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What next for Outdoor Education?

I can still remember the full body tremble from being dragged up Presidents Progress at Brimham. I can still remember the shock of the cold water in Howstean Gorge. I can still remember, the complete darkness in Tom Taylor’s cavern. I can still remember the thrill of the abseil and jumping as far as I could. I can still remember the dorms, the songs, the instructors, the friends made and the weather was utterly irrelevant. Thank you Bewerely Park Outdoor Education Centre – you helped to make me who I am today . And I've still got the badge.

I am not the only one who can remember the details of my first outdoor education residential and mine was in 1974. So many of us have these memories and when we mention we work in the outdoors, people will share theirs too. Clearly outdoor education, the adventure alternative, makes a big impression on people. It helps them learn about themselves, the way they react under pressure, how they deal with challenges. It can show their role within a group it really can make people’s lives.

So why are we closing down outdoor education centres?

We know people need to be more active, to move more, to be outside more, to eat less ultra-processed food, these things are known. We know employers look for teamworking, problem solving, resilience, caring and sharing. How do we enable these things? Outdoor education is a vital part of this.

Yet, on the news this morning is a further £250 million to help Doctor’s Surgeries. No one is against health spending, but there has to be a limit, surely? How much is going into prevention and (outdoor) education?

The £250m funding for GPs is part of the extra £5bn Covid fund announced last month to help the NHS through to the end of the year, and comes on top of the £12bn set aside for GP services this year”. BBC news 14.10.21

Here, within a few miles of my house, in Snowdonia are five closed (or ‘mothballed’) Outdoor Education Centres. Each one is a special place. Special to many, many people, they were staffed by brilliant, committed people they were visited by thousands of young people. The buildings have been adapted to suit their primary purpose and will not be easy or cheap to convert to other uses. They sit empty, idle, deserted, abandoned. They are watched over by neighbours, they are mourned by a sector. I believe the Government has the money, to change this, but not the will.

Each Centre has lobbied hard, has worked to break even, has political clout in its home county, but each one now sits empty. It seems like a battle lost.

I guess Outdoor Education has to regroup, join together for a common purpose, present a united front and work hard, very hard, to demonstrate how we are part of the answer, not the problem. We have leaders, we have dedicated and committed people, but somehow, we seem to need more, I wish I knew what.

Take a look at these pictures and weep. I cannot believe this has happened, it needs to stop now. What can we do?

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It would be great if there was some way for Zipworld to contribute financially towards genuine adventure. It seems the whole world is willing to pay a small fortune to slide down a wire, yet the population begrudges the few pence per person that our precious outdoor centres would cost to keep going. It seems that we would rather pay for trivial entertainment than for genuinely life-enhancing educational experiences.

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well, it's a start, I guess. But its hard to see the connection with rugby etc for a company that claims to specialise in adventure activities.

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