AN OUTDOOR learning centre popular among Warwickshire schools has been ‘ripped away forever’ say devastated campaigners.
The outcry follows Warwickshire County Council’s announcement The Marle Hall Centre for Outdoor Learning in north Wales would be closing in October.
The grade II listed building has been owned by Warwickshire County Council (WCC) since 1971 and used by more than 60,000 children for educational, adventure courses.
But despite objections in their thousands, the Llandudno centre’s closure has been confirmed by the authority which claims its maintenance is too costly.
Campaign group Save Marle Hall – which launched a 7,000 signature strong petition in December – say teachers have been left without a suitable provider for outdoor learning.
A spokesperson said: “Just as teachers settle into the summer break after one of the most challenging years for schools, teachers and our young people, Warwickshire County Council, behind the shield of email, inform us that they will close Marle Hall and cancel all courses.
“This has left many schools unable to find a suitable provider within the timescale and expect us to work in our holidays to do so.
“We are concerned the list of other providers that WCC will share does not give any indication on the suitability of providers, has not been quality assured and does not state if our children will be given the same high quality experiences and learning outcomes that they receive at Marle Hall.
“We have been left to inform our parents and now our children are understandably upset.
“Marle Hall is an excellent centre and the staff provide a superior service to the children of Warwickshire and now councillors and officers have ripped that away forever.”
Campaigners claim the centre costs a ‘pittance’ compared to other WCC funded projects and say other Covid-related closures have left children with nothing.
The group is calling on the council to share the information and documents associated with the closure to allow ‘those responsible to be held to account’.
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western believes the authority has allowed it to fall into disrepair.
He said: “The truth is that Marle Hall has been run down and neglected over many years by its owner Warwickshire County Council. Council leaders are using the facility’s maintenance costs to justify its closure – and to exonerate themselves of any blame.
“And they may be right that the cherished facility is now financially questionable. But this is entirely down to their catastrophic mismanagement.”
He also shares the group’s concerns over the lack of replacement programme of outdoor activities.
In response to backlash, the county council said the centre was under-used and estimates showed costs could spiral to some £850,000 over the next decade.
But it has assured the decision did not change its commitment to outdoor education and has apologised to affected schools.While the authority has shared details and availability of alternative venues with affected schools, it stressed it was ultimately the schools’ choice which one to use.
A spokesman explained: “We had hoped to be able to accommodate the bookings planned to take place before the end of October, but a shortage of staff at the venue means that we are not able to do this safely. As such, we are reluctantly having to cancel all future bookings.
“Warwickshire County Council care very much about giving Warwickshire children the opportunity to access outdoor education, but they can do this in lots of different ways that don’t depend on Marle Hall. On average, only three per cent of Warwickshire’s children visited the centre in each of the three years prior to 2020.”
He added the council had fully considered the impact on young people and its evaluation showed there were around 50 other similar centres within a similar travelling distance, already used by many of the county’s schools.