False Ecomomy of Closing Outdoor Education Centers

In recent months the Education authority have taken the decision to cut the provision for residential outdoor education. At the stroke of a pen they have taken a decision that will result in the closure of at least four of the outdoor education centers. Ardnabannon, Bushmills, Delamont and Killowen Outdoor Centers, and probably a fifth at Killyleagh. These are the centres which many of us as teenagers spent a weekend during the summer months going hiking in the Mournes, canoeing on the Bann or sailing in Strangford. Or went on our gcse and A-Level Geography and Biology field trips.

These closures apparently going to better meet the ‘needs of young people’. These closures will result in a saving £1.3 million (I can’t seem to get a breakdown as to whether this is an annual saving or a one off), either way it seems a relatively small sum when taken against the total 2.8 billion education Budget. And seems very small against what the cost would be to acquire the sites and build the infrastructure already in place at these centers. To take for example Killowen Centre. It is a 30,000 sq ft facility at with Jetty, boat yard, workshops, residential accommodation, field studies laboratory, class rooms, kitchens drying rooms etc. It is on a coastal site, with a suitable tidal range on a main road beside the mountains would be practically impossible for the education authority to acquire such a suitable site in that area today.

If this infrastructure is dismantled and sold off it is most likely to be replaced by a few large expensive coastal residences, as the entire rest of the Killowen – Warrenpont road has now become, and once gone it can never be replaced.

Through the course of my education I was lucky enough to visit Killowen Outdoor education center on Many occasions. The very first was in primary 1 being brought to see the Ulster Orchestra play a selection of music in the hall there. Including very memorably the pink panther theme tune which struck a chord with my five year old self.

I went back a number of times as a teenager doing the multi activity and sailing courses. I was never much good at Football, and as a result usually got a C in PE. However once Introduced to other sports at Killowen including Rock Climbing, Mountaineering Sailing I excelled. In sailing, I was lucky enough to go on to represent Ireland in a world championships at. And in the Mountaineering it fostered a lifelong love of hill walking through which I met my wife and most of my social circle, and maintain a healthy lifestile to this day. There is no doubt that as a teenager it gave me and others the confidence and belief that just because we were not very good at Football or other mainstream sports. We could still excel and be fit and sporty.

I attended an almost exclusively Catholic Secondary school and at the time had no contact whatsoever with any of the Protestant pupils in the school in the same town. There were very few places that we would have had any opportunity to meet. However through the courses I did at Killowen I met and made strong friendships that I maintain to this day with Protestants I never would otherwise have met.

In my late teens I went back every summer as a voluntary sailing instructor. I remember taking cross community groups from Portadown, Lurgan and Belfast sailing. The fact that these were residential and could take 11-14 year old or 15-18 year old groups out of their everyday environment, many of them for the first time away from home and offer them new challenges such as sailing or orienteering where they needed to co-operate to get anywhere was very important. I remember especially one group from Portadown that were there during the Drumcree dispute. The contrast between the environment they were in at Killowen and the toxic environment unfolding on the Gravaghy road at the time was stark.


These are heavily used and valuable resources to our society. In my opinion the closure of these centers is very short sighted and is not in the best interests of the communities they are in or indeed the young people currently in the education system. The 1.3 million spend is easily offset by the savings to the health system by the boost to Physical fitness and mental well being of the hundreds of young people who pass through these centers every year.

  • Rachel Elizabeth

    Totally agree. I spent much time at Ardnabannon and Delamont and have (mostly) fond memories of them. Similarly, it was during these trips away that I learnt how to sail and kayak, both sports that I have continued to partake in in my adult life. Closing these centres seems irrational when we are trying to promote outdoor activity, sports and exercise, as well as having the facilities in which schools from around the country can bring students to or hire out to other groups.

  • Tara Brooks

    At the risk of being overly cynical, I have to wonder if a buyer has already been lined up? I could just imagine a certain party with a reputation for dodgy property deals and links with wealthy property developers doing something as underhand as this.

  • file

    The Education Authority needs to be brought before the Public Accounts Committee. It was announcing recently as a warning that it might have to cut back on bus passes for school children to help its budget. When it was set up, the Education Authority was meant to stop replication of service across five ELBs. Under Gavin Boyd, five regional offices seem to be still in place (he calls them his five regional pillars), which would seem to indicate that the same amount of replication of services is going on – five personnel offices. five wages offices, five school transport offices, five school estate offices etc. Before any bus pass cuts, Boyd needs to answer straight questions about regional replication of services and why he has not implemented the cuts he was put in place to do.

