North Yorkshire outdoor education centres set for major overhaul

Bewerley Park. Photo: NYCC.

A move to plough £4.2m of taxpayers’ money into the first phase of modernising and improving North Yorkshire’s outdoor learning centres looks set to be approved, more than two years after an outcry erupted as the future of the facilities was plunged into uncertainty.

North Yorkshire Council’s leading members will on Tuesday consider approving an overhaul of its centres at Bewerley Park, near Pateley Bridge and East Barnby, near Whitby, allowing for the proposed initial stage of works to start in autumn next year and be completed by 2025.

The proposals follow a detailed review of the service, which has attracted residential school trips for decades and saw a deficit of more than £1m three years ago, despite benefitting from Coronavirus furlough scheme for many staff.

Consequent questions over the service saw many people relate how much children had benefitted from visiting the centres, which were built in the 1940s and 1950s.

The authority has highlighted how research into the long-term impact of outdoor education residential visits for children and young people has identified lasting impacts including increases in self-confidence, improved communication and teamwork.

The first stage of the works at Bewerley Park is set to include creating 14 ensuite dormitories and accommodation for visiting staff at the former and a major revamp of the latter.

An as yet uncosted second phase of work at Bewerley Park, involving a hub building, second accommodation block, workshops and stores, would see the centre close for a year, but would be financed from funds generated by the outdoor learning service.

Proposed work to modernise the East Barnby site, which has 24 separate buildings of prefabricated construction, could see low carbon technologies introduced and changes to the dining and all accommodation blocks.

An officer’s report to the executive states work has been undertaken to ensure the centres are self-financing and are attractive and affordable for schools’ residential programmes, aligning programmes to national curriculum subjects and to “capture the nature of the outdoor environment”.

The report states its secondary school programmes cater for all year groups and focus on personal and social development, while subject specific programmes are available to support GCSE subjects such as geography, science, and PE.

The council’s executive member for education, learning and skills, Councillor Annabel Wilkinson, said: “This is an exciting project. For decades both centres have proven very popular, being visited by generations of families. Thousands of children and young people visit the centres each year and leave with positive, happy memories.

“It’s vital that our centres continue to deliver wonderful experiences in a more modern environment.”

The council’s assistant director for education and skills, Amanda Newbold, added the new buildings and improvements would not affect visitors to the centres and the service was looking forward to welcoming more visitors as the works take place.