Outdoor centre sees income drop from £1m to £1,000 amid school trip ban
A lack of school trips due to coronavirus has left outdoor education centres in Norfolk fearing for the future amid a financial crisis.
Small centres that normally provide outdoor adventures for thousands of school children have been forced to make staff redundant amid a crisis that could be the “death knell” for many if they do not receive extra support.
Mark Holroyd, operations manager at residential school trips provider Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre, said: “It has been devastating and a lot of centres are very near to closing down.
“Our turnover is generally about £1m but since March we’ve taken £1,000. Whatever the worst case scenario was at the start of the year, it wasn’t that.
“We are very lucky that the furlough came in, and without it redundancies would have been higher, but there is the impression that it is paying for everything and it is not. It’s still costing us about £7,000 a month to keep the business running.”
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The Department for Education says since the start of term, schools have been able to run one-day trips but it is still advising them not to run residential trips due to concerns around coronavirus.
A national Save Outdoor Education campaign has been launched pushing for financial support for the sector.
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A review of the guidance to schools on overnight visits is currently being undertaken, with education secretary Gavin Williamson due to give MPs an update next week.
To adapt to the government guidelines and survive, another Norfolk outdoor education and adventure centre, Kingswood West Runton, which provides schools and groups with residential camps, has said it will be running one day trips next year.
It means that children will have outdoor activities such as zip wires, climbing and abseiling and learning new skills such as bushcraft condensed into a single day.
General manager Carol Bone said: “It’s been a challenging year and while we haven’t been able to operate as usual due to the pandemic, we want to ensure locals as well as the schools and groups who have been coming to us for years that we’re not going anywhere and we’re here to continue delivering outdoor educational programmes.”
MORE: Petition to save Holt Hall from closure passes 4,000 signaturesSmaller outdoor centres face a grim winter and hope school bookings will return before next Easter.
Mr Holroyd, who is also Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres regional representative, said: “Because of the uncertainty all our bookings up to March 2021 have been cancelled.
“From March onwards it is great, schools are very keen to come back when they can. But we need the government to give us a pathway to survive through the winter because if we lose another six months it will be the death knell for most outdoor centres.”
It comes as Norfolk County Council has said it can no longer afford to run outdoor learning services at Holt Hall and plans to close the historic centre. The decision has led to an outcry, with a petition to save it attracting thousands of signatures.
Mr Holroyd said: “If we lose outdoor centres they won’t just come back again. Many are in beautiful areas in lovely buildings and would be easily converted to self-catering or residential properties.
“The loss to children would be incalculable. We get children who have never seen the sea and we give them a chance to see a different way of life and different scenery other than flats in the city centre.”
Andy Robinson, chief executive of the Institute for Outdoor Learning, said: “If we lose the skilled people and we lose the centres it will take years not just a few months to rebuild.
“We’re not just talking about 2020 and 2021 being lost in terms of school opportunities, we’re talking about years ahead.
“It provides some fantastic opportunities for the young people but also it provides important levels of economic benefit to the local communities.”