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Glimmer of hope for Wells study centre

PUBLISHED: 15:47 13 March 2010 | UPDATED: 11:14 07 July 2010

A glimmer of hope emerged for a threatened study centre in Wells yesterday as county councillors agreed it should not be closed without consultation.

The future of the popular field studies centre on Polka Road, and a similar one at Holt Hall, was thrown into doubt last month when Norfolk County Council agreed to remove £250,000 of funding.

A glimmer of hope emerged for a threatened study centre in Wells yesterday as county councillors agreed it should not be closed without consultation.

The future of the popular field studies centre on Polka Road, and a similar one at Holt Hall, was thrown into doubt last month when Norfolk County Council agreed to remove £250,000 of funding.

A report published by children's services director Lisa Christensen said demand had fallen at both centres and recommended the closure of Wells to allow investment in the more "financially viable" venue at Holt.

But members of the children's services overview and scrutiny panel yesterday voted unanimously for consultation to take place before "mothballing".

The final decision will now rest with the county's ruling cabinet, but the temporary reprieve was welcomed by campaigners.

The case for saving the centre was made by Dr Marie Strong, county councillor for the Wells division, who read letters of support from teachers, youth group leaders, businessmen and parish councillors.

After the meeting, Dr Strong said: "I am greatly relieved that the panel has made this decision and that this will now go to the cabinet - hopefully they will accept the decision."

The strength of feeling was shown at the meeting by the fact that there were six public questions - all supporting the survival of the two centres.

Shelagh Hutson, cabinet member for children's services, said: "There are 440 Norfolk schools and 89 sent parties for residential stays at the two centres. A total of 2,976 of the 170,000 children and young people in Norfolk stayed there. It's the old saying: 'If you don't want to lose it, use it'."

Mervyn Scutter, Liberal Democrat children's services spokesman, said: "We should leave these centres open long enough for a full investigation to take place. Please give these institutions the chance to survive and the children of Norfolk the chance to explore and grow from the experience they have."

A letter was also sent to the panel members by Chas Matthews, chairman of the National Association of Field Studies Officers.

It says: "It is with utter dismay that I heard this news. To lose a centre of the calibre of Wells at a time when the industry is celebrating the 'Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto' coming of age, enabling opportunities and support for more and more young people to reap the rewards of learning outside the classroom, is both illogical and ironic.

"I hope you can draw back from such a disastrous decision and allow more time for consultation and

some creative thinking; a real scientific approach to a perceived problem."

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