Organisations that offer residential stays for school groups and adventure holidays for adults and children with disabilities have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. With no sign of groups being allowed to return soon, centres in Cumbria are having to find other ways to keep going A glimpse at the packed honeypots of the Lake District back in August might have led some to believe that life was back to normal as visitors queued outside attractions, shops and bars for whom it looked almost like business as usual. But for one sector used to being busy with holidaymakers, it has been far from a good year. Residential experience and outdoor education providers would normally have welcomed thousands of young people through their doors by now, providing challenges to take them outside their comfort zones, introducing them to adventures on lakes and up mountains and making memories to last a lifetime. Not this year. The residential centres have remained largely quiet. They are open but have had no guests to welcome since the government has maintained its advice against school residential visits. More than 95 per cent of primary schools in England normally offer at least one residential experience per year, and two million young people took part in residential trips both at home and abroad last year. The school travel sector contributes £700m annually to the economy. For over 40 years, Calvert Trust has been providing residential breaks for a variety of different groups, including Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools and centres, at its outdoor activities centre for the disabled near Keswick. The SEN sector equates to a third of their visitors. In normal years the trust would expect 3,500 residential residents spending a total of 12,500 nights at its Calvert Lakes centre. Unsurprisingly, school groups tend to come in term time and stay Monday to Friday so are compressed into 38 weeks of the year, with the centre usually full from the end of February through to mid-November. It costs £1.5m per year to keep Calvert Lakes going - £1m of which is generated in residential fees and the rest coming from charitable donations, which help subsidise each visitor by an average of £30 per night. Trustee Corinna Cartwright says: “Cumbria is rightly proud of the trust and our work has inspired others, elsewhere, to follow our example. The impact of COVID-19 has been severe. The tourist industry has been hard hit in general, but so many of our users are shielding that the trust has struggled more than most.” The concern comes as research by Calvert Lakes reveals the impact of lockdown on the disabled community. The organisation interviewed hundreds of disabled holidaymakers, their carers and family members for their views on the accessible tourism market in light of the pandemic. Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of those surveyed believe the physical health of the disabled community has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, while 84 per cent believe the mental health of the disabled community has suffered. The restrictions are exacerbated by the additional shielding measures due to underlying health issues that 40 per cent of those surveyed need to take. Helen Hunt, who organises the Cumbria and Lancashire Rotary Club’s annual visit to the centre, explains: “Our annual trip to Calvert Lakes normally takes place in April. We bring up to 50 adults with a range of disabilities because we see the amazing impact it has on their wellbeing and sense of self. For many this week-long residential is the highlight of their year. “The lockdown and isolation have had an even bigger impact on those with disabilities than the general population, adding to the restrictions and difficulties they face in daily life. We really worry about how this will affect their longer-term physical and mental health and it is our plan to come to the centre as soon as we can.” Earlier in the summer The Outward Bound Trust, whose head office is at Hackthorpe, near Penrith, joined a national coalition of not-for-profit school residential and educational providers, known as the Access Unlimited coalition, to take action to protect the future of outdoor learning. Nick Barrett, chief executive of The Outward Bound Trust, says: “Adventure in wild places is great for young people. Resilience, challenge, teamwork, fun and emotional well-being are just some of what young people will need in abundance in the years ahead. Outdoor learning is so powerful in all these respects and we simply cannot allow it to disappear for a generation of young people.” Outward Bound, like other providers, has fully refunded all those schools whose courses were cancelled from March to now. However, the organisation has not been standing still. Thanks to the generosity of its donors and supporters, it provided over 1,000 fully-funded outdoor Adventure Days for young people, including those eligible for free school meals. Adventure Days are also open to all 11 to 17-year-olds for a payment of £30 to help cover the cost. Nick adds: “Over the last few weeks we have adapted to deliver substantially free of charge, non-residential Outward Bound courses to young people from disadvantaged and other backgrounds who live close to our residential centres. This experience has taught us two