Backing to retain Ardnabannon centre

Backing to retain Ardnabannon centre

8 November 2017

LOCAL politicians have called on the Education Authority to abandon its controversial plan to close the Ardnabannon outdoor education at the end of the year.

The closure of the 100-bed Castlewellan facility was confirmed last month as part of cost-cutting proposals which will also result in the downgrading of an outdoor education centre at Killowen near Rostrevor. 

The Seaboard outdoor education centre in Killyleagh is to close at weekends and evenings but Delamont Education Centre, which was also under threat of closure, has been spared the axe and is to have its facilities expanded.

There was across-the-board political support for a proposal calling for the closure of the outdoor centre at Ardnabannon to be shelved at Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council and downgrading facilities in Killyleagh and Killowen.

The proposal was tabled by Downpatrick councillor, John Trainor, who said the decisions were made after a “flawed consultation process” which he claimed disregarded the views of the public, user groups, staff, parents, children and politicians.

He continued: “Outdoor education and youth provision have historically been underfunded by the education boards and this theme seems to be continuing under the new Education Authority. The learning that takes place within these environments is different from the learning traditionally associated with the school environment, but is no less important.

“To now remove facilities and change service provision at some centres with no extra funding will not enhance the services but put the sector under further pressure to deliver. If the Education Authority wishes to enhance services it would be better to focus on the resources they allocate for such provision.”

Councillor Trainor added: “The Education Authority needs to reverse its decision to close the Ardnabannon centre and downgrade services at Killowen and Killyleagh. There needs to be adequate funding for outdoor education and youth provision. As we have no Education Minister, no Executive and no Assembly, this council must press the Education Authority to reverse these decisions.”

Councillor Mark Murnin said the outdoor centres provide educational benefits for young people who learn about the area, go home excited and subsequently return on several occasions with their parents, providing a positive economic impact. He said it is imperative the local authority does all it can to ensure Ardnabannon remains open.

Councillor Billy Walker branded the consultation exercise which preceded the decision to close Ardnabannon as “nothing more than a paper exercise,” arguing that nine times out of ten, decision makers ignore the views and wishes of the people. He said while pleased the outdoor education centre at Delamont is to remain open, he remains totally opposed to the closure of Ardnabannon.

Councillor Walker added: “The Education Authority believes Ardnabannon has served its purpose as it has become an overnight facility with children who stay there ferried by bus in the mornings to other locations. Ardnabannon is unique and brings kids from all over to our area to be educated together and it must not close.”

Councillor Michael Ruane described outdoor education centres as “important resources” for the council area and backed the call for the facilities to remain open, a view shared by councillor Davy Hyland.

Councillor Jill Macauley said the local outdoor centres offer a “unique and educational opportunity” which add greatly to young people’s valuable learning experience, explaining job security for the staff who work at the various centres is another key factor in backing their retention.

Councillor Terry Andrews described the closure of Ardnabannon as “totally wrong” accusing the Education Authority of adopting a “penny wise, pound foolish approach” to outdoor education. Independent Unionist councillor, Henry Reilly, also backed the motion, highlighting the important role outdoor education facilities in the development of young people.