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The origins of a new Centre

Arran Outdoor Education Centre

From a dream to reality
A brand new state-of-the-art Outdoor Centre

              is built in Lamlash    By Nigel Marshall

I worked closely with North Ayrshire Councils Estates Department to assess these properties and potential sites but with little luck. Nationally most ideally located Centres are shoreside with their own slipway on the outskirts of a village or development, for obvious reasons. It seemed to me that the best location was Lamlash but the only reasonable available location was in the Clauchlands Farm area. I decided to talk to the farmer Alex Reid myself and was surprised that Alex was really positive about the idea and offered a field which could potentially work as a location for a new Centre. I reported back to the Education Department and Estates got involved. A design had to be agreed and because the field in question was outside the village there was a presumption against getting planning permission unless a specific case could be put by the Council to justify an exceptional need.


Planning permission was applied for after many months of negotiation with architects and engineers. The amount of work involved in this cannot be reasonably expressed in these pages. The outcome was that planning was applied for but it went to a Public Inquiry because there had been some objections to the Centre being located at this site. A Planning Inquiry had to take place which lasted two weeks. The core evidence provided by the Council was a ten-thousand-word justification which I wrote justifying the service on the Island and the site-specific locational need. I gave verbal evidence for three days on the stand where I was cross examined on the work of the Centre and why it should be located in Lamlash. I am pleased to say that the Reporter (Judge) found for the Council but advised a more sympathetic design.


It was generally considered that we had made it, however, a review of the Local Council Planning Plan meant that those few objectors had a second opportunity to try and stop the Centre being built again. This time the meeting took a day and the objections were dismissed. We had the go head at long last. Throughout this difficult period the Council, Resource Staff and I enjoyed huge support from the Arran Community and the Community of North Ayrshire.


The design and building of a new purpose-built centre was a huge achievement and an even bigger one was getting the 5 million pounds to build it, especially during a time of shrinking budgets. However, Director of Education John Travers, Deputy Director Brian Gardner and my great friend and former boss Head of Service, Jim Leckie made a case for the Centre and the funding was passed without any questions because the Council unanimously recognised the value of Arran Outdoor Education to North Ayrshire Council.








The Centre was officially opened by the Convenor of North Ayrshire Council in July 2009. This represented a huge moment for everyone involved with the Resource and was the culmination of some 15 year’s work.

From the humble beginnings of working from the corner of a desk in the Community Education office, with 80 boxes of equipment and a Transit Van, it was almost unbelievable to be in the New Arran Outdoor Education Centre. It was the beginning of another era.


Experience had taught me that change always brings challenges, and while we now had a new state-of-the-art purpose-built centre which was being nationally recognised, there was a lot of work to do dealing with ‘change’. New systems, more staff: Ian Staples, Andy McNamara and Darryl Urquhart-Dixon joined the Instructional Team. All the teething problems associated with a new building meant that during the first three months of the centre opening I almost lived there permanently. On one occasion the cookers failed to work and as a consequence the children dined out at Auchrannie. It was a tough time but eventually everything and everyone resolved the issues and we focused on the delivery of our high-quality service to the children and community of North Ayrshire.


The Centre continued to adhere to the old ‘Croft Values’ of learning to be self-reliant through adventure, and we used our activities with even greater emphasis on the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence through learning outdoors to the North Ayrshire Primary Schools. Advanced Higher Geography Practical Field Work took off and other Leadership Training Courses were initiated for Secondary School Pupils. The Centre continued to offer RYA Accredited Courses and provided training for the HM Coastguards in addition to a range of other vocational national governing body award courses.  The New Arran Outdoor Education Centre created more opportunity and scope for the delivery of services.


The Centre hosted national meetings for organisations like COAST where MSP’s rubbed shoulders with professors and other experts in marine conservation.


                       AOEC hosts COASTs UK Symposium on Marine Protected Areas  


The impact on the local community was, and is, significant because of the employment it provides. Many of the staff are locals and it has always been my wish to see young people develop their skills as outdoor educationalists. So, students from various Universities regularly attend the Centre to learn and practise their professional skills in instructing in the Outdoors. Martin Wood, a local lad, is a very good example of a young person who attended the Centre as a child, went away to further education and returned to the Centre as a trainee. He is now a Senior member of the Instructional Team.






