Hundreds of outdoor centres across the UK have been closed since the first COVID lockdown in March 2020, with many of them now at risk of permanent closure. And at a time when outdoor education and connection to nature is more important than ever for young people, the need to get centres back open and fully operational is vital for so many reasons.
From 29th March, when schools close again for the Easter holidays, out-of-school childcare providers will be allowed to cater for children and outdoor team sports are pencilled in to return. But there’s still no confirmation of when outdoor education centres will be allowed to welcome back groups.
We spoke to Tim Foster, Head of Group North Region for Field Studies Council, to get his take on the current situation. With the future of outdoor centres, the livelihoods of their staff and the educational needs of hundreds of thousands of thousands of young people hanging in the balance, he’s calling for clarity from the government on the next steps.
“There still isn’t a clear date on when we can start to deliver outdoor learning, either as day visits or as residentials,” he told Trail magazine.
“The visits ban remains in place and there isn’t currently a single line in the government roadmap that we can point to that refers specifically to our situation. We can make a case to deliver what we do by comparing our activities with what is allowed under the roadmap and by using guidance for education, hospitality etc, but that isn’t quite the same thing.
We should be part of the solution for young people not a financial casualty of Covid-19.
“The ban is looking increasingly at odds with the rest of government messaging: that education is the top priority. If so, then why do nightclubs have an indicative date when outdoor learning does not?”
The Field Studies Council is an environmental educational charity, and two of its 20 centres (Blencathra and Castle Head) are based in Cumbria. They rely on fee-paying groups for their core business and although the furlough scheme has been helpful, they’ve been forced to take out a large loan to continue operating.
The Blencathra Centre, a large residential based near Keswick in the Lake District, has been forced to adapt over the past 12 months by providing single day courses, digital online learning, using centres and self-catering cottages for holidays with booking.com, and by using the time for productively for staff training. But they’re desperate to start welcoming groups again.
“The week commencing 15th March is a key decision date for the outdoor sector,” said Tim. “We’re hoping the government will lift the ban preventing schools, colleges and universities returning to our centres.
“In Cumbria we have the largest concentration of outdoor centres in Europe, and we’re a key part of the economy. Local MPs Neil Hudson and Tim Farron have been very supportive and their work alongside campaigning by individuals and sector representatives now needs turning into action.
“We should be part of the solution for young people not a financial casualty of Covid-19.”
For more information on the work Field Studies Council does for young people, visit field-studies-council.org.