Welsh government facing Judicial Review over ‘irrational’ rules for outdoor education centres

JMW Solicitors has issued a pre-action protocol letter as it gears up to challenge the Welsh government on its ‘irrational’ Covid-19 decision-making that has forced outdoor education centres to remain closed while competitors in England and Scotland reopened weeks ago.

The law firm is acting on behalf of the Rhos y Gwaliau Outdoor Education Centre near Bala, Gwynedd.

Frustrated owner Sara Jane Jones explained that the current rules offer no clarification on when they can expect to welcome school children for overnight visits in Wales, and the government has provided no justification for the decision.

Meanwhile their competitors in England have been permitted to open and offer residential stays for school children since 17th May, closely followed by Scottish centres on 31st May.

Sara and her husband Ed have run the Rhos y Gwaliau centre for 16 years, though the centre has been welcoming youngsters since 1976. Outdoor Education Centres like Sara and Ed’s play an important role in the UK, allowing children to enjoy time in nature - an experience they would otherwise be deprived of as the costs would be too great for many families. Many of the children attending the centre come from deprived backgrounds and the experience is often life-changing.

“We want to hear the evidence for preventing overnight stays at outdoor education centres - so far we have received no justification at all,” Sara explained. “Why should children who are already operating within a bubble for educational purposes be treated the same as a group of non-related adults? And how is a bubble of school children sharing a dorm worse than 200 adults cramming inside a Boeing 737?

“Children and education should be a higher priority and viewed separately from the general public - they are a lower risk group in terms of age and cases have remained flat in schools. There are also strict rules in place on children’s residential trips with qualified, experienced staff and school teachers, which needs to be recognised - none of this has been looked at properly.”

For many of the children, their visit will be the first time they’ve walked along the beach or even seen the sea. The Centre ordinarily welcomes around 2,200 children every year.

While the Welsh government has advised outdoor education centres to access a £2million fund created to cover essential operating costs, Sara explains that the fund came too late for many and, for others, won’t allow them to make ends meet.

“While a fund was made available, after 14 months it’s simply too little too late - the imposed limit of £45,000 means it will not be enough for most to cover their costs and so the sector continues to make a loss. Our competitors in England are open again, while we are being held back.

“We have now been continually closed since March 2020 - we haven’t had a bumper summer in 2020 like many tourism and hospitality businesses. We are a year-round business but, as you would expect, summer is our busiest time. We have now lost two summers - two peak seasons of business - and still have no idea when we are likely to be able to resume trading. To add to that, our costs will now rise again with the tapering furlough as it did last summer. We have now had to weather this storm twice - it’s an absurd situation and it needs to be reviewed urgently.”

Lizzie McPeake, Solicitor at JMW Solicitors, said: “Like many businesses, the Rhos y Gwaliau Centre suffered considerably during the past year - now, as its competitors outside Wales begin welcoming school children once again, it is forced to remain closed. No data or justification has been provided, which is extremely frustrating for a sector that is now struggling to remain afloat.

“The centre is receiving enquiries from schools who wish to book visits before the school holidays in July, but Sara is unable to confirm dates - yet these children are already in the same bubble; they sit next to one another, play together and eat together every day. It’s completely irrational and once again it’s young people bearing the brunt of poor decision-making.”

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