County councillors are being asked to approve, in principle, the redevelopment of North Yorkshire’s outdoor residential learning site at Bewerley Park, which should allow the service to become more financially independent.
Proposals are to go to the executive on September 21, recommending that further investment is made in the Outdoor Learning Services, on the proviso that the service will be able to operate sustainably in the future and without any subsidy from the council’s taxpayers.
The County Council is recommending that an initial £400,000 of funding is sought to draw up a business case and planning applications for Bewerley Park in the Yorkshire Dales, to bring it up to modern-day standards and allow it to work in a more commercial manner.
A review of our Outdoor Learning Service began in February this year, which involved collecting feedback from hundreds of adults, children, stakeholders, schools and other organisations.
The review took place as the two sites were closed in line with government guidance on residential trips during the pandemic. It looked at the range of facilities and activities the service offers; analysed data on the use of the two sites and operating costs and involved full inspections of both sites.
The review concluded that the Outdoor Learning Service made a valuable contribution to our vision that all children in North Yorkshire are safe, happy, healthy and able to achieve, as set out in the Being Young in North Yorkshire 2021 to 2024 strategy. It also contributes to the priority for more children and young people to lead “lifelong healthy lifestyles with improved social, emotional and mental health and resilience and reduced health inequalities”, as set out in our Council Plan 2021 to 2025.
Organisations who took part in the review, said the service helped children and young people by improving wellbeing and life skills such as improved confidence and managing risk-taking. A total of 81 per cent who responded to the questionnaire said it helped participants learn to manage risk, 78 per cent said it helped with emotional skills and 63 per cent said it helped improve appreciation of the natural environment.
Bewerley Park was built in the 1940s and is primarily made up of wooden huts. The design and layout of current buildings were found to not meet the demands of functions of a modern outdoor education centre and the large dormitories limit the number of groups which can use the centre at any one time.
The recommendations are calling for the redevelopment of Bewerley Park in principle so it can bring facilities up to standard in order to grow its customer base and increase bookings.
The proposals ask for an initial investment of up to £400,000 for the Outdoor Learning Service to draw up an initial business case for site.
It is also recommended that some minor improvements are made to facilities in East Barnby to ensure it can still meet the needs of the service and schools.
Cllr Patrick Mulligan, Executive Member for Education and Skills said: “If the proposals are approved later this month, then the service has been given the opportunity to thrive, but it must be commercially viable and be more financially independent if it secures the investment needed to bring facilities up to standard.
“The Outdoor Learning Service is a fantastic resource, which we know are cherished by people in North Yorkshire. Generations of people of all ages have fond memories of school trips where they took part in outdoor adventures and tried many activities for the first time, from caving to gorge-walking and canoeing.
“But its future is dependent on it being used.
“The two residential sites are situated in spectacular countryside in Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and in the North York Moors National Park near Whitby.
“We would like schools, charities and other groups to use them to their full potential. They can be used year-round, including during autumn and winter, during school holidays or weekends. Whether that’s a school looking to book a week-long residential trip; groups or individuals working with disadvantaged young people, or by charities or other organisations.
“If the investment is agreed, then we still need to secure the future of the service by making sure it is well-used, year round, so that generations to come can continue to create memories of a lifetime in the North Yorkshire countryside.”
Cllr Stanley Lumley, Member for the Pateley Bridge Division, said: “The recommendation to move forward and support both centres to become sustainable is very welcome news indeed.
“Bewerley Park is a much-loved facility. I was overwhelmed with the concern from the local community and beyond when it was announced the centre was under review. I strongly believe the Outdoor Learning Service is essential for young people’s physical and mental wellbeing, especially after the crisis in wellbeing among young people during lockdown. It has been a rite of passage in North Yorkshire for many generations. The service has to go forward on a business-like, sustainable footing, but we are moving forward on a positive footing.”
The report which goes before the executive on September 21, will recommend an initial £400,000 investment be approved to draw up business plans for the service and progress the plans to point where we can award a contract for the work.
Then, proposals will go back to members with the final costs of developing Bewerley Park.
In the meantime, both sites remain open for bookings. If you would like to talk to someone about running a course at the centre, make a booking, or find out more about the Outdoor Learning Service, you can visit our Outdoor Learning Service website.