If, says Rawlingson Plant, outdoor learning centres had been included in the road map, alongside restaurants and hotels, they would have been able to plan for re-opening on the 17th May.
“We’re the only sector, apart from strip clubs that weren’t mentioned. I don’t want to sound like we’re whinging and we are pleased the government has confirmed things but it’s going to be tough. We’re pretty much starting a new business all over again.”
All though the outdoor learning centre sector is small, with an estimated 15,000 employees it can, Rawlingson Plant says, make a huge difference, especially to children from deprived backgrounds.
“Disadvantaged children are probably more likely to have limited access to outdoor space and have been the most severely impacted by lockdown,” she says. “Some, believe it or not, have never seen a sheep up close, or been in a forest or had fun in a natural environment. The skills they learn on residential trips, from working as a team, to sharing, to overcoming challenges, really helps foster their independence and boost their confidence.”
More than two million children are estimated to go on residential trips each year and the sector has lost estimated £500m in revenue, with over 6,000 job losses since March 2020.
Rawlingson Plant estimates that she has lost 90 per cent of her annual income over the last year.
“Several schools, some of which have been coming to use for years, have now cancelled their residential trips to as a result of all this uncertainty,” she says. “One school, in Bristol, has already deferred three times because they were waiting for the government to issue its guidelines and hoping for more certainty.”
Survival Expert Ed Stafford, who helps run the Bushcraft Academy and holds the Guinness World Record for being the first person to walk the length of the Amazon River, says: “Being outside brings out the very best in those children who want to re-connect with nature and each other again, especially after being indoors and on screens for so long. I’d like to see even more children playing and re-discovering the great outdoors again and not being afraid to get their hands and knees dirty.”
Nigel Miller, CEO OF Active Learning Group says: “We know how important outdoor education and school trips are to our young people’s social and emotional development as well as their education. It helps children develop character and resilience whilst building upon essential life skills within environments that promote and enhance wellbeing and fun.”
More than 15,380 people have signed a petition to request more financial support from the government for Outdoor Residential Centres. Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre is also crowdfunding to help pay for a judicial review on behalf of Save Outdoor Education.