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Caithness News Bulletins September 2003

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Rumster Centre Pictures    

Outdoor Education Activities Consultation

A Public Meeting to discuss  the findings of the outdoor activities consultation with representatives of the Highland Council and the consultant will be held in the Portland Arms Lybster, on Tuesday 23 Sept 2003, 7.30pm in the Portland Arms, Lybster.

The Executive Summary is set out below for your information.

The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the Summary and decide on the appropriate next steps.

If you or a member of your organisation is unable to attend but would like to be kept informed please let me know.

Helen  Allan
Telephone No:  01847 895782

            Rumster Centre Pictures


Grangeston Economics was commissioned by the Highland Council to undertake a study of the feasibility of providing an outdoor activity centre based in Caithness.

The method employed to undertake this study included:
 - Review of available reports/documents relating to the previous provision at Rumster;
 - Consultation with public bodies including the Highland Council, CASE, Forest Enterprise and Public
 - Consultation with a wide range of potential users within Caithness and the wider Highlands including
   scouts, guides, boys brigade, church camp organisers etc;
 - A postal survey of all schools in Caithness and parts of the rest of the Highlands (a total of 48 schools);
 - Public meetings in Thurso and Wick; and
 - Review of selection of outdoor activity providers including residential centres.

Rumster was the first forest to be planted by the Forestry Commission in Caithness. It was acquired from Forss Estate in 1948 and included the open pasture around the outdoor centre and the ruins of the Rumster Farm and Broch. The outdoor centre was home to foresters and their families until the property was sold to the County Council in 1970. The Centre is on the edge of Rumster Forest which is in the process of being commercially harvested.

In May 1999, the centre was closed because it did not meet fire regulations. This followed a number years of declining use, the poor state of repair of the building, and a lack of funds to continue supporting the centre. It was estimated that to bring the Centre up to basic standards would require at least £12,500 on internal refurbishment and up to £20,000 for external repairs.

Demand Assessment
Over 100 individuals, representing in the region of 25 different organisations, were contacted, including scouts/guides, boys brigade, youth groups, cadets/training corps, churches, universities/colleges, special needs groups, drug action teams, mountain rescue, UKAEA and all schools in Caithness, and secondary schools in Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Nairn, Grantown and Kingussie.

Of these, 24 responses from 17 schools were received and 55 interviews conducted with a further 23 different organisations. Of these, 60% reported they would use an outdoor activity centre in Caithness, with 30% wanting the centre to provide catering and 33% wanting the centre to organise all activities. Just under 50% of the respondents indicated that their groups would number less than 20, with a further 32% numbering between 20 and 30. Thus almost 80% of the group sizes would be under 30.

Of the non-school organisations surveyed, over 90% would or may use a centre based in Caithness. Clearly, use would depend on the facilities available and the cost of using the centre. A number of groups based in Caithness remarked on the distinct lack of facilities in the area and the need for such a local resource. Many of these groups, since the closure of Rumster in 1999, had rarely or not used residential activity centres.

The majority of those responding believed that their group would use the centre for weekend stays, with up to one-fifth also indicating that they may also consider longer stays of up to a week. Around 70% of the groups would consist of under thirty people.

In terms of the requirements at the centre, items such as well maintained basic accommodation, communal area for activities, heating, secure storage and drying room were most important. In the region of one-third of the groups would prefer for the catering to be provided by the centre or have the option of the centre providing the catering. The groups that wanted all the catering provided by the centre were largely adult interest groups and those running special needs groups.

Only 25% of the groups wanted to organise their own activities with 75% wanting some or all the activities to be organised by the centre. Many groups noted that it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain volunteers who were prepared to contribute the time required to train and maintain the qualifications required to lead groups. Thus it was increasingly necessary for groups to move towards centre led activities to ensure that their groups could access a range of activities in a safe environment. Of those groups who identified activities they would like to access, 54% identified ‘what’s provided at other centres’.