  • Croiteir

    The investment in Education be the Assembly is something that needs real investigation, I have a boy at Queens and a girl at Tech. The investment in the children in the latter is woeful compared to the former.

  • Kevin Kelly

    Worked as a school Caretaker and bus driver went to Killowen 2 or 3 times ,joined in the field work and got so much out of it .Do not let these sites close . Why not at the top table and what they are paid !!!

  • Stephen Warke

    Have fond memories of Ardnabannon and Cabra Towers – does the latter still exist? I think there is much cause for concern here and kudos to JR for raising this issue. There is certainly scope in asking if EA have valued these sites recently with a view to selling? I have heard that – in spite of consultation – Delamont is earmarked to close in March, with the remainder to close in August. EA have also dramatically cut the School of Music budget alongside School Transport. It’s a disgrace!

  • Stephen Warke

    Gavin Boyd was to retire but the EA made such a botched job of finding his replacement they had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate the job descriptions etc because they weren’t happy with the candidate pool they got in the first place.

  • Sharpie

    Cabra Towers close decades ago. Derelict now.

  • Korhomme

    My kids were at Killowen and Shannaghmore. Very worthwhile; they enjoyed it a lot.

    Strange mindset that thinks closing some of these facilities is a “good thing” or an “improvement” or even “meeting the needs of young people”.

    How are these closures a good thing, how is this an improvement; and how does it meet the needs of school kids?

  • JR

    To any of you whos children have benefited from any of these centers, the public consultation is open until monday the 6th of Febuary. Click on the collowing link and make your views known. http://www.eani.org.uk/about-us/consultations/review-of-residential-outdoor-education/

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That’s an interesting point Tara. The cynic within me would wager ‘yes’.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Following on File’s comments:

    A cursory glance of the Killyleagh-Crossgar area alone shows 5 primary schools: 2 Catholic, one integrated and 2 ‘state’/prod.


    Take an axe, close and sell off the integrated, merge one Catholic school with one if not both prod primary schools (with sufficient numbers of teachers for catechism and facilities for a GFC and Irish) and retain the best facilities for the remaining schools.

    There; a Catholic primary school for those that want it and 1 or 2 other state schools.

    That’s 2 or 3 school sites that can be sold off and 2 or 3 less Principal’s salaries.

    Is that not a saving of 70 – 100k per year plus x number of teachers’ salaries?

    If so, then repeat this in 10 similarly demographically decorated areas across the land and you have 700k – 1M in savings annually (not including teachers’ salaries and money obtained from asset sales).

    A tad simplistic perhaps but for goodness sake we have to do something, this place is being run into the ground!

    There’s money saved that can provide a high standard of education for the locals and retain the centres.

    Is no one else alarmed that NI had way more leisure centres, hospitals, post offices (and pubs) in the ’80s than now? I mean the 80’s for goodness sake!

  • notimetoshine

    Thank you so much for raising this. Spent most of my teens involved with youth work and I know the value that these centres provide. They are excellent residential centres and provide much needed low cost access to outdoor pursuits that would be (for kids from low income families) very difficult to access especially considering the cost of some of the private firms providing these activities.

  • notimetoshine

    Thank you,thank you thank you. I have been waiting to see this raised as an issue.

    Those outdoor pursuits centres are a vital educational resource and we should cherish them not close them.

    They are an exceptional resource for youth work programmes, and as someone who spend most of my teens involved with youth services in one way or another I have many fond memories of time spent at killowen sailing, rock climbing, kayaking and bouldering in the mournes and on carlingford Lough.

    There was one particular cross community programme held every Easter nearly a hundred young people from all over the education board, learning about each others communities, making friends and breaking down barriers.

    Most of those young people were from low income families and would be hard pressed to afford private access to outdoor pursuit activities.

    If these centres close down in tandem with the swingeing cuts in youth services, we will be left looking at a scenario where only those from sufficiently well off families will be able to access the (often expensive when paid for privately) outdoor pursuits that get young people out into our magnificent natural environment and most important of all build character, self reliance and interpersonal skills.

  • notimetoshine

    It’s a scandal, but then look at the overall cuts to youth services. We seem to be cutting at the one part of the education establishment in NI that has worked to bring young people from different communities together as opposed to our education system which seems to revel in keeping them segregated.

  • notimetoshine

    Well the Killian site alone is located in one of the most expensive areas for property in NI. The whole Killowen area is a millionaires row, gold coast for Catholics I’ve often heard it described as and I can only imagine what such a large and primely located site would go for.

