£2 million in aid available, but West Dunbartonshire declines and pays bank interest of £65,000 a year for closed down Ardlui
By Democrat reporter
The Scottish Government will provide £2 million of funding to mitigate the financial challenges facing the residential outdoor education sector as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
The package will include funding to help centres provide safe, impactful outdoor learning experiences to support young people’s education and well-being through this challenging period.
Science Minister Richard Lochhead has written to MSPs to outline the package of support, which some MSPs do not consider nearly enough to keep the centes going.
He said: “I met representatives from the sector recently to discuss their concerns and request for funding. I am acutely aware of the challenges the sector has had to face in the wake of the restrictions imposed to supress the spread of COVID-19.
Councillor Jim Bollan and a youngster taking part in sport on Loch Lomondside.
“Outdoor learning is an important aspect of Scotland’s curriculum. It can play a vital role in supporting children’s well-being and attainment and we are fully committed to supporting outdoor education providers.
“I hope this funding, along with third sector and youth work funding streams which are already available, alleviates some of the pressures facing the sector during these challenging times and allows them to offer meaningful experiences to young people.
“Funding on its own will not address all of the challenges that are faced at the current time. We will continue to engage with local authorities to support the important role that outdoor education centres and their staff can play during the period when overnight residential stays are not permitted for public health reasons.”
Vale of Leven councillor Jim Bollan believes SNP-run West Dunbartonshire Council have let young people down in regard to outdoor centres, one of which they have closed at Ardlui on Loch Lomondside.
He said: “”Only a Council run as badly run as WDC could engineer a situation whereby we continue to pay LLoyds Bank £65,000 per year in rent for the outdoor education facility, for young people at Ardlui, which lies empty and unused.
“This is another situation where the public purse subsidises the private sector, similar to the toxic, ticking, timebomb we have inherited from Esso at Bowling.
“Had we retained the use of the facility at Ardlui we could have accessed additional funding announced by the Scottish Government and provided our school childrenwith a welcome change of scenery for a few weeks during this pandemic which is sapping people’s energy and wel- being.”
Discussions on administration of the package of support continue. Details of how to apply will be made available as soon as possible, a government spokesperson said.
The Association representing the centres have said they needed at least £3m to survive, so some may struggle even with the money being provided.
Alongside the new fund, the Scottish Government will produce a package of communication and support materials to local authorities and schools in order to publicise the opportunities for outdoor learning experiences in their area.
Guidance for schools and local authorities on the positive contribution made by outdoor education centres, developed by the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education, was published in August 2020.
Guidance for school visits and trips to outdoor education centres is here
Guidance on the educational value of outdoor education centres (published August 2020, funded by Scottish Government) is here