Oulton Broad sports centre is saved

A POPULAR water sports centre that has given thousands of young people the chance to learn sailing and canoeing skills has been saved from closure, thanks to a nearby school.

The Oulton Broad Water Sports Centre, alongside Nicholas Everitt Park, will be transferred to the Ashley School Academy Trust tomorrow as part of Suffolk County Council's divestment programme.

Under the new set-up, the centre will be operated by a newly-formed subsidiary of the trust to ensure that no money needed by school is used to run it. The centre's full-time staff will also transfer to the trust.

Richard Coker, the council's outdoor and residential education manager, said: 'We definitely would have had to close it if we hadn't worked with the Ashley School. We were warned that the county council, as part of its divestment process, was looking at making cuts to its outdoor education provision.

'We started speaking with various people and the Ashley School was interested from the start.'

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The county council made the decision to divest many of its services, including libraries and youth clubs, in 2010 to save money. The transfer of Oulton Broad Water Sports Centre will help it trim �54,000 a year from its outdoor education budget as well as further costs related to the maintenance of the site.

Lorraine Dupen, headteacher at the Ashley School, said 'We are delighted that the academy has been able to step up to the plate and take the centre forward for its next stage of development.'

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The centre will continue to work with the community, local schools and youth groups to provide outdoor learning on Oulton Broad, including coaching and courses in canoeing, kayaking, orienteering and sailing.

Ashley School's deputy head Lawrence Chapman said the academy was also planning new activities, including windsurfing and power boating and developing the outdoor education opportunities for local schools.

'We're trying to pull in new partners and attract more of the local community,' he said. 'We've been working very closely with the Royal Yachting Association to develop windsurfing for next summer. It is something that used to be offered on the broads going back a long way and it is an Olympic activity.

'We've also been doing a lot more work on how using the outside can be related to the curriculum. We've been looking at orienteering and numbers and how that related to maths and learning about science through sailing.'

The centre opened 25 years ago and since then an estimated 30,000 young people have had the chance to try sailing and canoeing. It has been run by volunteers of Suffolk Watersports Association (SWSA) with support from Suffolk County Council. SWSA will help oversee the transition of the centre.

Richard Thomas, centre manager, said: 'We are grateful to staff and governors of the Ashley School for coming forward to support the work of the centre.

'We believe that by working with the whole community we can secure the future of the centre as a fantastic resource on the Broad.'

?To find out more about the centre, visit www.oultonbroadwatersportscentre.org.uk.

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