Killowen, going, going, gone?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

KILLOWEN Outdoor Activity Centre will cease to exist as an outdoor education centre from December 31, the Democrat has been told.

An employee - who did not wish to be named - stated to this newspaper that the wide range of experiential outdoor adventure activities that the province-renowned centre currently provides will stop at the end of the year, with many pre-booked lessons from January 1 onwards having to be cancelled.

The staff member said: "We've been told that we can't guarantee any bookings after December 31, so, come the end of this year basically, the centre is closing as an outdoor education centre. We have bookings right up until the end of June."

The insider believes that Killowen, despite being a much-used facility, has been critically undermined by the Education Authority (EA) in a swingeing, "cost-cutting" exercise that will leave the Shannaghmore facility struggling to cope with the resulting overflow of students: "Certainly Killowen has been undermined by the fact that it has been under threat.

"All last year there were threats against the centre, and when we were sending out our booking forms last November for this year, a lot of the schools were asking us, 'Are you going to be open next year?', and we weren't able to categorically say 'yes' to them, all we could say was, 'to the best of our knowledge we'll be open.' "Shannaghmore is a very popular centre, mainly because its always been told that it's going to be staying open in some shape or form when this is all finished.

"Shannaghmore is full and they're closing these other two centres, so there's no capacity there to take that overflow at the minute." The futures of staff remain in the dark, despite the fact that a voluntary redundancy scheme has been offered and job assurances have been issued, explained the employee.

"They've introduced a voluntary severance scheme, so what they're saying is, that anybody who's actually in an outdoor centre, who doesn't want to take the voluntary severance, will have a job at the end of this, but the actual practicalities and realities of that mightn't be as clear cut as they would like to think," continued the staff member.

The employee feels that the views of the centre's staff, its students and that of the wider community are being disregarded and quashed to suit the EA's cost-cutting agenda- an agenda he believes to be short-sighted.

He said: "It is financially driven, but the amount that they're actually saving is minimal.

Killowen would be unique in some ways that it has very close ties with the local community, we have a lot of voluntary instructors who are from this area and who have benefited from coming here," said the Killowen employee.

"From a personal point of view, you're getting rid of a facility that has actually served the young people of the Southern Education and Library Board incredibly well over the last 30 or 40 years. They've essentially decided that what you've been doing is of no value.

"It's quite sad because a lot of the staff have worked in all their lives and put quite a bit of effort into, so it's quite sad that it's going.

"The needs of children are always changing, but they need more access to the outdoors and activity. If children are sitting in playing computers non-stop, they're not learning about the outdoors, learning about adventures in the outdoors, learning about problem solving, taking risk, showing resilience and determination and courage and all those sort of things."

The Newry Democrat contacted the Education Authority for a response but none was sent before the print deadline.


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