t’s 15 months since I asked the question, what next for Outdoor Education? Since then three of the Centres featured and photographed remain empty – no change. Two are ‘moth-balled’ and Marl Hall has now been sold on and will no longer be an Outdoor Centre.
The story at The Towers, however, is a very different one. The Towers has been bought by Active Learning Centres (ALC). ALC is a commercial organisation and it’s part of a larger education conglomerate. This is a sentence that might have filled Outdoor Educationalists with dread some time ago. ALC have, however, put their money on the line. They have made a 7 figure investment in the property and it’s looking good. They have a sales team that can fill the place and they can work out the basic sums of expenditure and income to know when the investment will be returned and start to make a profit. This is business.
But, what of the Outdoor Education? We have never been brought up to think that it can be a profitable business. The costs are high for equipment, accommodation and qualified staff. Many, many, Centres have been run inefficiently and seemed to be closed or empty as much as they were open. Several did buck the trend and one of these, slightly bizarrely, was Marl Hall!
So will The Towers be anything like it was before? In some ways it will be. I recently interviewed the new Head of Centre – Philip Sykes-Dale. Phil was straight as a dye; this will be a traditional Outdoor Education Centre. The team will use the amazing natural environment around their base in Capel Curig to introduce young people to the Outdoors, activities will predominantly be ‘off-site’. They will climb mountains, ford streams and create dreams. They will work as teams, build resilience and open young eyes to special environments. Phil is thinking big, he’s been appointed by ALC to run a good Outdoor Centre, to balance the books and develop young people. Just like he did when Head at Marle Hall. Phil is putting together an outstanding team of young instructors and I wish them the very best. There will be, moving forward, different ways of making residential Outdoor Education happen. We have some very busy ‘not for profit’ Centres here now. The Arête Centre has shown the way for others. We still have some lovely Council supported Centres too, but the private sector will play a big role from now on.
The Towers has been refurbished, had new roofing, had an extension, a new patio, modern fencing, opening French style doors and walls knocked through to create better spaces. They’ve even got inspirational Nick Livesey photographs on the walls. The developments have created a very workable Centre with efficient flows through the building. I saw brand new kit, new canoes anda much tidier site and I felt a great optimism.
You can hear more from Phil on the Outdoor Lives Podcast which will be released on January 20th 2023.