Save Our Outdoor Centres

Save Our Outdoor Centres

Our new blog post Save Our Outdoor Centres explores concerns about ongoing government policy which means outdoor centres across the UK must remain closed to residential visits. This affects the centres and their staff, children and potentially our future environment. Please take the time to have a read.

The importance of connecting to the environment

You may or may not be familiar with our Pick & Play events.  We are really proud of these popular events which combine litter collection with outdoor activities.  Their popularity has grown over the years and we are delighted that so many people are happy to give up their precious time to protect our special Peak District National Park.

The events have always had two clear aims.  One, of course, is to help clear the national park of litter.  The second, and this is at least equally important, is to educate the participants and the wider community about the litter problem and how we can all make a difference.  

We are firm believers that interacting with the natural environment is key for all humans.  It is essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing, but also to our motivation to protect it. How can we be expected to look after something remote to us?  

And, with that said, surely it is essential to target the younger generation.  That’s why we love seeing all the family groups that attend the Pick & Play.  Every young participant is potentially another person who will have a strong urge to protect their home planet?

This is also important given the clear shift many children are making to more home based activity.  Lots of studies have highlighted how much more time children are spending inside and we discussed this in our previous post Raising Outdoor Children.

The COVID-19 impact

COVID-19 has turned so many aspects of our lives on end.  It is affecting everything and it is affecting young people.  The just published Natural England People and Nature Survey makes sobering reading.  The survey aimed to understand the perspective of young people relating to nature during Covid-19. 1501 children in England aged between 8-15 were questioned.

The survey demonstrates the positive role of nature in supporting children’s well-being, with eight in ten (83%) of children interviewed agreeing that being in nature made them very happy.  However, since the lockdown, 81% of children stated that they had spent less time outside with friends. Seventy per cent of children said that, when things start to get back to normal, they want to spend more time outdoors with friends. 44% reported wanting more time outdoors at school.

Children’s concerns about the natural environment were also clearly expressed.  Eight in ten (82%) respondents agreed that they would like to do more to protect the environment. 78% said protecting the environment was important to them.

So many of us have benefitted from outdoor education

My own love for the outdoors was formed through a connection with nature and that came from outdoor education. I charted my journey in my article Full Circle.   My involvement with the scouts and visits to outdoor centres in my early years forged a love of the natural environment and a passion for outdoor adventures.  It has been my lifeblood ever since.

I’m certainly not unique. Outdoor education has played an essential role in so many young people’s lives and we are lucky to have so many great facilities in the UK.  Professional and safe centres where young people can dip their toes into the personal challenge and enlightening opportunities the outdoors can offer.  

These services are critical for young people and, by connection, critical for the uncertain future of our planet.  The future is not rosy.  Since the start of lockdown outdoor centres have been closed to residential groups and, at the current time, they remain shut.  

Managing risk

I’m no epidemiologist, but from all I can see this government decision is mindless.  Children can spend the day at school with their friends and yet it is deemed unsafe for them to experience a residential visit.  Is the virus more dangerous at night or can the situation not be managed safely when children are away from home? Children can eat in restaurants and even head off on family holidays. Why can’t we send our young people to enjoy some life enhancing adventure?

The other consideration is how government messaging influences the opinions of parents and schools. If there are strong reasons why it isn’t safe then please explain them. Otherwise, confidence is eroded and even if the government change policy there will be reluctance to send children for a long period to come.

Outdoor centres are experts at risk management.  It is what they do day in and day out.  They are perfectly capable of managing their environment to facilitate safe visits for children and, as the Natural England survey highlights, young people need those visits. Save our outdoor centres and everyone gains.

What future for outdoor education?

The other side to all this is that the outdoor centres need the children.  The school travel sector is lobbying the Department for Education to allow residential opportunities to reopen from October. A letter sent to the Education Secretary calculates more than 15,000 jobs across the UK are at risk.  An estimate is that at least half of outdoor centres may not survive. It has already started to happen. Unfortunately, once these resources are lost I suspect they will be lost forever.

More than 95 per cent of primary schools offer at least one residential experience per year and millions of young people took part in residential experiences last year. Once these centres are lost all our futures will be poorer.

I hope you agree.  Please sign the Save Our Outdoor Centres petition here and let us get children active in nature again.  The children need it.  Our environment needs it.  Our outdoor centres need it.