A campaign to draw attention to the plight of the outdoor education industry in Dorset caused by coronavirus, has been launched at Old Harry Rocks, as the industry says it needs urgent financial government support.
This comes as the Scottish Government announced it will provide £2 million of funding to mitigate the financial challenges facing the residential outdoor education sector in Scotland as a result of the pandemic.
Allnatt, which has residential centres in Swanage and the Isle of Wight says government rules ban schools going on residential trips and that has effectively left them unable to operate, but unlike other industries that have been forced to close, they don’t qualify for any significant government support.
“The outdoor education industry has fallen between the cracks”
The CEO of Allnatt Outdoors, Sarah Beech, said:
“I’m angry – the outdoor education industry has fallen between the cracks – we are a combination of education, leisure and hospitality but don’t qualify for help in any one of those sectors.
“At Allnatt, we’ve lost 97 percent of our annual income. We’d normally have 9,000 pupils from all over the country come on residential trips in a year but this year we haven’t had any. That is a huge loss of income. We have a million pounds worth of bookings for next year from March, so we just need to be able to survive the winter.
“We have 24 members of staff and 20 are currently on furlough and now we’re facing the end of that scheme. We urgently need funding – not just for the sake of jobs and our business but also for the children.
“Schools need to be allowed to come back, as our predominantly outdoor educational courses are crucial to the physical and mental well being of students and helps them achieve better at school. We can’t lose this industry!”
Also backing the campaign were other Swanage-based members of the outdoor industry, including Cumulus Outdoors, Leeson House Field Studies Centre, Fore Adventure, Land and Wave and Geofieldwork.
“Our industry is so health and safety compliant”
Cumulus Outdoors’ operations director, Tom Campbell-Hill said:
“We’ve just poured a huge amount of money into a new residential centre in Swanage and there’s no income. Typically, we would see children coming down to Dorset from London and getting the benefit of an outdoor education away from the urban environment and they are losing that opportunity, especially in a year when they’ve spent so much time indoors.
“Our industry is so health and safety compliant – we are used to coping with a potentially dangerous environment. We know how to keep children safe.”
“A real risk that parts of this sector will never open up again”
Barry Cullimore from Geofieldwork added:
“As a director of a limited company that has only been trading for two years I was unable to get a penny in support, despite the fact that my income was totally wiped out. There’s a real risk that parts of this sector will never open up again and will be lost. That would be very short-sighted of the government.”
While the outdoor education centres can offer day courses, this isn’t really practical in Dorset where the majority of the business is from schools that come from all over the country to visit the spectacular Jurassic Coast and usually travel many hours to get to Swanage.
The campaign #saveoutdoored is urging the Government to look again at supporting the sector in England so that it can survive until next Easter.
“It’s the outdoor industry that provides the expertise”
Tom Clarke from the National Trust, said:
“The National Trust was set up 125 years ago to secure this land, so that people from an urban environment could experience our amazing outdoors.
“We can provide the space but it’s the outdoor industry that provides the expertise and experience to allow those from cities and towns to enjoy the experience safely. That’s why it’s so important not to lose these businesses. It also shouldn’t be underestimated how much employment this industry brings to Purbeck.”