The prices that groups were willing to pay depended on the funds they had available and the range of facilities and activities they required for that price. These ranged from £5 per head per weekend with own linen, catering and organising own activity to £70 per head for an all-inclusive weekend or £35 per person per night. This compares to less than £1 per head per night at the Rumster Outdoor Centre for Caithness based youth groups.

Responses from schools based groups indicate that 83% of the schools responding would or may use a centre. Of schools within Caithness over 90% would use a centre, with 9% not using it because of difficulties in involving parents in extra curricular activities.

Almost two-thirds of the groups would consist of less than thirty people. However, there seemed to be a wider range of periods of use compared to non-school organisations from weekends to up to 5 nights stay. Frequency of use also varied from once to up to 6 times per year.

Heating was the facility most requested by school groups followed by telephone, catering and sports equipment. As with other groups, the most requested activities were ’those provided by other activity centres’. In addition, 30% of schools groups were interested in activities relating to personal development while the most popular specific physical activities were canoeing, climbing, abseiling, cycling/mountain biking, orienteering and walking/hillwalking. Over 60% of schools responding wanted the centre to organise their activities, with a further 20% wanting the centre to organise some of their activities.

The prices schools groups expected to pay varied from £3.50 - £10 per person per night for accommodation only, to £30 per night fully inclusive.

Supply of Outdoor Activities and Facilities
A total of twenty-three centres across Scotland were reviewed. These centres could accommodate anywhere between 16 and 125 people, offering a range of room types from twin en-suite to dormitories of 4 to 6 people.

It is very noticeable that the majority of these centres (82%) offer six or more activities to users. In fact over one-fifth of them offer twelve or more different activities. The ability to do so is based on having access to a wide range of physical environments as well as having access to a wide range of instructors able to deliver these activities. It therefore appears that the main activity centres in Scotland are able to offer a reasonable variety of activities. Overall, 17% of these centres are offering over 75% of the top twelve activities, while under 40% are offering less than 50% of the top twelve activities.

Almost one-fifth provided 25 or less bedspaces – the category into which Rumster Outdoor Centre would have fallen. The bulk of centres (50%) provided between 26 and 75 bedspaces, while almost third provided 76 or more spaces.

In terms of prices charged, there is a lot of variation because different centres are offering different packages. For example, Fairburn, which offers 15 twin or double rooms charges between £70 and £139 for a weekend and between £198-£336 for a week, fully catered. Other centres offer weekend courses for £80 per person (i.e. £40 per day per person). For accommodation only, rates of between £6.50 and £12.50 per night per person appear to be charged, although these rates usually depend on a minimum number of people staying.

Options for Outdoor Centre
In assessing the potential options for providing access to outdoor activities both physical locations or areas as well as methods of delivering the range of services that are demanded were identified. In this latter category would be included the identification and employment of freelance outdoor activity providers rather than having a complete skill base resident at a centre in Caithness. In addition, in providing access to particular types of outdoor ‘residential’ activities it is not always necessary for these to be delivered through a Council owned facility but could be based on agreements between the Council and various landowners to allow access to areas or facilities on their land.

In terms of physical locations the following ten options were identified:
1. Do nothing
2. Rumster – refurbishment of existing
3. Rumster – refurbishment + extension
4. Rumster+ refurbishment + (extension) + develop neighbouring farm
5. Loch More
6. Loch Dubh (Altnabreac)
7. Dunnet Forest
8. Braemore Estate - bothy
9. Ham Farm Mill
10. Berriedale

Next Steps
It is clear that there is a demand for outdoor activities and some form of outdoor centre based in Caithness and as such the do-nothing option may not be realistic. Any option involving the existing facility at Rumster will require some degree of repair and refurbishment before it can be used. In addition there may be an associated opportunity in developing the adjacent farm buildings. The other options provide a range of locations either where existing bothies could be used or which could provide the location for a new centre.

The next steps involve an assessment of each potential location in relation to the demand identified and indicative costs of establishing and running such a centre.