Outdoor activity centres from across Cumbria are lobbying MPs to support the sector, which is facing tough times as a result of Government restrictions banning school trips.
Justin Farnan, of the Lake District Calvert Trust, Keswick, who is also a non-executive director for Cumbria Tourism, which is backing the campaign, said: “Despite other rules on overnight stays being relaxed, for schools and colleges they have a 100 per cent ban imposed for 2020 and no clarity for 2021.
“This will mean that, in addition to major shortfalls in 2020, for many activity centres the majority of next year will be written off too.
“This is a highly visible part of the Cumbrian economy and no sight of any change in guidance risks hundreds of jobs and some permanent closures, skills and facilities that may never be regained, plus further shocks within the local supply chain.”
Organisations including Outward Bound, which has centres at Ullswater and Eskdale; Newlands Adventure Centre; Cumbria Scouts; the Youth Hostel Association; and the Field Studies Council, say they have gone to great lengths to ensure they are COVID-19 secure, are following all government guidelines and have a long record of safely providing great experiences.
While some have been able to operate day trips, they say lockdown will have impacted disadvantaged pupils most and that outdoor education can reignite an interest in learning for those who struggle in a classroom environment.
Tim Foster, head of group (north) for the Field Studies Council, based at Blencathra, said: “We want to play our part in helping learners catch up and teachers to cover the curriculum.
“We have the COVID-19 secure locations and experienced staff ready to go, but we need the guidance to change to allow schools to make an informed decision.
“With schools now open and even able to hire out their buildings and facilities to external organisations for extracurricular activities, it seems incongruous that they are not yet able to allow the learners to stay in other buildings that have the same rigorous standards.”
After several weeks of talks, outdoor organisations met with staff from the Department for Education to hear of the Secretary of State’s announcement there has been no change for the autumn term and no clarity will be given for 2021 until at least November.
The group believes that an urgent and immediate review of government guidance is needed, saying many centres which would otherwise remain highly viable businesses may not recover, even if they can “hang on” through the winter.
Mr Foster added: “I have been working with colleagues in Scotland on the #SaveYourOutdoorCentres campaign, which had cross party support in the Scottish Parliament and we hope Cumbrian MPs will take notice and challenge DfE on guidance.”
The group is writing to all of Cumbria’s MPs and will be engaging with local communities to ask for their support.
Mr Farnan said: “While we welcome the Chancellor’s winter package for the wider tourism industry, we need our Cumbrian MPs to support this very specific and important sector which shines such a positive light on the whole county.”