BOSSES in the Cumbrian outdoor sector are calling for the Government to revise its rules around residential visits as they deal with an industry that has been ‘decimated’ by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Godfrey Owen, chief executive of the Brathay Trust, near Ambleside, which provides training and development - often outdoors-based - for young people, said: “We’re able to operate safely, and all the centres are able to operate safely.

“It’s not a level playing field, because if young people can be overnight in a boarding school there’s no reason why they can’t be overnight in places like Brathay.

“The outdoor learning sector has been completely decimated by the pandemic, mainly because schools haven’t been able to send young people on residentials in the way that they would normally do.”

He said the size of the centre’s staffing team had been reduced by about 20 per cent and that Brathay had adapted to the pandemic by letting accommodation to ‘staycationers’ and developing its digital course delivery.

Tim Foster, head of group (north) at the Field Studies Council, which offers ‘real-world learning’ to young people and has a centre near Grange, said: “It’s madness to think that young people can go to school, all sit and work together, but then they can’t come on an outdoor residential.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s sitting on the fence. Schools would like to come to us - not all schools, but schools generally - but they’re restricted by the Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

“It’s a crisis that’s affecting everyone, but we feel that some of it could be avoided by careful planning, listening to the people that are in the outdoor sector, and seeing how we could be part of the solution, and not a financial problem.”

Steve Scott, senior manager at YMCA Lakeside, an outdoor activity and learning centre near Newby Bridge, described the current situation as ‘pretty bleak’.

He said ‘the better part of £2 million of business’ had moved over to next year with schools having to delay their visits.

“If the DfE are saying that ‘no, the schools can’t do that’, then I feel like the outdoor education industry should be compensated for that,” he said.

And now Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has tabled an early day motion urging the DfE to change its current guidelines on overnight visits.

Mr Farron said that, in addition to the impact on jobs and the economy, young people would miss out on a ‘fantastic life experience’ if outdoor education centres collapsed.