Community bid the best bet for outdoor centre

First published in News

PLANS by a community group to take over the Malvern Hills Outdoor Education Centre, West Malvern, have taken a step forward after its backers held a meeting with county council officials.

The community group, which includes local residents, teachers, and parish, district and county councillors, is working to establish a community interest company to run the centre. These are social enterprises which aim to use assets and profits for the public good.

It includes Kidderminster-based Baxter College, a school with a special interest in outdoor education.

The centre, which has provided adventurous educational opportunities for generations of pupils, was threatened with closure last year as Worcestershire County Council sought to make budget cuts.

The closure threat was averted in September when the county council opened negotiations with a private company Acorn Ventures, to run the centre.

But the backers of the community bid believe their scheme, which includes management of the centre by the existing staff, is the best way forward for the centre’s users.

County councillor Beverley Nielsen said: “I called in the decision to the scrutiny board and now the county council has given us the opportunity to make our case.

“We must accept the Acorns bid is still the council’s preferred option, but at least there will be a chance for us to be heard.”

As a result of the meeting, Coun Nielsen has been asked to bring a more detailed marketing and business plan to county council officers this month.

Malvern Hills district councillor Julian Roskams said: “We hope even at this fairly late stage that the county council can take a step back and consider the advantages of a community bid. Acorn would be running it primarily as a commercial adventure holiday centre, but we would be able to maximize the educational side.”

County council assistant chief executive Clare Mitchell said: “A meeting has taken place but we are unable to comment further at this stage. Acorn Venture Ltd remains our preferred provider at this current time.”

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