Northern Ireland news

Closure of Ardnabannon outdoor education centre 'a mistake'

Ardnabannon outdoor education centre sits in Castlewellan, Co Down. Picture by Mal McCann

THE closure of a Co Down outdoor recreation centre "doesn't make sense", it has been claimed.

The Education Authority (EA) announced last night that the 100-bed Ardnabannon outdoor education centre in Castlewellan will be closed as part of a review of services - even though a public consultation showed strong opposition to the move.

The centre - a former private home dating from the 1850s - provides activities including orienteering, canoeing, archery and hillwalking.

Staff will be relocated to another facility.

Of the eight large outdoor residential activity centres in the north, one will be closed and three others - Bushmills, Killowen and Killyleagh - will now cater to children who need specialist education services.

SDLP South Down MLA Colin McGrath described the closure of Ardnabannon and changes to the Killyleagh centre as "disgraceful".

"Ardnabannon is a first class 100-bed facility with dedicated staff who will now be relocated to a smaller 30-bed facility. It just doesn’t make sense," he said.

"Thousands of people across county Down have fond memories and experiences at Ardnabannon and Killyleagh centres."

He said he would speak to the EA about the closure.

"The evidence from the consultation process was that this decision is not supported. In a political vacuum, I view this as a bad decision," he said.

South Down MP, Sinn Féin's Chris Hazzard, said he had requested an urgent meeting with the EA.

"In recent months, Sinn Fein representatives have worked hard to impress upon the EA that these proposals were counterproductive. It is a blow for local people that the centre at Ardnabannon has been closed," he said.

"Whilst I'm delighted that other local centres such as Killowen and Killyleagh have been saved, it is disheartening that the EA have not included Ardnabannon in its plans for the future.

"Situated in the centre of the Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Ardnabannon is a mainstay in first class outdoor education activities. The centre should be at the heart of plans going forward, instead of being targeted for closure. 

"I'm afraid that this decision is yet another example of poor policy making on behalf of the EA; and it is the staff and young people who may yet again pay the price."

EA assistant director for youth services Arlene Kee said its new outdoor learning service would be developed with children in mind.

"We will be actively working with children and young people to design this service, promoting extensive volunteering and staff development opportunities within both the statutory and voluntary sectors," she said.

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