Falkirk residents battle to save outdoor education service threatened with closure

Budget cuts threat service providing outdoor education programmes to local schools

RESIDENTS in Falkirk have started a campaign to save an outdoor education service facing closure as a result of Falkirk Council budget cuts. 

The council plans to slash funding for the Falkirk Community Trust, which runs the threatened Falkirk Outdoor Activities service, by £1.248m as part of a wider bid to save £20m from its budget. A final decision will be made on 22 February.

In response, a group of concerned citizens gathered together in a campaign to save Falkirk Outdoors. Gillian Miller, a mother of children who will be affected by the closure, created a Change.org petition, which so far has gathered over 1,200 supporters. 

"For all of the groups mentioned above - old, young, well-off, not so well-off, the impact of taking part in these activities on keeping us happy and healthy - physically and mentally - cannot be underestimated." Community petition

She states on the petition: "For all of the groups mentioned above - old, young, well-off, not so well-off, the impact of taking part in these activities on keeping us happy and healthy - physically and mentally - cannot be underestimated."

Falkirk Outdoors has been providing the Falkirk community and local schools with outdoor activities and education programmes since 2011. Last year, 4,500 children, 1,100 adults and 450 seniors made use of Falkirk Outdoors programmes.

Neil Brown, general manager of Falkirk Community Trust, said: "While a number of service efficiencies have been put forward that deliver a significant amount of savings, it is unfortunately not possible to achieve the level of savings required without there being an impact on our services and staff. 

"In this respect one of our proposals is to withdraw from the provision of our outdoor activities programme to both the community and local schools."

He added that it was aware of the impact that withdrawing the service would have on local schools and the community, and that the Trust would consider any suggestions or ideas that would enable it to continue the outdoor programme while saving the £260,000 that it costs to operate.

"We appreciate councils have to operate within financial constraints, but we wonder how many more council-provided or funded services are at risk right now, being dismantled with no overview of what we are losing." Neil Brown, Falkirk Community Trust

Gibson said: "We appreciate councils have to operate within financial constraints, and that difficult choices must be made, but we wonder how many more council-provided or funded services are at risk right now, being dismantled with no overview of what we are losing."

Falkirk Outdoors has provided local schools with free outdoor education on an allocation basis with 301 days distributed among 48 primary schools and nine secondary schools, two of which have additional support needs and one, Carrongrange, which has pupils with moderate, severe, and complex additional support needs. 

Additionally, it has worked with young people in the criminal justice system and vulnerable adults, and improved accessibility to the outdoors by making it easier for locals without outdoor clothing and equipment to take part in activities.

"The staff are great and it's so accessible for those of us without a car or all the kit," said Shona Rawlings, who took part in a winter skills course. One signatory on the petition to save Falkirk Outdoors described it as a "truly inclusive public service".

Studies have shown that physical activity outside has significant health benefits. One study reported by the Guardian in 2013 found that "outdoor work and play act as catalysts for learning among early years pupils". 

Picture courtesy of Craig McLaren

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in - support our new media.