Writing a blog right now feels a little indulgent but it’s worth reflecting on the recent dialogue with the BBC that resulted in the Countryfile profile of the challenges facing outdoor education and children and young people’s access to outdoor learning as a result of the pandemic. We set out to explore 3 key areas and certainly managed to shine some light on them.
- The need to step back up children and young people’s connections to nature, developments in self-confidence and introduction to healthy outdoor activities afforded through outdoor learning
- The economic impact of losing employment and direct financial contribution to rural economies of centres closing temporarily or permanently
- A massively under-utilised outdoor learning workforce that could be drawn on to assist in a careful return to the great outdoors for the wider public, which I know DEFRA are currently grappling with
Immediately prior to the Countryfile interviews and site visits, I had an opportunity to look at the initial results of the Outdoor Learning sector impact survey (thanks to all who contributed). I tried not to pull any punches in my opening statement to the BBC producer when relaying some key messages, “This is a fairly bleak picture driven by uncertainty around how existing models of practice may need to change under new health guidance.”
I went on to say that the survey revealed a desire to ensure that children and young people especially are given the opportunities to engage with nature, develop interests in healthy outdoor sports and learn more about themselves and others in the process. The immediate challenge is how to achieve this before too many miss out. This combined with the following insights gave the BBC the basis for their preparation of the slot on Countryfile aired on 10th May.
General social distancing guidance, travel restrictions and closed schools means there is very little outdoor learning activity outside of fortunate families. Whilst school visits are not the only source of income for the sector, we would normally expect to see in region of 20,000 schools visits of different types through the summer term, one of the busiest periods of the year.
An indefinite ban on school visits will have a very big impact on the future capacity of the sector. Combined with lost income from other users of outdoor learning services means the immediate financial impact across the UK looks like lost income in excess of £150m for the summer term. This includes large multi-site residential commercial models, charities, local authority provision and a wide range of SME’s & sole traders.
The UK has one of the most established and experienced Outdoor Learning sectors globally. Well over 75% of the organisations responding to the recent sector impact survey have been established for more than 10 years with many being set up over 30 years. The majority of those organisations are reporting that the current crisis is very likely to undermine the sustainability of their offer resulting in significantly less future opportunities for children and young people especially to benefit from residential based outdoor and adventurous activity.
Many outdoor learning providers are taking sensible actions to work within current and likely future constraints including:
i. Offering on-line alternatives to maintain some engagement with their clients and beneficiaries
ii. Helping children and young people engage with their local natural environments by preparing resources for schools and youth groups to utilise in their own grounds or other local outdoor areas
iii. Utilising the government’s employee furloughing and self-employed support schemes and accessing grants and loans being made available
These activities are not going to sustain many current delivery models, though will of course provide some opportunities for children and young people as Covid19 constraints ease
Many of the businesses and employees in the sector are based in rural communities and their single biggest cost is often their staff. A significant % of the lost income will impact in those communities, especially if the furloughing scheme finishes before rural outdoor activity organisations are able to host school visits or provide activities to groups of people.
Thanks for all the encouraging feedback on the BBC report. We will continue to raise the profile of the wealth of fantastic outdoor learning across the UK.
Andy Robinson, IOL CEO
You can see the Countryfile episode here, on iPlayer (9 minute feature on outdoor learning begins at 7mins 40sec)