A continuing lockdown of residential centres is stopping tens of thousands of inner city youngsters learning about nature and team-building through activities like stargazing, hiking, climbing and canoeing.
Martin Curtis, of London Youth, a network of 600 youth organisations that dates back to 1897, said: “These experiences create intense memories for young people. It’s hard to overstate the fact that many have never seen the countryside, spent a night without the backdrop of traffic noise and sirens, or seen a vivid starlit sky.”
Meg Hillier, the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, in London’s East End, told the Standard: “It is vital that young children have access to an outdoor education.
“Many children in London do not have access to outdoor spaces at home and these overnight educational trips are a wonderful opportunity for them to experience new activities and learn new skills.”
Overnight trips were banned in the first wave of the pandemic and the ban has stayed in place despite the reopening of hotels and overseas holidays and the mass return of pupils to schools – including boarding schools. Organisers say centres are Covid-safe and fear that 15,000 jobs are in danger if they cannot reopen soon.
Tim Gill, a patron of the Forest School Association, said young Londoners had less experience of life outside the city than other UK children.
“The great outdoors is an alien world for one in seven London children – far higher than other parts of the country,” he said.
“Children who struggle in the classroom – especially those who have been cooped up in flats – thrive on outdoor education trips, where they can explore the natural world, spread their wings and learn what they are capable of.”
Two million British children a year usually go on trips – and since March some 1.5 million children have missed out.
Mike King, chair of the Institute for Outdoor Learning and founder of Releasing Potential, said the sector had developed detailed Covid-safe guidelines. “The great outdoors has always been Britain’s favourite classroom – and there’s nowhere safer during a pandemic.” He added: “Adventure and education in the open air are engrained in the British psyche.”
PGL, one of the best known names, has announced 670 job losses. Over 160 staff were furloughed at its Marchant’s Hill centre in Surrey, which teaches 750 children in normal times.
London Youth has operated at Woodrow High House in the Chilterns since the mid-1940s and at Hindleap Warren, in the Ashdown Forest, since the mid-1960s. Mr Curtis warned: “There is high risk that if we lose them now, we lose them for many years to come.”
He said the consequences for children of stopping activities was “yet to be fully understood” and appealed: “We can do a brilliant job for school groups and all in a Covid-secure way. We need the Government on board so we can get going again as soon as possible.”