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Last-ditch plea to save Walsall outdoor pursuits service

By Gurdip Thandi | Walsall | News | Published:

Campaigners have made a last-ditch plea to Walsall Council bosses not to press ahead with plans to close two outdoor activity centres.

Jo Yarnall, with her daughter Hannah, speaks to protesters outside Walsall Council house about proposed cuts to the Home to School Transport scheme. Pic by Gurdip Thandi

The authority’s cabinet will meet tonight to decide the fate of its outdoor pursuits service and the future of the Aldridge Airport and Sneyd Water activities centres.

They are being recommended to close the service to save £100,000 a year in costs but Walsall Against Cuts said a full consultation and equality impact assessment had not been carried out.

Retired headteacher and SEND parent advocate Andy Summers, who is part of the group, urged the council not to axe the service.

Mr Summers said: “There is rising anger and concern in the community about the likely decision to close down Walsall’s outdoor education facilities.

“The service, like much of Walsall’s provision for young people, particularly affecting some of the most disadvantaged children with special educational needs, has been struggling in a climate of financial austerity for some years.

“The council is now recommending closure, however it has failed entirely to include any equality impact assessment and it is apparent that the consultation process has not reached key professionals.

“Inviting councillors to close down such a significant provision that will definitely have a serious negative impact on the life and well- being of many of Walsall’s most vulnerable citizens is a cynical and unsafe action and cabinet members should reconsider and suspend any decision until proper consultation and a thorough equality impact assessment has been provided for public information."

When the proposal emerged last week, parent Jo Yarnall – whose daughter Hannah has Down's Syndrome and goes to Aldridge Airport as part of the short breaks respite service – said the news had come out of the blue and that she had not been consulted.

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But the council said it had been engaging with service users about future provision and would help them seek alternative centres if they opted to close.

'Making difficult decisions'

Councillor Garry Perry Portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture said: “In advance of cabinet, no decision has been made on outdoor pursuits provision is Walsall.

“Whilst an initial decision to withdraw funding was made in 2014, the council was still able to sustain the service for a further five years.

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“This continued support was in contrast to the many councils across the country that had stopped this type of outdoor provision long ago.

“In recent years Walsall Council has explored a wide range of options to take the service forward, but despite our best efforts we have so far been unable to secure a long-term working model that is viable.

“If the community itself has ideas on how to best to deliver the provision, please let us know.

“Councils often have to make difficult decisions to ensure their limited resources are used to very best effect.

“Bearing this in mind it is important that cabinet now makes a decision on how to facilitate any potential closure. If the decision is made to close, we anticipate the service will continue into the New Year.

“In the face of this – our current engagement has focused on existing service users and our equality impact assessments will continue to reflect this.

“In the event that a decision is made to cease the service, we will continue to work with existing service users to help them access the range of alternate outdoor pursuits provision that exists locally.”

Gurdip Thandi

By Gurdip Thandi
@Gurdo

Local Democracy Reporter covering Walsall.

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