Saving Holt Hall - What do Norfolk headteachers say?
- Credit: MARK BULLIMORE
The closure of Holt Hall would be a blow to Norfolk's outdoor education offering, according to primary school headteachers.
Norfolk County Council is considering selling the site because it is making a loss and a report suggested it would be better for the council to be an 'enabler' of outdoor education rather than a provider.
But headteachers have expressed dismay at the prospect of the centre closing.
Rob Jones, headteacher of Wreningham CE VC Primary School, said the closure of Holt Hall would be a "significant miss" to future generations of children and he hoped council leaders would reconsider their views.
Mr Jones said he had led many trips to the centre and understood its educational value.
He said: "Children at Holt Hall enjoy a healthy diet and learn the importance of reducing waste; they must be independent, learn to collaborate and to develop their own self-awareness and confidence.
"This is not possible to replicate in the classroom."
Acle St Edmund C of E Primary School has used Holt Hall for many years.
Nicola Bruce, the school’s business manager, said: “We would like to continue to use it.
“We’re lucky here that we do have good school grounds where the children can spend time learning in an outdoor environment, but there are a lot of city schools where they don’t have that on a day-to-day basis.”
Mrs Bruce said the school had circulated a petition on change.org started by the Friends of Holt Hall with the aim of keeping the site open, which now has more than 5,500 signatures.
Mrs Bruce said the school’s residential visits to Holt Hall were often combined with a trip to the north Norfolk coast. “You don’t have to travel very far in Norfolk to find something different,” she said.
Nick Read, headteacher of Worstead Church of England Primary School, said that in this time of tight budgets he could understand why Holt Hall’s future was in doubt.
Mr Read said that although the school had not used Holt Hall extensively in the past, it would be a shame if the facility were to close.
He said: “The main consideration for small schools is price. Having council-run facilities nearby that you can access for low transport costs is valuable.
“As soon as it is possible we will be looking to get out to do a residential visit and Holt Hall or similar locations would have been what we would have looked at."
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Mr Read said outdoor education was becoming ever more important in light of the pandemic and the renewed focus on health and well-being.
He said: ”We get the children outdoors as much as we can and do visits to places like Bacton Woods and Sheringham Park.
“We want children to be able to experience the woodland and the magic of being outdoors in nature.”
Emma Hamilton-Smith, headteacher of Swanton Abbott Community Primary School, said that although they had not used Holt Hall recently, she had done “very successfully” when working at other Norfolk schools, for residential visits and as a venue for training and continuing professional development (CPD).
She said: “For us it’s almost too close - although we have done residentials and we have been to local places, we are trying to go further afield.
“[Holt Hall closing] would be a shame of course, but I can understand that in these tough times budgets are tight across the whole of the education centre, and that is always going to be an issue.”
Stacey Coleman, headteacher at Norwich's Heather Avenue Infant School, part of The Wensum Trust, said: "Our annual trip to Holt Hall was a really valuable experience for our children.
"For many, it was their first opportunity to attend a residential trip away from home and with their friends. The trips offered children the opportunity to experience so many new things for the first time, but in a safe and local environment."
"We always look forward to our visits to Holt Hall and would definitely continue to run them if it were to remain open."
County council cabinet members are due to debate Holt Hall at a meeting on Monday, December 7 before voting whether or not to discontinue its outdoor education offering there.
The council says that only 6.8pc of residential outdoor learning visits in 2019 were run at Holt Hall, involving just 40 Norfolk schools. Thirteen Norfolk schools made a total of 22 day-trips to the hall in that year.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said Holt Hall had a £270,000 deficit from the last three years and required £600,000 of maintenance over the next decade.