Growing calls for residential educational centres to be given extra funding

A petition by campaigners calling for residential educational centres to be given £10m from the Welsh Government has passed 1,000 signatures.

Campaigners say that these centres have been unable to open in any meaningful way since March 2020, when the UK went into lockdown due to coronavirus.

When the rest of the country unlocked in the Summer, the UK Government’s Department for Education issued advice that schools should not carry out overnight stays. This has meant residential educational centres have been unable to host parties of schoolchildren for close to a year.

Sara Jones runs the family-owned Rhos y Gwaliau Outdoor Education Centre in North Wales, which usually hosts schoolchildren from all over the country, including from southern cities. She created the petition and now campaigns with #SaveOutdoorEd, a national campaign.

“We feel effectively we have been closed since March 2020 – 98% of income lost says it all really,” she said.

“So, sadly, we are seeing one or two centres close permanently almost every week and this provision won’t be replaced.”

Sara argued it is not only businesses that will be harmed if further funding does not come soon, but also the children themselves, who will not be able to experience trips away from home for the first time.

Paul Morton, the Principal of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff, described residential educational centres as “really crucial”.

He said: “We normally take the children two or three times a year, the reason being that the children develop really incredible independent learning, as well as teamwork and developing their confidence and experience of being outdoors. And the wellbeing [boost] that they get from being at these centres is incredible.”

Although not all residential outdoor centres are in financial difficulties, many of them support the petition regardless.

Andy Meek is head of the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre in Brecon, which serves many of Cardiff’s schools, and said although the centre has received adequate funding from the council, he still supports the campaign.

He believes it is vital for children from cities to experience the countryside, saying: “If schools are open, outside centres should be open, because they fit hand-in-hand with education. We need to support [learning centres.]”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government told CJS News that their package of financial support for businesses “is the most generous in the UK” and that “firms in the Outdoor Activities Sector have been eligible for support from our Economic Resilience Fund.”

The petition closes on Tuesday 23rd February 2021 and will be discussed by the Senedd Petitions Committee.