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The Marle Hall Centre for Outdoor Learning, which opened in 1971, is still much-loved and fondly remembered by many generations of Warwickshire school children.
But yesterday its closure was confirmed.
The truth is that Marle Hall has been run down and neglected over many years by its owner Warwickshire County Council. Council leaders are using the facility’s high maintenance costs to justify its closure – and to exonerate themselves of any blame.
And they may be right that the cherished facility near Snowdonia National Park, Wales, is now financially questionable. But this is ENTIRELY down to their catastrophic mismanagement.
The council should have acted years ago to maintain properly what has always been an invaluable resource for our county’s school children. It chose not to maintain the historic building, rather than investing to improve it. It chose not to market the facility effectively to keep up with private providers. And it chose not to explore options to make the facility accessible for disabled people. It has always claimed the Grade-II listed building could not be converted when funding to make it accessible can be attained from many sources – and was achieved for the listed Warwick Museum building just a few years ago. And, as Labour county councillors have called for, where is the programme of outdoor activities to replace Marle Hall when council leaders have known for months its closure was unavoidable?
The decision, and the circumstances that made it necessary, will rightly cause outrage. Marle Hall provided children with a chance to visit beautiful landscapes and enjoy unforgettable adventures that many may never be lucky enough to experience again. It boosted confidence, it encouraged a healthy lifestyle and it strengthened lifelong friendships.
And this year we should have been celebrating Marle Hall’s 50th anniversary, not mourning its closure.
The Warwickshire teachers who orchestrated the 7,000-signature petition to save Marle Hall in December must have taken so many thankful youngsters to Wales and seen the happiness it created. I am grateful to them for their efforts. And to have gained 7,000 signatures is a huge achievement – and only reinforces the strength of feeling about how important Marle Hall was to our community.
But more to the point: with the future of Warwickshire’s regional governance in doubt, why should the public continue to trust the Conservative-run county council with providing our region’s vital services if it cannot even manage Marle Hall responsibly? Especially when it was so loved by the public. When September comes, and parents and children return from summer holidays, I hope they remember where the blame lies.