'Devastation' as Walsall outdoor pursuits service set to close

Outdoor activities and events for the public and schools are set to be abandoned as Walsall Council looks to save £100,00 a year.

A ramblers group that meets weekly at Aldridge Airport Outdoor Centre
A ramblers group that meets weekly at Aldridge Airport Outdoor Centre

The council’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday to discuss the future of the service, with officers recommending closure to help the authority save £100,000 a year.

A report said attempts to outsource the service, find efficiency savings and boost income had failed but groups who use both Aldridge Airport and Sneyd Water Activities Centres said they would be “devastated” if they closed.

Schools, community groups, children with learning difficulties use the centres for activities including canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, climbing, archery, archery, walks and mountain biking.

The report said that, based on current expenditure, the service would need an income of £600 a day to break even but was only bringing in £100.

It added that every effort would be made to avoid compulsory redundancy for the four members of staff affected.

Jo Yarnall said her daughter Hannah, who has Down’s Syndrome, goes to Aldridge Airport regularly as part of the short breaks respite service to give families and carers a much-needed break.

Jo Yarnall with daugter Hannah

Mrs Yarnall said: “I’m devastated by this. I was not aware of this and it has come as a shock.

“Hannah loves going there and taking part in the play scheme and activities. So many people use it for a variety of things such as abseiling, archery, crafts.

“There have already been cuts to short breaks provision so to lose this as well would be terrible.

“A lot of parents with special educational needs children are desperate for respite. They are on their knees and it is affecting their mental health.

“If Aldridge closes, then what alternative is there? Parents are responsible for taking their children to short breaks providers so it could create problems if they have to travel out of town.

“Also, it is beautiful building which was only opened in 2006. It would be such a waste if it closes.”

Princess Anne officially opened Aldridge Airpot Outdoor Centre in 2008

She added that schools including Mary Elliott Special School, Cooper and Jordan Primary and sports organisations also use the facilities.

The council could also be forced to pay back £323,000 National Lottery funding if the service closes – having received a £1,076,000 to build the Aldridge centre in 2006.

Aldridge Airport Outdoor Centre was officially opened by Princess Anne in 2008.

A review of the service has been ongoing for five years and, in the 2016/17 budget, it was required to operate without the £97,000 subsidy it received from Walsall Council.

But the report said efforts to achieve ‘zero-cost’ to the authority had not materialised.

Rita Kemp, 69, joins the ramblers group every Tuesday which travels all across the Midlands for countryside, woodland and canal walks.

Rita Kemp

She said: “We have been dreading this. Everybody will be devastated if it closes. We are more of a family than a walking group. Everybody will be gutted.

“It’s an absolutely fabulous group. It caters for all your needs, especially for the elderly. It’s an excuse to keep yourself fit and healthy.

“We have got regulars who have been with the group for years. We had one lady who was doing the rambles until she was 91 because it was keeping her fit.

“It’s a benefit to all of us. It is a social outing. It keeps your spirits up and it will be a crying shame if it closes.

“If it’s about saving money then they are saying that we aren’t worth it. We are all worth it. It affects lives. It is our lives."

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