Wiltshire force the closure of Oxenwood and Braeside Outdoor Education Centres
Wiltshire Council have announced the closure of its two Outdoor Education Centres, Braeside, near Devizes, and Oxenwood, near Great Bedwyn, at the end of August. They claim the centres are too costly to run.
Council leaders say that £1.4m is required to carry out repairs and upgrade the centres and that only about 30 per cent of Wiltshire Schools now use the centres. Councillor Laura Mayes, cabinet member for children said, "Budgets are tight and it's important we spend our money wisely and fund those areas where it is most needed including supporting our vulnerable children and investing in other education priorities.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Wiltshire Laura Mayes told listeners the centres and adjoining land “will be put up for sale as part of Wiltshire Council’s estate.”
Dave Borrie, chair of managers at Braeside, told BBC Wiltshire radio listeners,“Braeside does not make a loss and it could run independently very successfully. The £1.4m that has been quoted is a huge amount for roof work which is not essential. The centres aren’t falling down, but a nice big number like £1.4m says the centres are no longer viable. It is a money driven decision to stop these services yet they’re so important for so many reasons.”
Generations of local children have benefitted from the experiences at these centres which offer a wide variety of outdoor and indoor activities from canoeing to climbing, problem solving, survival skills, historical and theme days as well as enrichment activities for gifted and talented pupils.
Every year Preshute Primary Year 3’s spend their first night away from home at Oxenwood as do Marlborough St Mary’s pupils. Pupils from Year 4 and Year 5 at Baydon St Nicholas visit Braeside for a three day residential each year where they participate in activities such as canoeing, a night trail, high ropes and the ‘leap of faith’, which has become part of school legend.
Caroline Knighton, Headteacher at Baydon, speaking on BBC Radio Wiltshire, said the Braeside residential course, “...helped children develop skills of independence, confidence and team work skills… Teachers join in with all the activities and get to know the children in a different way. The quiet child in the classroom suddenly blossoms over the course of the residential. It’s a real privilege taking children away for three days. And of course it’s fantastic fun to learn outside the classroom and to get to know each other as you try to climb a pole and jump off it.”
Parent Lucy Gomes, from Collingbourne Ducis, whose two children have enjoyed time at Oxenwood and Braeside, and whose husband went along as a parent helper has started a petition to the council to save the centres.
The petition which started just a week ago, now has over 13,000 signatures. Lucy has been ovewrwhelmed with the response: “Trips to centres like this give children from all backgrounds a taste of the countryside that they would not otherwise get. It nurtures a love of nature and creates lifelong memories and friendships. It provides a welcome break from classroom education and gives children practical skills to use in everyday life.”
“In a world increasingly dominated by technology, centres such as this create future ambassadors of conservation and wildlife preservation and closure of these two invaluable centres must be stopped.”
Speaking on Radio Wiltshire, Lucy said: “Money seems to be the number one driver for this. There has been no public consultation and there needs to be an opportunity to have further dialogue.”
If you would like to sign the petition click here