Why are Scotland’s outdoor centres – set up in far less prosperous times – closing? – Brian Wilson

Two outdoor centres, Blairvadach near Helensburgh and Kilbowie in Oban, are set to close despite the life-changing experiences they provide, writes Brian Wilson.

The Kilbowie Outdoor Education Centre based in Oban is set to close

One of life’s puzzles is why services freely available in far less prosperous times – and I’m talking decades ago – have become unaffordable.

A classic example is the disappearance of council outdoor education centres, long acknowledged as providers of life-changing experiences for kids from poorer backgrounds.

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The last of Glasgow’s centres, Blairvadach near Helensburgh, is to close. There is no pretence of this being for anything other than financial reasons, to save £271,000 a year.

Blairvadach has been going since 1974. Meanwhile, North Lanarkshire is closing the Kilbowie Centre in Oban which has been providing a similar service to thousands of youngsters since 1994.

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It is another example of why the ruthless treatment of local government is paid for primarily by the poor – to whom so much hypocritical lip-service is paid.

For children in stable families who benefit from foreign holidays or perhaps the occasional ski trip, experiences provided by these centres may be marginal.

To children living in harsh, urban conditions, surrounded by social incohesion, they offer a rare opportunity to visualize a different world and gain respite from troubled environments.

This week, we had two conferences about Scotland’s drugs problem. Yet any holistic approach to that issue would recognise the conditions in which many of its victims grow up.

Would anyone, with a blank paper and an intelligent overview of how to reduce inequality, start by wiping out places like Blairvadach and Kilbowie? But no such coherent, long-term approach exists. Glasgow’s director of education has decreed that no employee should comment on the Blairvadach closure, regardless of personal opinions. But are these not exactly the people we should hear from – witnesses from the front-line, speaking truth to petty power?

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