time together building, decorating and enjoying them."

Tom Courtney, Center Parcs' Chief Treehouse Builder, added: “I was particularly impressed with the small touches in ‘The Faraway Treehouse’ – from the recycled wood materials, decorations, planting and other little touches such as the blue wooden door. A lot of love has gone into it and there is still time for Ruby to be her own treehouse builder as she now has the coveted UK Top Treehouse title!"

The hunt for the best family treehouse began as research revealed that over half (58%) of today's children would rather have a treehouse than the latest game console. Furthermore, two in five (42%) think that their parent building them a treehouse would top the list of the most 'epic' things they could do for them. 

The list went on to reveal that children are otherwise most impressed when their parent plays a game with them outside (35%), reads them a story (33%) or watches their favourite film or television programme with them (33%).

However, according to the research, just 1 in 10 children today have a house in the treetops, compared to a quarter of their parents who grew up with one - showing a 15% drop in just one generation.

Children are most drawn to the idea of having adventures in a treehouse, with over half (55%) citing it as the main reason for wanting one. Over a quarter (27%) think it would be the best place to imagine games, while two in five (43%) like the idea of having a space which is their own. A sturdy 38% liked the idea of a treehouse so they can spend longer outdoors, even if it's raining!

The enthusiasm children show for the idea means that over half of parents (54%) are most persuaded to build a treehouse by the fact their children want one and nearly one in five (18%) would consider it to encourage their children to go outside more.

Nostalgia is also a big prompt, with 8% of parents wanting a treehouse for their children in their adult years because they had one as a child. So much so, on average parents try to recreate five of their own childhood memories with their children.

However, the biggest reasons which are holding parents back from building one are not enough space (45%), lack of DIY skills (26%), lack of time (11%) and worrying that it would decrease the value of the property (4%).

Top tips

For families who have been inspired by the UK’s Top Treehouse entries and would like to have a go at creating their own, Steve Backshall has shared some top tips of key things to think about before starting out, no matter the size of the garden or budget:

  • Don’t worry too much about the height: Being just off the floor has as much of a magical feel as towering up high in the canopy, so don’t concern yourself too much with the height – it’s about creating something you can enjoy together.
  • Consider the tree (if you have one): If you’re lucky enough to have a number of big trees in your garden then pick one with a sturdy trunk and branches. If you’re opting for a lower treehouse, try to pick a tree or bush with low-hanging branches so you’re nestled in the leaves, creating the illusion of being up high.
  • Size and shape: Treehouses don’t have to be a set size or even look like a house – go crazy with the design.
  • Celebrate the natural environment: Create a décor that’s in line with the treetop adventures you want to have. The beauty of treehouses is their ability to encourage the imagination, so don’t worry about it being perfect.
  • Entry (and exit!) is key: One of the most entertaining parts of a treehouse is how you get in and out, and it’s also a fantastic opportunity to have some fun and think creatively.
  • It’s not just for the kids: Don’t forget about yourself in the design. Make sure it will be comfortable for you to get inside and play too. Also remember that kids will grow up, so make sure all ages can enjoy the space.
  • Consider what you’re overlooking: Don’t build a treehouse too close to a neighbour’s house, or with all the windows looking in to their garden.
  • Don’t forget your safety: Please consider safety throughout the design and construction phases – from a stable floor and durable access/exit to always having someone spotting you while you build.

The full collection of entries can be viewed on the Center Parcs UK Facebook page.

Notes to Editors

Research conducted in July 2016 by Mortar, polling 1,000 adults and 1,000 children aged between 5 and 12.

Top 10 'most epic' things a parent can do for their child

  1. Build a treehouse with them - 42%
  2. Build a den with them - 35%
  3. Play a game with them outside - 35%
  4. Read them a story - 33%
  5. Watch favourite film or TV programme together - 33%
  6. Go swimming together - 33%
  7. Play a computer game together - 28%
  8. Bake them a cake - 22%
  9. Teach them to climb a tree - 19%
  10. Know all the words to their favourite song so they can sing along - 14%

Top 10 finalists (in no particular order)

  • Alcorn family from West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire: Created by Ian with the help of children Lola (8) and William (4) and nephews Arlo (10 months) and Grayson (2).
  • Brown family from North Newington, Oxfordshire: A collaboration between father Nick, an F1 engineer, and his son William (9), with a little help from wife Jess.
  • Carroll family from Nottingham, Nottinghamshire: A construction project headed up by dad John and daughters Phoebe (5) and Daisy (4), with help from family friend James Mills.
  • Hall family from Tiptree, Essex: In 1995, Charlotte built her dream treehouse with the help of her grandfather Brian and cousin Jarod.
  • Hardman family from Thornham Magna, Suffolk: Completed within just four months by dad Ryan, a fencer, with the creative control of his two boys Charlie (8) and Teddy (4).
  • Izod family from Grantham, Lincolnshire: Built by dad Paul, a registered nurse, and his three children Jasmine (9), Reuben (6) and Caitlin (3).
  • Jennings family from Taverham, Norwich: A joint collaboration between daughter Ruby (6) and dad Matthew, taking inspiration from 'The Faraway Tree'.
  • Jones family from Ellesmere, Cheshire: Guided by grandfather Martin, Charlie (7) and Holly (3) spent weeks creating the perfect treehouse that they could spend hours playing in with their friends and family.
  • Moran family from Basildon, Essex: Built in May 2013 by dad Martin, alongside his wife Nicky and children Izzy and Jake, who were then aged 10 and 6.