Ignore outdoor learning and it may disappear for ever
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Ignore outdoor learning and it may disappear for ever

Martin Davidson, Director for Scotland and Innovation

Outdoor residential's have long been key to the wider education of young people in Scotland. They provide learning experiences that simply cannot be recreated in the classroom. They provide an essential opportunity to seek out challenges, develop resilience and self-belief, and spend uninterrupted time in nature. All these things will be needed more than ever as we enter a “new normal” and leave the lockdown.

However, outdoor education is at risk of falling through the cracks of the education and travel sectors as measures to reopen the economy are considered. To take action, the Outward Bound Trust has come together with Scouts Scotland, Girlguiding Scotland and the Boys’ Brigade in Scotland, who between us run six outdoor centres. We have written to John Swinney to highlight the financial pressures under which our charities, and others in the sector, find ourselves.

All six centres closed in March, with an immediate end to their income. Although we have been able to furlough some staff and take advantage of the coronavirus job retention scheme, there are still overheads to meet. The biggest risk of all is that the outdoor education sector is not considered when plans to end the jobs scheme become clearer. For us and for others this could be catastrophic, and would probably mean the closure of many outdoor centres across Scotland.

We have also highlighted how our sector could be part of the solution to getting education restarted. The centres have great facilities that can be used to supplement stretched schools. We have many staff, skilled in working with young people, who could work with teachers and provide outdoor learning experiences that would directly meet the needs of young people who have been stuck at home, isolated, and whose mental health has been suffering.

Rather than holding out a begging bowl to government, let us be part of the solution. As charities we can help to fund the work once we can operate again, and therefore extend the public purse. Let us ensure that we turn the real risk of the end of residential outdoor education into an opportunity to be part of the recovery, and ensure that a generation of young people whose futures have been most affected by the pandemic have the opportunity to thrive once more.

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