Education and Training

Outdoor centre takes record bookings – but is still in the financial wilderness

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 05 June 2020 7:28

Outdoor learning beauty spot The Wilderness Centre has revealed it bookings for 2021 could well give the Gloucestershire business a record financial year. 

Closed like many due to the pandemic it believes the shock of coronavirus has given people a new attitude to the benefits of outdoor learning, hence the influx of business. 

However, lockdown leaves the place of learning, perched on Plump Hill near Mitcheldean, with a financial hurdle of no insignificance to overcome which potentially threatens it making it to the promised land of 2021. 

Owners of Wotton House International School in central Gloucester, say the impact of covid-19 means that depite a welcome £25,000 grant from the Government, ongoing overhead costs of £4,000 per month could be its downfall. 

The funds pay for the upkeep of the house and grounds and were expected to be generated by business this coming summer. 

Simon Dawson (pictured), head of The Wilderness Centre, said: “What we are now planning is to reopen in early July and do what we can, within government guidelines, to get people to The Wilderness. 

“It’s the latest stage in a period which has been something of an adventure for us. 

“We’ve gone through the whole rollercoaster of emotions and, while we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, there are some immediate and pressing challenges we need to overcome. 

“We’ve had a really high number of enquiries for 2021 and very few outright cancellations from schools and other groups – most have rebooked for the autumn or next year. 

However, we should be making money now to plough back into the development and upkeep of the centre - especially through the winter - and our lovely old house, which people often say is a home from home, needs to be looked after."

“As everyone knows there’s huge uncertainty about how and when schools and other groups are going to get back together - from this perspective 2021 can look like a long way away. 

“What is exciting is that we can work with our sister organisation, Wotton House International School. Pupils there, who use our centre for outdoor learning on a weekly basis, will start coming here before the summer holidays begins.” 

The Wilderness Centre was bought in 2015 by Daniel Sturdy and his family, who also own International Village Education, which in turn owns and runs Wotton House International School. 

Dr Sturdy, school principal, said: “The Covid-19 outbreak hasn’t changed the fact that attitudes to education are moving forward. If anything, this episode has drawn the importance of natural learning into sharper focus. 

“I believe the Government should do everything it can to support centres like the Wilderness, and the many others around the UK which are struggling to remain afloat during this crisis. 

“By saving the centres we would reap the benefits through a generation of enlightened, emotionally sound and productive young people – of that I have no doubt.”