Scottish Government announces support for outdoor centres after repeated requests

SCOTLAND’S outdoor education centres are to be thrown a £2 million lifeline after repeated appeals for Scottish Government help in the face of Covid restrictions.

Bonaly Scout Centre at the foot of the Pentlands has cut four jobs as a result of the coronavirus lockdown

Centres were forced to close completely for months and residential trips are still banned. Scouts Scotland have had to make half their staff redundant after losing millions of pounds in revenue; the Scouts’ Bonaly centre in Edinburgh has announced cut four staff; and Girlguiding Scotland has closed its centre at Netherurd near West Linton in the Borders.

The government cash support was announced by Science Minister Richard Lochhead in a letter to MSPs after he met representatives of the sector. He said outdoor education was an important aspect of Scotland’s curriculum and could play “a vital role in supporting children’s wellbeing and attainment”.

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He said: “I hope this funding, along with third sector and youth work funding streams already available, alleviates some of the pressures facing the sector during these challenging times and allows them to offer meaningful experiences to young people.”

Discussions on administration of the package of support were continuing and details of how to apply would be made available as soon as possible.

Operators of Scotland’s outdoor centres made a joint appeal to the government in May for £7 million to keep all 37 centres open, but they were urged instead to apply for loans, which leaders said was not feasible.

At her daily briefing Ms Sturgeon said outdoor education centres across the country gave tens of thousands of schoolchildren the opportunity to spend time outside and take part in activities they might not otherwise have the chance to enjoy.

"But we know the sector has had a really tough time as a result of the pandemic. It was closed through lockdown and residential stays at outdoor centres are still not allowed.

"Even in order to allow non-residential activities to take place, centres have had to make great efforts to create a safe environment for young people and staff, so I am pleased we have been able to announce an additional £2 million of support to help residential outdoor education centres.

"I know this won’t address all of the difficulties the sector faces but I hope it will provide some additional reassurance to managers and staff in these centres.”

A spokeswoman for the Save Your Outdoor Centres Campaign said described the announcement as “positive and encouraging”.

She continued: "This should help the centres to survive the challenging few months ahead. This highlights that the Scottish Government understand the value of outdoor residential experiences and the impact that they have on young people in Scotland.

“It is not the £3 million that we had asked for and that we need, but we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the money reaches the centres who need it most and as quickly as possible.

“We are still waiting to see the details of the fund, but we hope that it will ensure that providers can cover essential fixed costs, whilst also working with schools to deliver meaningful outdoor education that meets the social and emotional needs of young people.”

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