'Forgotten' outdoor education centres in lockdown battle to reopen

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An outdoor education centre in Norfolk is leading a legal fight over claims they have been forgotten in the Government's roadmap out of lockdown.

Outdoor education centres across the region would normally be preparing to host thousands of children on school trips this summer, but they say they've not been told when they can reopen.

Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre in Norfolk is leading a legal challenge against the Government. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Sara and her family have run Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre for 32 years.

Tens of thousands of children have enjoyed school trips there, now though, it's deserted as the Covid crisis pushes the outdoor education sector to the brink.

Sara Holroyd, Director of Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre, said: "Our turnover the very last year - when we had our best year ever - was just shy of a million pounds. Our turnover this year has been a thousand pounds.

"We've had one group, for one day over the last year - a school from Norwich came in for a day. When they arrived, I literally had a lump in my throat and I'm not normally an overly emotional person but it feels so quiet - it just feels wrong."

It should be a busy time for outdoor education centres, but they remain closed. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Sara doesn't know when activities and trips like these might resume.

She says the Government's forgotten about outdoor education in its roadmap out of lockdown. 

She's launched a judicial review with backing from four other outdoor centres, including neighbours Hilltop.

Martin Read, Founder of Hilltop Outdoor Centre, said: "I walk around my grounds every day. They're empty and they've been empty for a year.

"I fear for the future, for outdoor education and I also fear for the future for me and my family, who've been running this business for 32 years."

The Government advises against school trips and outdoor education centres remain empty. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Hilltop is desperate for a high-flying summer, but for now, the Government advises against all school trips.

Campaigners say communities risk losing vital outdoor learning facilities. 

A fundraising campaign is already under way to try and secure the future of Holt Hall, which was closed by Norfolk County Council last year.

Campaigner Patrick Barkham said: "We keep talking about there being a recovery package for children, more money for schools to help them.

"Well give some of that money to outdoor education centres because there's nothing better, there's nothing safer and there's nothing that's going to benefit children's mental and physical wellbeing more at the moment that they need it most - which is now."

Unlike other sectors of the leisure industry, outdoor education centres don't know when they can reopen. Credit: ITV News Anglia

At Flatford Mill in Suffolk, thousands of school children come the field study centre every year. But like Aylmerton they've been closed for the best part of a year and the impact on revenue has been catastrophic.

The field study centre is run as a charity - it says turnover across all its sites is normally around £14 million a year, that's now dropped to less than £2 million.

Simon Ward, from the Field Studies Council, said: "If we were in the hospitality sector, a restaurant, nightclub, hotel, we would know roughly when we'd be starting to open up, gearing up to that point.

"We have nothing, just a blanket ban at the moment and there are a huge number of students who can't have an educational experience.

"There's a huge number of disadvantaged children who are missing out and over the last year or two years that's going to have an impact if we can't get involved in that now."

The government says it's kept guidance on both residential and non-residential visits under review and the furlough scheme and help for business continues to support jobs.

But without a date for when outdoor learning can restart many fear those jobs will not be there when the time comes.