North Yorkshire outdoor education centres set to be mothballed

Bewerley Park. Photo: NYCC.

The highlight of many thousands of children’s school careers looks set to be postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Youngsters from some 133 North Yorkshire schools and numerous schools outside the county made residential visits in 2019 to the East Barnby and Bewerley Park Outdoor Learning Service centres, near Whitby and Pateley Bridge, respectively.

The centres, which claim to be “the UK’s greatest outdoor classroom”, have for decades offered an array of activities and experiences, such as abseiling and canoeing to generations of schoolchildren.

A report to North Yorkshire County Council’s executive states while many schools had indicated they hoped to visit the centres in the spring and summer terms, current guidance would prevent these from taking place.

The Outdoor Learning Service, which funds its £2.2m annual cost largely through charging for residential visits, was forced to close last March.

However, with annual staff costs of £1.5m it is facing a deficit of nearly £1m unless immediate action is taken to mothball the centres and cut its 42 staff, some of whom it is hoped can be redeployed to other council roles.

The report states: “The greatest impact is on children and young people having restricted access to the outdoors and outdoor learning opportunities.

Purposeful experiences in the outdoors can be a catalyst for powerful and memorable learning. Education visits advisers in the school improvement service will continue to work with schools on maximising the potential of learning outside the classroom – in the local area.”

The report to executive states it is expected there will be a time lag between an announcement of a change in government guidance and schools being able to undertake visits following planning with parents and staff.

It states: “The prospect of sufficient confirmed bookings of residential visits with numbers to produce a viable income for the service to balance its budget is unlikely to improve in the next financial year.

“When residential visits are permitted it is likely that risk mitigation measures will lead to much smaller sized cohorts accessing the residential centres at any time and this will significantly affect levels of income.”

Nevertheless, concerns have been raised that a large-scale investment will be needed to reopen the buildings at Bewerley Park as the structures there were built following the Second World War with an expected 20-year lifespan.

With the council facing having to make further cutbacks to balance its books and the outdoor education service not being one of its statutory responsibilities, the future of the centre is uncertain.

The authority’s executive member for education Councillor Patrick Mulligan said the service had been “left on its knees” by the Covid pandemic and deciding whether or not to mothball the centres would be tough.

He said: “Visits to these centres are something people treasure through their lives, but we’re haemorrhaging money and have got to find a short-term solution until we have a strategic review and see where that leads.”

The council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les added: “For many children it is a highlight of a school existence that they look back on with a great deal of affection. It is a very difficult decision.

“We will debate the issue, but it is a sad fact that we have facilities that are standing idle because children can’t use them and we have to protect the tax-payers money as well.”


  1. Mothballed now, funds allocated elsewhere shut for ever. Real outdoor education denied to poorer families again

  2. I have read this article with increasing sadness and distress. Bewerley Park holds a very special place in the hearts of many generations of people who have been introduced to the outdoors in its halls and dormitories. The work I have done there, working in groups with highly skilled experienced staff is truly life changing.

    I realise, however, that nostalgia and heart warming stories do not pay the bills. In the long run the closure of Bewerley Park will cost the council more. The best way to plan for the future of outdoor education in North Yorkshire is to include the current facilities. If we do not then the council will need to pay for this from a private company or from outside the area which will inevitably cost more. This is to say nothing of the impact on the local economy. If Bewerley Park were to close, the economic impact on Pateley Bridge from loss of revenue from visitors would be substantial.

    In addition to this the mental health benefits of exercise and being in the outdoors are well documented. Children and young people have suffered greatly in the COVID 19 pandemic and we will really need our outdoor education centres in the coming months and years. The current staff at the current centres are best placed to meet this need. They know the are, the centres and the children. They are the people best placed to manage the transition from what we have to what we need.

    To loose the facilities and expertise that we already have would be to neglect the future health and well being of our children and will surely cost us more in the long run.

  3. Appalled that the council are considering closing Bewerley Park given the positive impact it has on children’s lives, and the local economy of Pateley Bridge. My own children have had wonderful adventures with the centre staff, and are devastated at the prospect of losing those opportunities for healthy access to countryside learning and character formation.

  4. It will be a tragedy if the outdoor pursuit centres cannot be retained. After the pandemic they will be more needed than ever. Children’s experiences there can be life-changing. Can they find a fairy-godmother to sponsor them through this time, or a Lottery grant to pay for up-grading during the enforced closure? Could this be a venue for training a generation of apprentices, and make the buildings more eco-efficient and up-to-date?

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