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Future of much-loved outdoor centres thrown into doubt

PUBLISHED: 06:30 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:55 13 March 2020

An activity day at Holt Hall. Norfolk County Council is reviewing its services.  Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

An activity day at Holt Hall. Norfolk County Council is reviewing its services. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

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The future of two much-loved outdoor education centres has been thrown into doubt.

Sailing at Whitlingham. Picture: Peter GibsonSailing at Whitlingham. Picture: Peter Gibson

Norfolk County Council is reviewing its role in Whitlingham Adventure and Holt Hall, which, it says, are both running at a loss and putting a strain on other services.

The move has been slammed by an opposition councillor, who called it 'absurd'.

It is understood the Conservative-led council is considering selling Holt Hall to a third party to continue as an outdoor learning centre - or be used for something else.

Whitlingham Adventure could continue to come under the Whitlingham Charitable Trust, but be operated by a third party.

Children taking part in an activity day at Holt Hall environmental and outdoor learning centre.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYChildren taking part in an activity day at Holt Hall environmental and outdoor learning centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Councillor John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'We are asking staff, schools and key partners for their thoughts and ideas about the future and about what the council's role should be.

'Currently we provide services at Holt Hall and Whitlingham Adventure but both are running at a loss and both buildings require significant maintenance, which is impacting on other vital council services.'

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Councillor Mike Smith-Clare, the opposition Labour group's spokesperson for people and communities and lead for children and young people, condemned the move.

Students taking part in an activity day at Whitlingham Adventure outdoor education centre. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYStudents taking part in an activity day at Whitlingham Adventure outdoor education centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

He said: 'We've seen the closure of our children's centres and now the proposed disposal of two of Norfolk's educational gems. It's truly absurd.

'This is part of a worrying pattern in which our learning landscape is being transformed into a wilderness.

'We appear to be moving to a bizarre new model of delivery where children could soon be abseiling down library walls beside baby weigh ins and job searches.'

Whitlingham Adventure, which offers activities including canoeing, sailing, climbing and archery, was founded in 2005.

Generations of Norfolk children will have memories of activity days at Holt Hall, which is marking its 70th anniversary this year.

Both venues are used annually by thousands of school and colleague students, community groups and others.

Mr Fisher said the findings of a review into its outdoor learning offering would be presented to the cabinet in summer.

He added: 'Part of our review is looking at how we might expand our current advisory role, developing a new leadership role that would work with schools and providers to build on best practice and make Norfolk a national leader in outdoor learning.'


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