School trip centre Bewerley Park to remain shut ahead of review into North Yorkshire outdoor learning sites
The much-loved Bewerley Park Centre in Nidderdale is to remain closed ahead of review into the future of the outdoor learning site which council officials say has become unviable due to the pandemic.
North Yorkshire County Council's executive has today voted to keep the site shut along with the East Barnby Outdoor Education Centre near Whitby.
Bewerley Park Centre has seen generations of schoolchildren take part in trips filled with activities since 1940 but along with the Whitby site is forecast to lose £1.6m this financial year as Covid has forced the cancellation of trips.
The centres have been shut since last March and members of the public are concerned that they could be closed indefinitely with a petition to protect the sites gathering more than 16,000 signatures.
However, council officials have insisted "nothing is off the table" as part of their review to be launched later this year.
Speaking at today's meeting, one objector Dave Skinner said the centres were needed "now more than ever" to help children recover from the mental health toll of the pandemic.
"I am one of the hundreds of thousands of young people who have become a better person since their first involvement with North Yorkshire County Council's outdoor learning service," he said.
"There will come a time when the pandemic is over and we will be dealing with the Covid generation - a group of young people who have been inside for months, forgotten what adventure is, become less curious with the outside world and have been taught that the way of dealing with problems is to shut our doors, stay inside and protect lives.
"This is when the outdoor learning service will be a crucial part of our recovery."
Erica Caswell, who previously worked at Bewerley Park Centre for 31 years, also said: "North Yorkshire County Council has a long history of recognising the value of high-quality outdoor education. It would be a terrible loss to young people if this is no longer the case.
"If the council genuinely wants to support the provision of outdoor learning for North Yorkshire children they need to keep the centres open."
A report to today's meeting said while many schools had indicated they hoped to visit the centres later this year, current Covid rules would prevent this from happening.
The council's Outdoor Learning Service is discretionary and funds its £2.2m annual cost largely through income from residential visits.
However, with annual staff costs of £1.5m, council officials have warned it could lose £1.6m unless immediate action is taken to close the centres and cut its 42 staff, some of whom could be redeployed into other council roles.
Councillor Patrick Mulligan, the council's executive member for education and skills, told today's meeting: "There is a misperception that we are looking to close these outdoor education centres.
"Please be assured that we are discussing this item today because the council is committed to trying to preserve the future of outdoor education.
"We recognise the value of outdoor education on young people's social and emotional health. It is with this in mind that we intend to undertake the review of the outdoor learning service so that a solution for the future of outdoor education in North Yorkshire is understood and can be part of a long term recovery from the pandemic."
Councillors voted unanimously to keep both centres closed and launch the review. They also agreed that a consultation is held with staff over any potential job losses.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter