Lochaber councillor in plea to aid outdoor residential centres

Martin Davidson, director for Scotland at the Outward Bound Trust, who says the decision is catastrophic for both young people and for outdoor centres. NO F 37 Outward Bound In-School - Director for Scotland_03
Pictured at Loch Eil, Martin Davidson, director for Scotland at the Outward Bound Trust, who says the decision is catastrophic for both young people and for outdoor centres. NO F 37 Outward Bound In-School - Director for Scotland_03

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The Scottish and Westminster Governments have been urged to overturn a decision not to fund outdoor residential centres after warnings facilities such as those in Lochaber enjoyed annually by thousands of young people could close forever.

One of the most famous in Scotland is the Outward Bound Trust’s main centre at Loch Eil, which welcomes around 5,000 youngsters from across Scotland through its doors every year, including those from 130 schools for a week-long annual residential.

The plea came from Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson (Caol and Mallaig) after a petition was launched to save the country’s outdoor residential centres from closure by groups such as Scouts Scotland, Girlguiding Scotland and the Outward Bound Trust, which have all warned that without urgent help such facilities could be lost forever.

The petition urges the Scottish Government to review the decision not to provide financial support to the outdoor education sector while it remains unable to operate as normal because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Government has told local authorities that school residential trips should not take place until at least the spring of next year, with no date set to review that stance.

Councillor Thompson called the funding decision by the Scottish and UK governments ‘unfathomable’ and warned that it could be extremely detrimental to Lochaber.

FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP
Councillor Ben Thompson

‘Outdoor education is a major part of our economy. How could it not be in the Outdoor Capital? A significant number of jobs will be on the line,’ added Councillor Thompson.

‘Residential outdoor education is now more important than ever. The social benefits are huge for those who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. One example of the benefit – we’ve just seen a summer of tourism pressures where it has been obvious that respect for the outdoors is lacking and understanding why we need to protect our pristine Highland environment isn’t universal.

‘Outdoor education is one of the most important things we can do to protect our environment. I hope both Scottish and UK governments will reverse this decision immediately.’

Martin Davidson, director for Scotland at the Outward Bound Trust, told us: ‘This decision is catastrophic for both young people and for outdoor centres. The school residential has been a feature of Scottish education for years.

‘It is highly valued by teachers, it develops self-confidence and helps with mental health and wellbeing. It creates memories of a lifetime for millions of young people. These fabulous experiences will come to an end as the Scottish Government has decided not to support outdoor residential centres.

‘While the government has supported many sectors to ensure their survival and enable them to adapt, residential centres are unable to operate and remain in lockdown.’

Jane Campbell Morrison MBE, chairperson of the Scottish Adventure Activity Forum, has also called for the Scottish Government to provide support for outdoor residential centres.

Those behind the #SaveYourOutdoorCentres campaign say that, in addition to all the educational benefits, the outdoor residential sector also supports thousands of jobs and has called on people in Scotland who have benefited from a residential experience, as well as teachers, youth workers, support networks for young people with additional needs, and any parents and young participants who have recently benefited from a residential outdoor learning experience to write to their MSPs and the government and ask them to save the centres.

The petition can be found at www.change.org