Uncertain future for popular outdoor centres visited by Wigan children

Hinning House and Low Bank Ground in the Lake District have introduced many borough youngsters to the delights of the great outdoors.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 4:09 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 4:10 pm
Hinning House

Now, though, Wigan Council is about to begin a review of the service which provides the trips.

The local authority owns the two centres in Cumbria with the Brathay Trust managing them.

The two organisations’ official statements say a six-month review from April has been agreed and discussions will take place about the future.

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Low Bank Ground

But a letter to schools seen by the Wigan Today goes further, suggesting the future of the centres is “at a crossroads” due to financial pressures on the cash-strapped town hall, particularly in the children’s services department.

It suggests talks will take place about the Brathay Trust purchasing Low Bank Ground, on the shore of Coniston Water, to continue to offer trips there to borough

schools.

But the organisation does not have sufficient cash to buy Hinning House, which is located in the Duddon Valley near England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike, as well, leaving the prospects for that venue very unclear.

The letter has caused some concern due to the huge positive impact spending time in the spectacular landscapes of the national park and enjoying outdoor activities that cannot be done at home has on young people from Wigan.

That has led to calls for the local authority and the Brathay Trust to do everything in their power to find a solution to prevent access being cut.

Catherine Pealing, assistant director of education at the town hall, said: “For 10 years the Brathay Trust has been supporting children and families in Wigan borough from Low Bank Ground and Hinning House.

“We recently extended our contract with the trust for an additional six months.

“We are also in the process of reviewing the existing service and delivery options for the future.”

Godfrey Owen, the Brathay Trust’s chief executive, said: “Brathay Trust has been delivering outdoor learning programmes for Wigan schools from Low Bank Ground and Hinning House for eight years, supporting 2,500 young people each year.

“In line with Government regulations the centres were closed for much of 2020, but we will be reopening as soon as we are able.

“The contract has been extended from April 2021 for six months and we understand the council is reviewing the existing service and delivery options for the future.

“Brathay remain committed to continuing to offer an outdoor learning experience for Wigan’s young people.”

The letter sent to schools which have arranged bookings said Brathay’s current contract with the local authority expires at the end of this month.

However, it said the future of the provision is in some doubt to a combination of budget cuts and the impact of Covid-19.

The letter expressed regret Hinning House could not also be bought alongside Low Bank Ground.

It also said it believes taking children from Wigan to Cumbria will be important for wellbeing and academic achievement as the borough looks to recover from the impact of the novel coronavirus.

A major survey of some 700 former Wigan schoolchildren in 2018 found the visits to the Lake District were an important and positive part of their childhoods, with those who went on the trips recalling happy memories of them.

There is now some concern that these opportunities may be limited in the future.

One school governor said: “Memories of going to Hinning House are embedded for many children and to take that away from future generations would be a shame.

“It is one of the only opportunities some children in the borough might get to sample the outdoor life, see the wildlife and experience activities like canoeing.

“Some children have never experienced that kind of environment before and the opportunity to do so has immense benefits.

“I really hope they can work to find a way through this situation.”

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