Outdoor centre's legal fight for right to reopen

Children learning about fossils on West Runton beach during a school trip.

Children learning about fossils on West Runton beach during a school trip. - Credit: Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre

A family run Norfolk outdoor education centre is seeking a judicial review over the government’s failure to include the industry in its Covid-19 exit roadmap.

Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre said the government had forgotten the industry, repeatedly failing to set an opening date for outdoor educational visits, despite previous assurances. 

The centre, near Cromer, has seen its annual turnover collapse from £1m to £1,000 during 2020 but was able to survive and retain 23 staff, all of whom are furloughed.

Owner Sara Holroyd said the poorest children would be hit the hardest as more small centres like Aylmerton would join the 40pc already forced out of business since March last year. 

School children walking on West Runton beach during a residential stay at Aylmerton Outdoor Educatio

School children walking on West Runton beach during a residential stay at Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre. Picture: Mark Bullimore

The centre, which has been in business for 32 years, is seeking a judicial review of the failure by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, to set a date for when centres can welcome back residential groups of primary-age children.

She said: “Residential centres like ours that can operate using school bubbles should be able to open for residential trips at the same time as hotels and hostels from May 17 and for day visits from March 29 in line with government guidance on out of school settings and holiday clubs - we have just been forgotten. 

Mark Holroyd, operations manager at Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre

Mark Holroyd, operations manager at Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre. - Credit: Mark Holroyd


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“At the moment, schools aren’t permitted to organise residential trips and we are very concerned that there is no current plan to permit such trips to take place - we fully understand the need to open safely but we need clarity on when this will end.”

The industry has previously attempted to draw attention to its plight, with the Save Outdoor Education campaign launched last year which was backed by North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker.

Duncan Baker MP on Cromer beach with (L-R) Carlie Mace and Mark Wrighton (Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre senior...

Duncan Baker MP on Cromer beach with (L-R) Carlie Mace and Mark Wrighton (Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre senior instructors) and Mark Holroyd (operations manager). - Credit: Mark Holroyd

Mrs Holroyd said the centre being closed meant “a whole cohort of disadvantaged children have already lost their opportunity forever”.

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Kate Kendal, vice principal at Peckover Primary School in Wisbech, which has accompanied children on trips to Aylmerton for 10 years, said: “I’m a firm believer of children not missing out because of their families’ situation or their postcodes - trips like these break down all the barriers life has dealt them and just allows them to be children.”

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