Schools are trying to rescue a popular education centre that looks doomed to close because the county council has pulled the plug on its subsidy.
Executive headteacher Luke Whitney, who oversees Gedney Church End and Lutton St Nicholas primary schools, has emailed every school in the county asking them to join a consortium with the aim of replacing the county council’s grant to Freiston Centre for Environmental Education.
We would be interested to hear of any viable and sustainable way schools could keep the centre open and look forward to seeing the proposalsDebbie Barnes, the council’s director of children’s services
Mr Whitney said: “There are many schools within Lincolnshire who share my concern about the centre closing.
“It really is a very valuable resource within Lincolnshire and we can’t allow it to go without a fight.”
He’s putting together a “consortium proposal”, giving schools the option of collectively stumping up the cash on a diminishing, sliding-scale over three years in the hope that the centre will become self-financing.
Mr Whitney said: “We would provide the maximum subsidy in year one, reduce that to 75 per cent in year two, reduce it to 50 per cent in year three – at the end of year three, we would hope that the centre would have financial autonomy.”
The environmental education centre is due to close on August 31, with the loss of seven jobs, unless Mr Whitney’s rescue plan succeeds.
Lincolnshire County Council has welcomed the rescue initiative. Debbie Barnes, the council’s director of children’s services, said: “We would be interested to hear of any viable and sustainable way schools could keep the centre open and look forward to seeing the proposals.”
On-site facilities at Freiston include a climbing tower, food technology centre, archery range, small woodland and aerial ropes course and there are off-site activities like bushcraft and orienteering.
The centre, which has been open for 40 years, caters for people of all ages but is particularly popular with children.
The cash-strapped county council has acknowledged that the Freiston centre has provided “valuable experiences to children and young people for a number of years”.
But Coun Patricia Bradwell, exceutive councillor for children’s services, explained: “This isn’t one of our statutory services and we have to protect those essential services such as safeguarding, fostering and adoption ahead of any other funding support we give.”
Coun Bradwell said the council itself would explore “potential opportunities with providers within the marketplace to keep the centre open to deliver new services”.
The county says it has to find £120million savings over the next few years.