The Save Outdoor Ed campaign is asking individuals and organisations to write to their MPs and sign and share our petition asking for a change in the DfE guidance as widely as possible.

The story of our centre is a fairly unique one. Rhos-y-Gwaliau Outdoor Education Centre has been operating for over 45 years having been run by several local authorities including Mid Glamorgan and Berkshire. When the Centre faced Closure in 2004 two members of staff put forward a plan to run the centre themselves, Ed Jones and Simon Alfree. It was a big decision and there were many critics who doubted their ability to run a Residential Outdoor Education Centre without subsidies or grant funding. However as time progressed, the centre began to thrive and with hard work, commitment and a lot of good old fashioned service, what was a loss making establishment began to break even and even make a profit. I had already met my husband Ed Jones when he made the decision to purchase the outdoor centre and have always been closely involved. When Simon left the partnership back in 2008 the centre became a family business for us. As a qualified teacher who had seen first-hand the experiences the centre was able to offer to children and young people and with plenty of work to be done there was really no question that I would be on board. I have become more and more involved in the day to day running of the business over time and now act as our centre manager. We are a centre that relies almost solely on school bookings, we are full all year round and have undertaken several expansion projects over the last 8 years in order to meet with increased demand.

Taking on a business and turning it around we have faced many hurdles but none have hit us as hard as the Covid 19 pandemic. Having been closed due to lock-down restrictions back in March we did not know when we would be able to reopen. We have benefited from the furlough scheme but the centre has continued to lose money each month we have been closed. Outdoor Education Centres rely on school visits to survive and many have been without any income since the beginning of lock-down. As restrictions eased and back in July the announcement came that schools would return in September with little social distancing and operating in year group bubbles we naturally assumed that as an Outdoor Education Centre this vital part of children’s education would follow. As a centre that only takes one school on site at a time (as many do) we are well within all the restrictions. As a centre, our visiting schools remain wholly supportive, keeping their bookings open, many with children desperate to come and experience all we have to offer. The decision by the DfE to advise against all overnight school visits came as a real blow. Through Ofsted the DfE has, for many years’ championed residential visits and Outdoor Education, praising schools that implement a robust programme and seeing this as an essential part of the curriculum. With the guidance now in place indefinitely the DfE act may see the closure of these establishments permanently.

The year ahead remains a complete unknown. With the government guidance in place and no signal of additional funding even though we are inhibited from trading, I think for many of us it signals permanent closure. Until this guidance is changed businesses are creeping further into debt and losing their finest assets; their staff. This will make reopening very difficult. When residential centres are able to open their doors again to schools, and I hope they will be, I expect that residential centres will continue to face difficulties ahead as we wait for confidence to return and families to recover from financial difficulties.

It was our idea as a centre to start the Save Outdoor Ed campaign in order to highlight the situation facing Outdoor Education Centres across the UK and the real risk that these valuable centres will be lost permanently should the government not throw them a lifeline.

The Save Outdoor Ed campaign is asking individuals and organisations to write to their MPs and sign and share our petition asking for a change in the DfE guidance as widely as possible. We ask everyone to also look for opportunities in the media to highlight our cause. We are a small sector but together we have a wide reach and for the sake of generations of children we must ensure our voice is heard and our message gets across. To get involved in the campaign you can find us at https://www.facebook.com/saveoutdoored

Being asked about how we can diversify or think creatively is really challenging. We love what we do, it’s what we are set up to do and we want to get back to it as soon as we can. We know the children and schools who visit us are desperate not to miss out and we know how much these experiences benefit young people and how much more they are needed at this time. Many centres like us are situated in fairly remote locations making the most of the spectacularly wild landscape. We are not near urban populations and therefore may not easily be able to benefit from providing just the day experiences. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a magic answer that will allow residential centres like ours to survive longer term without school groups. We have been full over August with family groups and we have provided day activity sessions and hire sessions. We have raised enough to pay our fixed costs but not enough to pay any staff. As we move out of school holiday season this income will be harder to come by and will not sustain a residential centre long term. I do consider however that any income we can generate will lessen the damage going forward and give us a better chance of surviving.

I suppose our thoughts are to focus on the resources we have and what we can do rather than what we cannot. We have brilliant accommodation that is situated in an amazingly beautiful area and we have amazing high skilled and experienced staff who can really deliver an awesome adventure in the wild. We are currently offering adventure breaks for families and extended bubbles. Focusing on the BIG ADVENTURE that our landscapes here lends itself too. Our 3 or 4 night stays include a choice of BIG ADVENTURES that can be tailored to your group whether your party is younger, more relaxed or looking for something adrenaline filled we will have something to suit everyone. For more information please contact office@rygoutdoor.co.uk