Two popular council-run outdoor education centres which have hosted children’s activity and school residential trips for more than 80 years look set to be given a new lease of life.
North Yorkshire County Council’s leadership will consider approving a £400,000 feasibility study into redeveloping its centre at Bewerley Park, near Pateley Bridge and improvements at its East Barnby site, near Whitby.
The multi-million facelifts will be passed on the proviso the council’s Outdoor Education Service can demonstrate it can raise significantly more than the annual £2.2m income they currently generate.
The authority’s executive is expected to give its support to developing long-term futures for the centres on Tuesday, seven months after launching a review of the service amid widepread concerns they could be closed permanently.
Pateley Bridge councillor Stanley Lumley said he was delighted the authority had recognised the value of the centres, adding the Nidderdale site was “treasured by the local community, North Yorkshire and beyond”.
He said: “This will certainly be welcomed in my community and I would imagine by the response to the consulation, way beyond it. It was a real concern when the review was announced and people thought the worst and I was inundated with lobbying from people saying it must stay open.
“With the level of educational experience offered I think getting the centres to make will be achievable, it’s just getting that business mindset to get people to the sites. Following the pandemic I think the benefits of such facilities for people’s physical and mental health.”
A wave of teachers and former pupils made pre-emptive appeals, telling leading councillors how the centres provided memorable, life-changing lessons.
One teacher described the centres, where children take part in adventurous activities such as archery and abseiling, as the “jewel in the crown of the North Yorkshire education service”.
An officer’s report to next week’s meeting highlights how researchers had also concluded residential learning experiences provide benefits that cannot otherwise be achieved.
Some 6,700 pupils from 170 schools stayed at the centres for an average of three nights during 2019/20, and further income was raised through hosting staff training days and overnight placements for children through No Wrong
However, with ocupancy during week-day term time averaging at 52 per cent at East Barnby and 34 per cent at Bewerley Park, and even lower use over winter months, weekends and school holidays, officers said there was potential for more commercial opportunities and for the centres to cover all their costs.
The report states: “There is an opportunity for the service to develop and grow and an investment in the sites would enhance this opportunity. There is potential for the service to increase its core customer base by working more
closely with schools to develop an offer that meets the schools needs and encourages schools to use the centres outside of the traditional times.”
The council has drawn up un-costed proposals for the centres following an extensive consultation exercise which saw 200 children submit drawings of their ideal outdoor education centres.
At Bewerley Park, which features 31 mainly wooden buildings built in the 1940s, proposed changes include new accommodation blocks and a central facilities hub with a kitchen and dining area, teaching spaces, offices and storage.
The East Barnby site, which has 24 prefabricated buildings built in the 1950s for the RAF, would see improvements to staff accommodation and facilities, such as an extra classroom.
The report concludes: “With improvements to accommodation and facilities, targeted marketing and dedicated business development resource, it is anticipated that occupancy will increase at both centres leading to an improvement in the net bottom-line.”