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FUTURE OF OAKLANDS: Future of ‘cherished’ outdoor education centre is under threat

FUTURE OF OAKLANDS: Future of ‘cherished’ outdoor education centre is under threat

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A much-loved outdoor education centre used by over 1,500 Wirral children each year is under threat.

Oaklands, in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, is the centre which could close after the group which runs it said they will not reopen it once covid rules are relaxed.

Edsential, a community interest company (CIC) jointly owned by Wirral Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council, currently runs the site.

Ian McGrady, the CIC’s managing director, said Oaklands has been losing money for a number of years and Edsential must stop running the centre to protect its other sites and the jobs which remain at them.

Edsential has managed the site since 2015, with Wirral Council running it directly in previous years.

Despite the CIC saying it cannot run Oaklands going forward, Wirral Council said it has not yet made a decision on the future of the centre and will consider all options.

Before covid, more than 1,500 children from Wirral visited Oaklands each year.

The centre features a 53-bed residential outdoor centre located at the heart of Snowdonia with access to gorges, rock faces, rivers, mines, mountains and lakes.

Courses at the centre aim to develop young people’s understanding of themselves, each other and the environment, with staff focused on teaching children respect, responsibility and commitment.

Mr McGrady said covid had forced Edsential into “difficult decisions”.

He added: “As a result [of the pandemic], we have made the decision not to reopen our Oaklands Conway Centre, transferring all staff to our nearby Anglesey site.

“As a [CIC] we are not driven by profit, but by supporting our staff and making a life-changing difference to young people’s lives – this remains at the heart of everything we do.

“Unfortunately, our Oaklands centre has been loss-making for a number of years, and sadly this decision must be made now to ensure we protect the future of residential experiences for our schools and maintain jobs for our staff.”

Mr McGrady said every school which had a booking at Oaklands has chosen to rebook at the nearby Conway Centre in Anglesey.

The managing director said this centre had a broader range of facilities than Oaklands, plus added accommodation options.

Mr McGrady added: “This continues to be an extremely challenging time for us, however we remain committed to providing students with our experiences for years to come, and would like to thank our schools again for their continued support.”

Wirral Council said it recognised the value outdoor education brings.

Cllr Wendy Clements, chair of the authority’s education committee, said: “Oaklands is one of six outdoor education centres operated by Edsential – all of which are currently closed due to Covid-19.

“As Edsential have indicated that they do not intend to reopen Oaklands, along with one other former Cheshire site in Beeston, the leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Janette Williamson, has asked officers to prepare a full report on the centre for further consideration.”

The Conservative councillor added: “We recognise that Oaklands is a longstanding and much cherished facility used by generations of Wirral children.

“No decisions have been made by the council at this time. The council recognises the value of outdoor and residential experiences for young people, so any and all options will be taken into account.”

Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter

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