THOUSANDS of schoolchildren from South Craven and across the district could miss out on educational trips to Bewerley Park, near Pateley Bridge.

For decades, the outdoor education centre has offered primary and secondary school children across North Yorkshire a variety of residential trips, including abseiling and canoeing, and also writing workshops for gifted and talented youngsters.

But now the centre – along with its counterpart, East Barnby, near Whitby – are under review by North Yorkshire County Council, which says the financial impact of the pandemic and cost of maintaining the two residential sites means the current service has become unviable.

Following the onset of the pandemic, the Outdoor Learning Service was forced to close to school residential trips and other groups, in line with Department for Education guidance.

The Government guidance remains in place and visits are still unable to take place, which has resulted in the service losing the majority of its £2.25m annual income, says the council.

In addition, the buildings at Bewerley Park were built as temporary structures in 1939 with an expected lifespan of ten to 20 years. Mainly wood, the buildings have become increasingly expensive to maintain, requiring frequent repairs.

Now the service is forecast a deficit of £984,000 by the end of the financial year for 2020-21, and says the council, the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, as school residential trips require a long lead-in time while funding and permissions are requested from parents – which means visits would be unlikely to resume in the short-term.

It says with the current budget pressures it already faces, and the large sums of money already being spent patching-up the estate, a ‘new model’ of outdoor education may be needed.

The service currently employs about 40 staff, many of whom have been redeployed to other roles throughout the pandemic and will be consulted on future plans, says the council.

As part of the review, a consultation will be launched with schools, local communities and other stakeholder organisations on what outdoor learning provision should look like.

Amanda Newbold, assistant director of children and young people’s services, said: “We know that many generations in North Yorkshire have fond memories of visiting Bewerley Park and East Barnby during their school years. Many thousands of students have passed through the doors of these centres over the last few decades to take part in outdoor adventures and it has a special place in many people’s hearts.

“Unfortunately the estate, including dormitory huts, dining hall and other buildings, are in urgent need of updating and modernising and we need to create a more suitable model of outdoor education provision for future generations of children.”

She added: “If the buildings at Bewerley Park were old stone structures there wouldn’t be a problem, but the material estate has worn out and we’re spending a significant sum of money trying to patch it up.

“Unfortunately the buildings aren’t fit for purpose or for the future.

“We need to launch a full review of outdoor learning services and potentially come up with a more sustainable model of delivering the service.

“At this stage nothing is off the table and we would like to work with our existing outdoor learning staff and other stakeholders to see if we to make sure we fully meet the future needs of schools and young people for outdoor education and have a sustainable, long-lasting model for the service in place.”