‘Don’t sell the crown jewels’ - Fears over Norfolk outdoor education centres
PUBLISHED: 09:29 27 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:05 28 July 2020
Archant Norfolk 2015
Calls have been made to safeguard the future of Holt Hall, as a council review into its future resumes.
The outdoor education centre has hosted thousands of children for activity days over the past 70 years, but Norfolk County Council is now thinking about selling the north Norfolk site, as well as Whitlingham Adventure near Norwich.
The Conservative-led council is considering the sale Holt Hall, and having a third party operate Whitlingham, although it could still continue to come under the Whitlingham Charitable Trust.
But supporters of the hall, including former its head Christine Marshall, said now was the worst possible time to let it be sold off.
Mrs Marshall said: “Sadly I fear it will be sold purely because NCC is strapped for cash and it is low hanging fruit.
“But young people and their teachers must have their opinions heard and every effort must be made to see if there is another way for it to continue in its role with another provider if necessary, like the How Hill Trust.”
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Sarah Bütikofer, county councillor for Holt and North Norfolk District Council leader, added: “The pandemic has made us realise the importance of outdoor spaces on our wellness and health. We need to see if there’s a way to save the facility before any decisions are rushed into - council assets are the crown jewels - once you’ve sold them off you can’t get them back.”
John Fisher, NCC’s cabinet member for Children’s Services, said Holt Hall and Whitlingham Adventure had been closed since March, when the country went into lockdown, which had made their financial situation even worse.
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Mr Fisher said: “Both centres were running at a loss and the buildings required significant maintenance. The financial situation is now even more challenging because Covid-19 has created a bigger funding gap for the council and the centres have been unable to operate or make any money.
“It is also unclear when schools will be able or confident to carry out residential trips.
“Our review had been paused while we dealt with the emergency but will now continue.
“We are therefore asking schools for their views on how outdoor learning should look in the future.”
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said he was disappointed that the Hall’s future was under review. But Mr Baker said that even if the site were sold, it could continue to serve the community.
He said: “We’ve seen How Hill run brilliantly under a trust, that’s been a great success story. If the county council don’t have the financial clout to run it, it could still be run independently as a great service, and if it could be restored to its former glory that would be great.”
Councillor Mike Smith-Clare, Labour’s spokesman for children and young people on the county council, said: “Yet again this shambolic Tory-led council ignore the needs of Norfolk’s children and young people. Holt Hall is a valuable learning resource providing life affirming opportunities. More false economies and more contempt and more disregard.”
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