Marle Hall, Warwickshire County Council’s residential facility for outdoor education activities, closed on Friday 22 October 2021. Marle Hall had been a much-loved and valued facility over the last 50 years, and it delivered a range of activities that enhanced the social skills and personal development of many residents in Warwickshire and beyond. Outdoor residential trips remain a key part of Warwickshire County Council’s commitment to outdoor education and our schools will continue to have a choice of a wide range of residential outdoor education providers.
Does this mean Warwickshire children won't go on outdoor residential trips anymore?
Not at all. This decision is not about outdoor education, but about the Marle Hall building.
Warwickshire County Council remains committed to outdoor education and it will continue to be an integral part of the educational offer for Warwickshire children. Marle Hall is not the only way that Warwickshire children currently access outdoor education and so Warwickshire children will still be able to take part in outdoor residential trips as part of their education.
We believe there are around 50 other outdoor education centres with similar or better facilities within a 3-hour travelling distance from Warwickshire. Many of our schools were already using these other centres and they will continue to do so. Those schools who had relied on Marle Hall will be offered support to find alternative providers if they so wish.
What has happened to any bookings due to take place after the closure of Marle Hall?
Any bookings for Marle Hall that were due to take place after the autumn half-term of 2021 have been cancelled. The schools affected have had all payments fully refunded and been given support to find an alternative provider if they so wished.
Isn't this a statutory service? Doesn't Warwickshire County Council have to supply this service to Warwickshire schools?
No, providing our own outdoor residential centre is not a legal requirement for the council. Marle Hall had been run as a traded service by Warwickshire County Council, which meant it should cover its costs through generating income.
For many years, this was an effective and cost-efficient way of offering Warwickshire children access to residential outdoor education. Over time however, the growth in the residential outdoor education market means that schools now have much more choice of provider.
We signed the petition to save Marle Hall. Why was no notice taken of that?
The petition which was asking for Marle Hall to remain open attracted almost 7,000 signatures. It was certainly noticed and indeed, was presented to and discussed at Full Council on 16 March 2021.
The petitioner stated the importance that outdoor education plays in helping to maintain the health and wellbeing in young people and that the COVID pandemic has exacerbated problems; identified that Marle Hall has 50 years of history providing breaks for Warwickshire children, and that parents are often amazed at the difference in their children when they return.
It was clear from this that Marle Hall has made a real difference to Warwickshire children and families over many years and is rightly thought of with both much nostalgia and high regard.
We also noted the large amount of support for outdoor learning and this is something the Council remains committed to with the development of a new Outdoor Education and Learning Strategy. This means that outdoor education will remain integral to the educational offer for Warwickshire’s current and future generations. We will focus on creating the connections for children, young people, parents and educators with our natural environment and heritage within and beyond Warwickshire, as well as supporting our school system to provide a range of outdoor education opportunities for learners.
What has WCC done to explore other alternatives to closing Marle Hall?
A number of options and models for service delivery have been considered, but unfortunately none could deliver an outcome where Warwickshire taxpayers would not have to subsidise each visit to Marle Hall, whether that visit was by a child from Warwickshire or another county. Therefore, we found no alternative that would mean Marle Hall was financially sustainable for the council.
How many schools have used Marle Hall each year?
During the last 3 full years of operating pre-COVID (2017-2018 to 2019-2020), the centre was visited on average by 32 Warwickshire schools per year. This is equivalent to around 12% of Warwickshire schools.
How many pupils have used Marle Hall each year?
During the last 3 full years of operating pre-COVID (2017-2018 to 2019-2020), the average number of pupils who visited the site per year, either from Warwickshire or other counties, was 2,376. This is equivalent to about 3%.
How much of Marle Hall was being used? What were the capacity utilisation rates in recent years?
The annual capacity utilisation rate has been in steady decline. In the most recent financial years of trading this has been under 50% (excluding 2020/21 when it was closed due to Covid-19).
What impact has COVID-19 had on the decision to close the service?
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic brought obvious challenges to the residential outdoor education sector as they were required to close under Government guidance, Marle Hall was in financial difficulty for several years before this. Warwickshire County Council had carried out a comprehensive review of Marle Hall in 2019 which included financial modelling of different options. This concluded that the service would not be able to cover its costs in future years, in part because the site configuration would limit opportunities for business growth and the costs needed to maintain and develop the site to the required standard were prohibitive.
This means that while the temporary closure of the site during the COVID-19 did certainly damage the financial position even further, it was not a contributing factor to the decision to permanently close the site.
What has been the democratic process behind the decision?
The decision to close Marle Hall has been considered in detail by officers and taken through the appropriate governance procedures, including Corporate Board and Cabinet. The decision was also called in and subsequently considered by the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee before the decision was confirmed.
Why was there no public consultation on the decision?
Marle Hall is a non-statutory traded service and so there is no express duty for the council to consult on its future. In these cases, we consider what approach is appropriate in the circumstances to make sure we are acting fairly. In this case, those people directly affected by the decision have been consulted, in line with our employment law duties.
Why were the documents not made public?
In general, local authorities are required to publish agendas and reports in advance of council meetings, so that they can be viewed by the public. However, there are times when legislation makes certain categories of information exempt from this requirement. In the case of Marle Hall, the documents were classified as exempt because of the financial and personal information they contained. In particular, they were likely to identify individuals, information that relates to the financial or business affairs of any particular person and information relevant to ongoing employment consultations.
Any representations made to us were still considered carefully, including the public petition presented to us in person on 16 March 2021, before a decision was made.
Will there be an Outdoor Education Strategy for Warwickshire?
Yes, a new Outdoor Education and Learning Strategy has been approved, which will help Warwickshire schools to deliver high quality outdoor education and learning. There’s no doubt that outdoor learning experiences have a positive impact on children and young people’s development, contributing to personal growth and social awareness as well as developing skills for life and the world of work.
Once the Strategy is fully launched in early Summer 2022, schools will be able to access services such as an online directory of outdoor venues and activity providers and additional resources to help plan and coordinate outdoor education activities. We’ll also be facilitating the sharing of best practice between schools, to increase the amount of regular, enjoyable and challenging opportunities to learn outdoors.
How is the new Outdoor Education and Learning Strategy being funded?
At the Council's budget setting meeting on Tuesday 8 February 2022, a two-year allocation to support the development, implementation and embedding of the Outdoor Education and Learning Strategy was agreed. This funding has allowed us to recruit to a new Outdoor Education and Learning Strategy Co-ordinator. This role will support and embed the Strategy, working closely with Schools and Education settings and other organisations to support the promotion and development of solutions to increase and strengthen the range of outdoor learning opportunities for children and young people across Warwickshire.
What is happening to the building?
The decision on the disposal of the property was taken by Cabinet in October 2021. The Cabinet papers relating to this decision are not public. This is because they meet the criteria set out in Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 which classifies them as exempt. In this case, it is because the papers relating to the disposal included commercially sensitive information relating to financial or business affairs (Schedule 12A(3)).
Marle Hall was sold by auction on 2 March 2022, subject to contract. The sale was completed on 18 May 2022.