The second Tall Ships Race brought even greater involvement for the Centre and its staff. The services provided before were enhanced by virtue of our increased staff and bigger fleet of boats. The Centre hosted a Civic Reception on behalf of the Council for the Captains of the visiting Tall Ships.











        The Tall Ships Race                                Civic Reception with Provost Sturgeon and Councillor Willie Gibson


The Weather Emergency in March 2013, where the Island had no electricity for seven days, saw the Centre adopt a major role in Emergency Planning. Andrew Fraser, Head of Legal Services and Deputising for the Chief Executive for NAC based himself at the Centre along with the Police and other emergency services during the emergency. As a result of the ideal location of the Centre and its facilities, a decision was made to make it more self-sufficient by installing generators so that should any similar emergency occur in the future, the Centre would become the Resilience Centre on the Island.











                                                          The 2013 Weather Emergency on Arran

When I attended the Croft as a young boy in 1969, I never dreamt that all this could happen to me in my lifetime. I was fortunate to have the opportunity and support of a great staff, Senior Officers and Politicians of the Council who were enlightened enough to value the services we provided on Arran.


This recognition extended to colleagues from the world of Outdoor Education in Scotland when I was elected to the Chair of the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education. This role provided me with the opportunity to attend a number of Scottish Government Consultation Groups involved in the delivery of Outdoor Learning. I also gave evidence to the Education and Culture Committee on the provision of residential outdoor learning in Scotland.


As an aside, I think it is important to mention that a Team of young professional outdoor people contribute massively to a community. I served in the RNLI for 20 years and was the Senior Helmsman of the Arran Lifeboat. My last job for the RNLI was to test the replacement lifeboat for the Atlantic 75 which is now in Service. Other members of staff at the centre are in the Mountain Rescue Team and are also in the Lifeboat.


During this story of the evolution of the Arran Outdoor Education Service I have not really explained how the children are affected by an outdoor residential experience. Well, there have been books written on this subject and Edinburgh University has Professors who deliver programmes for teachers on how to teach Learning Outdoors. All I can say is that the main motivation for me has always been the benefits I have personally witnessed to children and adults who have been under my care. The absolute wonder on a child’s face when they summited a Mountain, the look of enjoyment from a child with additional support needs when they see a dolphin leap out the sea in front of them while they sail in a boat designed to accommodate them. I have been touched by the care given to the children by the Centre Staff when the children under their care are so clearly deprived and don’t have toothbrushes and other basics – the staff have made these items mysteriously appear. More than 50% of the children who currently attend the Centre suffer some form of deprivation. The Centre and its staff represent an alternative world, almost a form of respite and it offers the children hope and aspiration for the future – perhaps something everyone needs from time to time. This is the magic of a residential experience at the Arran Outdoor Education Centre. 


Safety in all its forms is so important to parents and North Ayrshire Council. They rightly expect the highest standards they can reasonably obtain. Arran Outdoor Education Centre has the best safety record I know of in Scotland. My recent work has taken me into the world of Adventure Activity Licensing and Arran Outdoor Education Centre by virtue of the way it operates is very safe. Not all outdoor services can boast such a good safety record.


In 2014 Anne Lloyd and I retired from Arran Outdoor Education Centre. I worked in outdoor education on Arran for 36 years. It was a very tough working life which I thoroughly enjoyed. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many colleagues and friends who made this all possible. Findlay, I have mentioned but Annie, Liz and Pat helped to make my aspirations come true. I would be very remiss if I did not mention Nick Halls (former Advisor for Outdoor Education in Strathclyde Regional Council) who supported and believed in our Service.


Where would we be without people who believe in us?  


To this day I despair that Outdoor Education is not a statutory entitlement for young people. I cannot imagine how many of the young people in North Ayrshire could ever have accessed such a great quality experience without Arran Outdoor Education Centre. Brian Gardner famously said to me that ‘Money should not prevent children from attending Arran OE Centre’.  How can our young people ever hope to access such an experience in the future without it?


Nigel A Marshall

January 2023

“Adventurous experiences out-of-doors are perceived to kindle the enthusiasm of the young, to develop their concern for others, for their community and for the environment. Such experiences provide the means of self-discovery, self-expression and enjoyment which are at once both stimulating and fulfilling.

“It thus emerges that, for young people and adults alike, outdoor adventure is perceived as a vehicle for building values and ideals, for developing creativity and enterprise, for enhancing a sense of citizenship, and for widening physical and spiritual horizons.”

Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine, KC, CBE, DSO

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