THE decision to permanently close a centre for outdoor learning has caused disappointment.
Warwickshire County Council’s Cabinet has taken the decision that Marle Hall, the County Council’s residential facility for outdoor education activities located just outside Llandudno Junction. It is expected to shut on Friday, October 22 2021.
Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders has spoken of her disappointment at the decision.
She said: “Having visited Marle Hall on several occasions, as well as making trips to our other residential outdoor activity centres across the region, I have always been so overwhelmed by the positive impression that the perfect package of our unique location and a devoted team of highly qualified staff leaves on the young people visiting our area.
“The contribution that residential outdoor education plays in the lives and development of our children cannot be understated.
“In an age when so many young people live an indoor life based around social media, it remains essential that we provide opportunities to test themselves in the outdoors.
“Venues like Marle Hall allow our young people to develop much sought-after skills in teamwork and leadership, taking part in risk-assessed but not risk-free activities which build and strengthen character.
“To take the decision to close these highly valued centres is a very short-sighted step by any local authority in England.”
In a letter to Ms Finch-Saunders, Warwickshire County Council said: “This is not a decision that was taken lightly.
“As evidenced by the petition of over 7,000 signatures that was presented to us earlier this year, we know that Marle Hall has been a much-loved and valued facility over the last 50 years.
“This fact that it has offered a fantastic experience to our children and young people is not in doubt and we are also conscious of the contribution it will have made to the local community and economy over this time.
“What we couldn’t share more widely at the end of last year was that Marle Hall has not covered its costs of operation for some time,” the letter added.
“The Grade II listed building is not configured to allow for increased capacity, and it is operating in a very competitive market.
“Schools are not required to use Marle Hall for their residential trips, but can instead choose from around 50 other providers, all within a similar radius of Warwickshire.
“Indeed, just 12 per cent of Warwickshire schools used Marle Hall in the last three years before March 2020.
“Furthermore, to bring the building up to required standards, including making it accessible for those with physical disabilities, along with general maintenance, would cost us around £400,000 over the next five years alone.
“Detailed financial analysis has therefore concluded that if Marle Hall continued to operate, it would need significant investment.
“As a result, the costs to the council, both revenue losses and capital maintenance, would be likely to reach more than £850,000 over the next 10 years. This is not sustainable, as I’m sure you can appreciate, especially when we are under no legal duty to offer such a facility of our own to schools, and we have a responsibility to make sure we are spending public money wisely.”
Councillor Jeff Morgan, portfolio holder for children, families and education, added: “We know that many people will be saddened to hear this news, perhaps because they have fond memories of their own experiences at Marle Hall, or believe strongly in the role of outdoor education for children.
“I want to reassure them that we do, too, and this decision does not change our commitment to outdoor education at all.
“However, we have a responsibility to make sure we are spending public money wisely and so sometimes have difficult choices to make.
“Schools are free to choose any provider they like, and the council is under no legal duty to offer an outdoor facility of our own to schools.
“The Grade II listed building needs a huge amount of work to bring it up to the standard that visitors expect, to be fully accessible by those with physical disabilities and to be able to operate more efficiently.
“So, reluctantly, I’m afraid we must be led by our heads, and not our hearts.”