Outdoor recreation centres face fight for survival

Fordell firs

Politicians and voluntary groups have called for emergency funding to ensure outdoor centres survive through Covid-19 #NeverMoreNeeded

9th July 2020 by Gareth Jones 2 Comments

Outdoor recreation centres face a battle for survival, politicians have stressed.

Centres across Scotland allow school pupils and other youngsters to experience outdoor education. However they have had to shut their doors as a result of Covid-19 and may well have to close permanently without government support.

The voluntary sector delivers the majority (70%) of outdoor residential experiences in Scotland.  Outdoor centres have been closed since the end of March and face six to nine months with no income.  Schools are starting to postpone residential trips for the next year, which means many outdoor centres are likely to be unable to reopen their doors.

Outdoor learning has been found to be beneficial for mental health, resilience, wellbeing and also helps with the poverty related attainment gap. As young people struggle through lockdown it is envisaged that outdoor learning will become more important than ever.

Daniel Johnson MSP, Alison Johnstone MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP and Brian Whittle MSP have come together to support the following statement:

“The evidence shows that outdoor education can help to close the attainment gap and is extremely important for mental health and wellbeing. Given that the evidence shows that the outdoors is safer than indoors in terms of transmission of the virus, we call on funding to be made available to the outdoor residential education sector to ensure its survival so that Scotland's young people can continue to benefit from residential experiences when it is safe to do so.”

The statement has also been supported and welcomed by the following organisations: Scouts Scotland, The Outward Bound Trust, Venture Scotland, The Aberneathy Trust, Girlguiding Scotland, Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre, Scottish Outdoor Education Centres and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

Whilst some government (UK and Scottish) funding has been accessed, campaigners have said it in no way meets the costs third sector organisations are bearing. Organisations in the sector say they have been told that there will be no financial package from the Scottish Government for the sector. And while there are loans available through Social Investment Scotland, with little or no income for outdoor centres for the next few months a loan is not considered a viable option.

Martin Davidson, director Scotland and innovation, The Outward Bound Trust said: “The third sector deliver the majority of residential experiences in Scotland, these experiences support Curriculum for Excellence and wider Scottish Government learning and development objectives for children and young people. But perhaps more importantly learning outdoors is extremely beneficial for mental health and wellbeing, which we know many young people are struggling with right now. The reality is that without funding, many outdoor centres will close and will not be there when young people need them”

Organisations have also highlighted how they could work with education departments across Scotland to help delivery quality outdoor learning and to help upskill teachers but that the capacity to do this will be reduced as the charities have to start imposing cuts within their own organisations.

Katie Docherty, chief executive, Scouts Scotland, said: “We have had lots of positive conversations with local authorities about the ways we could help support the education recovery by delivering outdoor learning at schools, centres or local campsites. However, we are being told that many simply do not have the budget to deliver this, and as a charity we have already had to start consulting with our own staff about a restructure. We want to be a part of the recovery for young people but without funding our capacity to do this will be reduced as that restructure moves forward.”

Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said: “Learning about and in the outdoors is vital but without urgent action from the Scottish Government, we are facing a loss of centres and organisations that will be hugely damaging for young people in Scotland. Worse still is the missed opportunity given the ability of this sector to help the return to full time educations that these organisations could deliver.

"The bottom line is that this failure of the Scottish Government to act will see a permanent loss for young people to experience and learn about the outdoors that will have a lasting consequence."

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrats MSP for Edinburgh Western, said: “The generation of young people who have been through lockdown will need youth work and outdoor education more than any before. Youth work is the silver bullet, it can deal with trauma and mental ill health whilst building self-esteem and life skills. It is a vital tool to closing the educational attainment gap. To lose the opportunity that our youthwork organisations provide and the centres they use, would be devastating for this generation of young people and all those that follow them.”

Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Green MSP for the Lothians, said:  “As a life member of the Lagganlia Centre I’m in no doubt about how much we all benefit from and learn from being outdoors.  Scotland’s outdoors are rightly world-renowned and we need to ensure that an appreciation and understanding of our great outdoors is embedded in the curriculum. The life skills and resilience we develop when we’re out of doors is difficult to replicate and an investment in the future of our young people.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Outdoor learning is important in the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence and it can improve the physical and mental wellbeing of children and increase learner engagement. We understand the impact the pandemic is having on outdoor centres and we are working with them to ensure visitors can return as soon as it is safe to do so. As part of this, we are developing guidance for schools on visits and facilitating discussions between centres and councils to offer support.

“A number of education centres have accessed our £25m Third Sector Resilience Fund, and the 0% interest loans offered by Social Investment Scotland have also provided support. We would encourage eligible centres to access support through the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme and are clear that these schemes must continue for businesses for as long as the public health advice says that they should remain closed.”

9th July 2020 by Tricia Rawlingson Plant.

How I wish the Westminster government would think the same way. Outdoor centres in England are in the same situation & many will not survive unless there is help

14th July 2020 by Mark

Please don't let this happen this happened a few years ago in northern Ireland the worst thing they could have done crime is up drugs up anti social behavior. Now with mental health at an all time high. I really think people making these life changing decisions have never lived in a social deprived area they are so far removed from reality.