WIGAN’S popular outdoor centres in the Lake District have been saved after councillors agreed to lease them to a charity.
Cash-strapped councillors on the borough’s Cabinet Committee agreed that they should now be run by a specialist trust, rather than selling off the facilities.
Low Bank Ground in Coniston and Hinning House in Seathwaite have given generations of local children the chance to enjoy the great outdoors in a stupendous setting.
But, with finance chief juggling exhausting £66m budget cuts, the approaching £200,000 a year operational subsidy they now require was judged too much of a drain on resources for it to continue.
And that was despite £40,000 being trimmed of operating costs
While complete closure and sell-off have already been examined by education officers, this week they confirmed that they will now sign a deal to have the Wigan based Brathay Trust run them for the next seven years instead.
Director of People Nick Hudson said that they had always recognised just how valuable these centres were as an educational incentive for many hard pressed pupils who wouldn’t get the chance to enjoy the inspiring English Lake District without the offer of a chance to stay there.
He told the Cabinet Committee that they had been looking carefully at their options over leasing the centres to an organisation which specialises in outdoor education with young people.
And after an extensive tendering process they are confident that Brathay are the right candidates.
The Cabinet heard a ‘painful and controversial journey’ had ended in a good news story.
Mr Hudson: “We set out to retain the full service benefits to Wigan families and their children while reducing the costs to the council.
“But what we will end up with here is maintaining a high quality service but with an increased and enhanced provision.
“Brathay Trust are a very viable option because they are a well established and well respected business and charity in the Lakes with a lot of experience.”
Brathay specialises in engaging and inspiring young people through a range of projects, including creative, outdoor and environmental activities.
The contract will see the Trust, whose North West headquarters is co-incidentally based in the Investment Centre at Wigan Pier, lease the centres for seven years from the council.
They will retain existing staff, although they will, under TUPE protection, move onto Brathay contracts.
But although the charity will also be responsible for repair and maintenance, the council will retain ownership of the buildings.
The plans have always stipulated that the two centres, purchased by the Education Department in 1983, would still prioritise Wigan families.
Cabinet member for Children and Young People Coun Susan Loudon said that Low Bank Ground and Hinning House held a “special place” in the hearts of many people from across the borough.
While the foresight of previous Wigan councillors and chief officers in setting up the facilities, she said, could now continue to be celebrated.
She said: “I believe we have now found a good solution to a difficult problem.”