The story of our centre is a fairly unique one. Rhos-y-Gwaliau Outdoor Education Centre has been operating for over 45 years having been run by several local authorities including Berkshire. When the Centre faced closure in 2004 members of staff, who faced redundancy put forward a plan to run the centre themselves, there were huge sighs of relief even tears and many, many excited children who would now be able to have the trips they so desperately wanted and thought had been lost forever. Taking the centre on was a big decision and there were many critics who doubted it could be run without subsidies or grant funding. However as time progressed, the centre began to thrive and with hard work, commitment and a lot of good old fashioned service, what was a loss making establishment began to break even and even make a profit. The vast majority of our visiting schools are still from Berkshire.The centre is now a family business for us. Ed, myself (Sara) and our two children Harriet (11) and Huw (9). Over the last sixteen years we have worked tirelessly and made many sacrifices. We really have put everything into making the centre as great as it possible can be for those children who visit us. We are full all year round and have undertaken several expansion projects over the last 8 years in order to meet with increased demand.
Taking on a business and turning it around we have faced many hurdles but none have hit us as hard as the Covid 19 pandemic. Having been closed due to lock-down restrictions back in March 2020 we did not and still do not know when we will be able to reopen. We have benefited from the furlough scheme but the centre has continued to lose money each month we have been closed due to our ongoing fixed costs and government funding has not been forthcoming.
Outdoor Education Centres like ours rely on school visits to survive and many, like us have been without any income since the beginning of lock-down, apart from a little that could be made from visiting families in the summer holidays. As restrictions eased and back in July 2020 the announcement came that schools would return in September with little social distancing and operating in year group bubbles we naturally assumed that as an Outdoor Education Centre this vital part of children’s education would follow. We only take one school on site at a time and classes form the same year group. We are well within all the restrictions and guidance. Our visiting schools remain wholly supportive, keeping their bookings open, many with children desperate to come and experience all we have to offer. The decision by the DfE to advise against all overnight school visits came as a real blow. Through Ofsted the DfE has, for many years’ championed residential visits and Outdoor Education, praising schools that implement a robust programme and seeing this as an essential part of the curriculum underpinning positive learning. With the guidance now in place indefinitely the DfE act may see the closure of these establishments and us permanently. We are here waiting and ready to be a valuable tool in children's recovery from this pandemic.
We know that when we are able to return we will have a strong business, but we still don't know how long we will be expected to remain closed to school groups. We are moving out of our family home and will do whatever it takes. We are trying everything, this is just one of our ideas. We want to be ready to reopen when the time comes. We are absolutely committed to ensuring we survive this and that we are still here for generations of children in the future. We just need a little bit of help.