  • Korhomme

    My kids also went to integrated primary and secondary school — it was from there that they went to these outdoor facilities. (And one went to a place in Mayo.)

    Why cannot people see that education of the young is the best way to ensure the attainment of common ideals and of a prosperous future.

  • Korhomme

    No. Maintained, integrated and controlled schools are all funded in whole or in part by the state.

    If you really want to do something draconian, merge them all — but don’t make them too big and impersonal — and make them all ‘integrated’ or even secular.

  • notimetoshine

    They are excellent facilities and not just for the outdoor pursuits. All the field work we did for Geography and Biology we did in Killowen and some place up at Magilligan, they had the lab facilities and the trained staff to help. It sickens me that these resources will be lost.

    They are so valuable to education and to youth work, it doesn’t seem a very sensible from a cost point of view to get rid of them.

    Having said that it looks like youth services, outdoor pursuits and music services are for the chop. It will soon mean that those from low income families will lose access to the sort of extra curricular activities that are vital to helping young people develop and move into further and higher education. Music for instance. NI was always admired because music was provided on the basis of ability to play not ability to pay. Now it looks like only ones ability to pay will be important.

  • grumpy oul man

    Just crazy,

  • file

    So he was going to retire without having even attempted to do the rationalisation job he was put in post to do?

  • file

    Indeed – but my comments were mostly about his failure to reduce the number of civil servants in his own organisation by his insistence on keeping five regional structures which replicate services to schools instead of centralising them.

  • file

    Who? Gavin Boyd? Or those who appointed him?

  • Am Ghobsmacht


  • grumpy oul man

    Well i was refering to the closure of outdoor centers which as the thread points out do a great jib in introducing kids to outdoor activities.
    I would have thought that was obvious.

  • file

    Yeah and I was making a joke. I would have thought that was equally obvious? Not everyone on Slugger is constantly in attack mode, you see.

  • grumpy oul man

    I apoligise.

  • file

    Accepted. That is 2 apologies I have got in 2 days (but one of them was sarcastic – I accepted it anyway, as you never know when you are going to be offered the next one). Anyone else?

  • grumpy oul man

    Could i suggest that you include a smiley face next time your being witty. Give grumpy oul gits a heads up 😄

  • file

    What, like humour for slow learners? If you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny. :):) I can’t do smiley heads anyway.

  • grumpy oul man

    If you have to explain it, maybe it wasn’t funny in the first place,
    if you intend to keep making “Jokes” i suggest you learn the smiley face thing!

  • file

    I am only explaining it for YOU, you turd. Everyone else got it. Maybe it is a PICNIC problem? [Problem In Chair Not In Computer]

  • grumpy oul man

    A smily face would have prevented all thos.
    And how do you know everybody else got it? Just asking.

  • file

    I don’t care! If you look carefully in some other post, I put in a few smiley faces just for you! You should feel privileged.

  • grumpy oul man

    If you don’t care, why are you making such a fuss? and to be honest it wasn’t very funny don’t give up your day job!

  • file

    How dare you! I am unemployed and on benefits and have been for 20 years and you come on here like Noman Tebbitt flinging job-related jibes at me!

  • grumpy oul man

    I think your a bit tired and emotional.
    I think we are finished here.

  • kate

    Education is not just about being sat in a classroom. We learn from the people around us and the wonderful environment we experience. I was lucky enough to go to Bushmills residential centre as a 15years old. It was there that I developed a love of the outdoors. Having grown up in a small community I was introduced to a completely different way of life and I wanted to be part of it, something bigger than myself, something special.
    Directly through that experience not only did I sail around the world but I now work as a teacher in an outdoor centre. I see every day the difference we make in young people’s lives. We teach them how to be resilent, how to cope when life gets hard, how to be both independent; but know the true value of teamwork and relying on others.
    Children get more out of learning outdoors than we actually can quantify at this time.

    This is the year of mental health awareness, there is clear evidence that being in the outdoors, returning to nature can have calming and healing qualities. Yet they are further restricting children’s access to the outdoors. Teachers are so worried about law suits that school trips are diminishing every year. There is clear evidence to prove that children’s play area has depleted considerably over the decades. And now sadly it looks like they want the children of Northern Ireland to further miss out of vital educational resources, such as the outdoor centres.

    A lot of the issues faced in NI could be solved if the government were to take the initiative and send every child to an outdoor centre, mix with different communities, different people, experience a world bigger than themselves and there indoctrinated beliefd

  • file

    at least you knew I was joking that time!