things, firstly, that it is possible to deliver effective Outward Bound courses to young people whilst observing social distancing guidelines and all other COVID related protocols. It has also taught us that the need – post lockdown – for the kinds of things that we offer young people has never been greater. “Notwithstanding our recent work with young people, the existence of Outward Bound, like many other similar organisations whether commercial or charitable, is gravely threatened by the pandemic and in particular the current government guidance prohibiting school residentials. “We know that we can operate residentially in a COVID secure way, albeit at significantly reduced capacity. We can abide by any rules requiring social distancing and/or respect ‘bubbles’. I believe many similar organisations involved in outdoor learning and residentials are saying the same thing. “Given the challenges facing young people now, organisations like The Outward Bound Trust can be part of the solution. We need to go back to doing what we do best. If it doesn’t happen soon, we might not be here at the far end of this. This will be a serious degradation in the educational opportunities and experiences that all young people should be able to access.” Nationally, it is estimated that more than two million households have been through lockdown without access to a garden, depriving them of the known benefits of the outdoors. The Calvert Trust, too, has been trying hard and working imaginatively to develop alternatives, for example attracting families and adults who already visit and may come in larger numbers than usual to help fill the spare capacity the centre will have in the autumn. They already welcome adult visitors from care homes and supported living complexes too so are also targeting this sector. Justin Farnan, sales and marketing manager at Calvert Lakes, explains: “Although not anticipating a blanket ban, we assumed that schools were very unlikely to come in the remainder of 2020, due to lost planning time and health risk concerns. While a major blow, we do have other types of customers, whereas many others in this sector get 70-80 per cent of their business from schools.” The centre has reduced the size of its activity groups in accordance with social distancing and ‘bubbles’ so is now welcoming groups of six-12 people from one household. Justin adds: “Care homes are perfect as they will be adults and carers who already live together. We are also looking at using the centre’s accommodation in different ways such as creating serviced mini-apartments for families in crisis and are already in discussions with a range of charities and social services on how these can be used for refuge, respite and recuperation.” Spare accommodation has been repurposed into three self-contained two- bedroom mini-apartments that can each sleep up to four people. They are being offered to charities, organisations or individual families looking for a safe and secure location for people to recuperate following the effects of lockdown on their welfare, wellbeing or mental health. They are also available to those with or without disabilities. All three apartments are within the complex which is centred around an 18th Century farmhouse and its buildings that have seen sympathetic development in keeping with the location. Residents have access to the on-site hydrotherapy pool, sensory room and communal bar and games room, and there is parking for up to two cars per property. Importantly for vulnerable families and those in crisis, staff are on call and on-site 24/7 in case of emergency. Justin adds: “The centre will also be marketed as being an accessible residential location from which to explore the wider Lake District, or for those who just want to relax in a safe and secure environment. “It is going to be a very tough year and we fully intend to survive and come out the other side, but I fear several of the businesses in this sector won’t able to survive without school business.” Reaching great heights As a teenager and young adult, Natalie Parr was a very fit, able bodied and active adventurer backpacking, travelling and living life to the full. When she was 25, she was struck down with Guillian-Barre syndrome, which attacked her nervous system and caused complications. “I was left paralysed from the chest down and with severe and complex medical problems. I went from working, walking, driving and eating to not being able to move anything from my chest down,” explains Natalie. “Life changed hugely for me and my family, needing 24-hour care and everything adapted. I didn’t have much confidence in who I was after my illness, but I was encouraged to go to Calvert Trust. I can honestly say it gave me the real Nat back, the person who was desperate for adventure. “I was able to take full part in everything and giggled, squealed and laughed more than I had done for the years of being so scared. I really do feel Calvert played a huge part and still plays a huge part in keeping me feeling alive and keeping me feeling totally included in our world. “I always get excited when I know I’m going back to Calvert and know I can be put into a harness and I am free and able. I cannot describe how happy that makes me feel. My wheelchair gives me freedom, but ropes and harnesses give me the ability to get to great heights.”