Brent teachers hit out at plans to close Welsh Harp education centre


Hundreds of inner city children will be denied the opportunity to experience the great outdoors if the council go ahead with plans to cut funding to Welsh Harp Environmental Educational Centre, teachers have warned.

Brent Council has told head teachers that the centre, which lies at the edge of the 110 acre reservoir and nature reserve, and includes two classrooms, a nature trail and an adventure playground, will close unless alternative funding is found.

Jenny Cooper, a music teacher at The Village School, a special needs school in Grove Park, Kingsbury, says the threatened closure was ‘deeply unpopular’ among teachers, parents and children.

She added: “It is a really great way of learning science and geography, and Brent doesn’t have any other outdoor educational centres – it is the only one of its kind.

“For me, taking a group of disabled children from the Village School into the outdoors to learn is very important. It is the only place which is near enough for us to travel, and where we know it is safe for them.”

The centre is regularly used by schools across Brent who take their pupils on field trips there to learn about science, nature and teamwork. Last year, nearly 4,000 children visited it.

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Among these schools is Brentfield Primary School in Meadow Garth, Stonebridge, where Year 6 pupils go on an annual three day residential trip to the centre.

The school lies in the heart of one of the country’s most deprived wards, and more than half its students are on free school meals.

The headteacher Paola Riddle says these subsidised trips to Welsh Harp will, for many, be their only opportunity of coming face to face with rural England.

She said: “Brent headteachers are absolutely opposed to these cuts as the centre is an invaluable educational resource for us.

“It is very hard for our parents to afford to take these trips, and for many children, this will be the only time they get to experience the countryside.

“We sponsor many of our children to go on this – but it is only because the centre allows us to do this cheaply. If it is sold to a commercial party which puts that rates up, we wont be able to sponsor as many children.”

A Brent Council spokeswoman stressed that the closure was just a proposal. However, she refused to say how much money the council hoped to save by closing it.

She said: “As a result of funding cuts, a range of options are being considered to save money. One of these is the closure of the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre but no decision has been made.

“Alternative funding streams are being explored to keep the centre open and as these are under consideration no specific details can be provided.”