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Scottish Outdoor Education Centres

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Scottish Outdoor Education Centres SOEC (formerly known as Scottish Centres) currently (2009) has four outdoor education centres across Scotland and describes itself as the country’s largest provider of residential outdoor education.

SOEC has operational centres at Belmont (Meigle, Perthshire), Broomlee (West Linton, Edinburgh), Dounans (Aberfoyle, Stirling), Loaningdale (Biggar, Lanarkshire), with a non-operational site at Glengonnar (Abington, South Lanarkshire, on the banks of the Clyde), pending development.

In 1985 the original SOEC at Middleton was closed and sold, and in 1990 the organisation acquired a property in Biggar (Loaningdale) which now houses the head office, and is very different facility to the other centres, being a former school.

Scottish Outdoor Education Centres - A History

As we moved towards the Great Depression of the 1930's, the government was increasingly worried about the health of children from deprived areas in our cities. This was the infamous era of the Glasgow rickets and other indicators of malnutrition.

In a very enlightened piece of legislation, the Camps Act of 1939 was passed. This set aside a sum of money (over £100m in today’s terms) for the construction of around 25 Centres in England and Wales and a further 5 in Scotland. This was a Department of Health initiative and the intention was that young people from the cities would spend some months at these Centres, eating well and enjoying the fresh, uncontaminated country air.

Building work began immediately using high quality Canadian cedar wood and construction of the Centres in Scotland was entrusted to the Scottish Special Housing Association. The 5 Centres constructed were Belmont Centre at Meigle, Broomlee at West Linton, Dounans Outdoor Camp at Aberfoyle, Glengonnar at Abington and Middleton at Gorebridge. Each of the 5 had a capacity of around 250 young people plus other accommodation for staff and teachers.

Completion of the buildings in late 1939/early 1940, coincided with the start of the Second World War. The government retained the Centres to be used for evacuees and, in addition to large numbers of Scottish children, the Centres had substantial groups from the continent – notably from the Netherlands. At Dounans there is a plaque from these Dutch evacuees to thank the people of Scotland for the kindness shown to them over the war years.

It was therefore January of 1947 before the government was able to set up the organisations that were originally intended to operate the Centres. In England, the English National Camps Association was set up and the Secretary of State established the Scottish National Camps Association. The success of the schooling conducted at the Centres during the war resulted in the transfer of responsibility from health to education and they have remained as approved providers of residential outdoor education since then.

For the first 40 years through to the autumn of 1987, the SOEC operated as a non-departmental public body (NDPB). In this respect it was in the same category as the Countryside Commission or the Scottish Sports Council. However, during the 1980’s there was increasing government pressure to reduce the number of QUANGO’s (quasi autonomous non-government organisations) and the SOEC were given the clear message that the continued existence of the Scottish National Camps Association would depend on being distanced from the Scottish Office.

That year their constitution was amended, they changed their name and they became an Approved Voluntary Organisation and charity. Sadly the change in status brought an end to entitlement to secure government funding for the capital development of Centres and, since they were already 50 years old at that time, upgrading and modernisation were long overdue.

During its first 40 years, the Association had been content to provide and manage accommodation for outdoor education. Over the past decade, however, they have developed their own Education and Training capabilities so that they can now support a wide range of residential experience objectives. These include serious curricular work with schools, personal and social skills development with a broad spectrum of youth organisations.

SOEC declared purposes are: to provide and manage facilities of a permanent nature, for the physical, social and intellectual benefit of the community at large and of children and young people in particular. These are high, idealistic goals, which are taken very seriously, but their achievement is totally dependent on ability to attract staff who share the commitment and motivation to help it. Throughout the years, each local community has provided centres with staff of high quality and each community has therefore shared in and contributed to the success they have enjoyed. It is hoped that future generations will continue to support their work.

Residential outdoor centres have never lost a purpose in life, they simply keep on adding to the agenda. Concerns with healthy living have expanded to include adventurous activities, which can promote valuable ideas for constructive use of leisure time. The SOEC offer an environmental perspective in their work and are particularly well placed to help young people towards an understanding of sustainability. Their work in personal and social development has gained new impetus from government strategies concerned with social inclusion and their work in partnership with local government agencies tends to focus on helping those who are at or beyond the point of exclusion from school.

It is a great tragedy that, in the financial pressures surrounding the re-structuring of local government in Scotland, many outdoor centres previously operated by regional authorities have been lost. They have always been the largest single providers of this kind of facility in Scotland and these losses have added to the significance of the national assets for which they are responsible. The SOEC aim to ensure that their value is properly recognised and that public support for the groups who benefit most from their use is assured for the future.

- SOEC history leaflet.[1]


1 SOEC history leaflet

External links

Centre location maps


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