An open letter to Redbridge council

Dear Councillors

Fairlop Outdoor Activity Centre (FOAC) provides “organised, subsidised school and group youth activities” on the water (including but not limited to sailing, kayaking, canoeing, raft building….). Its staff provide high quality instruction to the youth of the borough and the experience they gain from this develops many important life skills and confidence. The groups involved support a diverse range of Young People from all backgrounds and income levels, including those from vulnerable backgrounds and those with Special Educational Needs (SEN). FOAC allows them access to the facilities and experiences that are usually considered to be the preserve of the better off members of our community. 

Please understand we are not fighting to preserve the public hire of rowing boats and pedalos to casual park users. This can be done from anywhere on the lake. We are fighting to preserve the staff and equipment that are required to provide this important service to the very people you make a point of vowing to support.

On Thursday the budget put to you for approval removes the money the Council provides to VisionRCL to allow it to support these important community groups and it will close. Public hire of some simple water craft may go elsewhere and no doubt AquaBounce (a private enterprise) will be pleased to hire out Paddle Boards to qualified members of the public and increase the income it receives from the lake. However, the FOAC community of youth users will be priced out, won’t have access to the necessary coaching and in some cases could not access the facilities anyway without the close support of the type provided by FOAC staff.  The largest part of  the role played by staff at accredited RYA, BCU and BSUPA centres (such as FOAC) is safety. Without these trained staff youth groups cannot operate on the water on their own.  

During his meeting with us on Tuesday Cllr Athwal was asked “do you understand that a Centre with no staff is not a Centre” and he replied “I do”. He also claimed that he knew nothing about VisionRCL sacking the Centre staff and promised he would find out more. He also promised to talk to us again once he had investigated. He has not kept that final promise and we are incredibly disappointed to see today in a recent tweet by him that we are spreading ‘misinformation’. There is a lot that has to be done to run a Centre that provides this level of support to the user community and reducing the issues in a short tweet is not acknowledging the facts of the matter. Staff have been sacked and equipment is decaying. It is not beyond help just yet – but only just. 

We recognise the value of the Fairlop regeneration project and all that it will bring to Redbridge and its residents and we fully support working with that. What needs to happen until any of that is realised is that the essential service provided to youth groups at FOAC is continued throughout until that regeneration process is completed.

We are not a political group. We are a group of volunteers that already give freely of our time to work with the Young People we support. Volunteers already augment activity at the site and are willing to do more to support this facility.  We want to work with the Council to find a way to keep the capability that FOAC provides.  We recognise the pressure on Council finances and whilst we don’t think it is unreasonable to provide some degree of support to the community groups that use the Centre we do believe the Centre can be almost self sustaining if it was allowed to. 

All we ask is that we are allowed to work with the Council to find a way to keep the operations going. This cannot be done at a moments notice. The budget proposal closes the Centre for good and allows no time for any solutions to be investigated. You may not be aware but last Summer the Centre was not allowed to reopen when the government said it was safe to do so. Other Centres did and earned record amounts of money to help support themselves through this crisis, in some cases earning more in just six weeks than in the entire previous year. We expect that situation to be repeated this year. So we are asking you just one question – why would you not support this? 

The Outdoor Activity Centre is absolutely being ‘closed on [your] watch’.

Melanie Knight, Matthew Balchin, Elizabeth Gray, Jenny Coclough, Ruth Duncan, 1st Hainault Scout Group

On behalf of youth groups that depend on the centre and the thousands of Young People that they support

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