Outdoor Education on Arran 1978 – 1993
Corrie Croft Outdoor Centre to Arran Outdoor Education Resource
This account has been written by Nigel Marshall
My first experience of Corrie Croft and the outdoors was as a school boy in 1969 when I was invited by Mr Jimmy McConnell from the Technical Department at Irvine Royal Academy to go over to Arran to assist in the building of a new Outdoor Centre. This was an amazing adventure because the Croft was in its early days with no staff other than a gentleman called Colin who was the caretaker/cook while we were there. Colin had been in the military and had latterly been a policeman in Hong Kong. During the day we helped build the Centre and in the evenings after dinner some of us took to the hills or went swimming in the sea near the Port. I clearly remember heading to the hills alone with no idea about where I was going or what I was doing and after a scramble up the face of Maol Donn I had climbed my first real hill. A bit of an adventure getting back but I loved it. Colin took the trouble one evening to show me how to operate a compass and I was captivated by the whole atmosphere of the world of adventure in the outdoors on this magical island. Little did I know at the time that I would forego an opportunity to study architecture and instead go to university to complete studies. These studies would lead me to return to Arran to deliver an Outdoor Education Service which would impact on generations of families in Ayrshire and beyond.
Corrie Croft 1980
My professional outdoor education career on Arran began in July 1978. After a meeting with the Head of Service with responsibility for outdoor education in County Buildings, Ayr. He agreed to arrange a meeting for me with Alastair Pratt the Croft Centre Principal on the Island at the time. Shortly after I was then invited to work as a Temporary Instructor at the Croft from August 1978 until July 1979 and was offered a Permanent Post afterwards on the mainland at Kames OEC starting in August 1979. I worked at Kaimes for some 10 months and was then invited back to work at the Croft as a permanent Instructor.
This was the start of a long association with Outdoor Education on Arran which lasted some 36 years with many changes, challenges and developments.
My Instructional Post at the Croft meant being part of a very small team. There were only two Instructors, a Principal, a Handy Man and a Secretary. The philosophy of the Croft was steeped in traditional good values surrounding self-reliance and adventure. The young people who attended were expected to make meals (supervised by an instructor) and clean the centre (including the toilets) as well as do maintenance around the building and on the unmetalled road up the hill to the centre for at least one day of their five days stay at the Centre. The programme involved mainly the watersports of Sea Kayaking and Sailing (introduced in 1985) during the summer months and Hill Walking in the autumn/winter months. Fairly serious journeys both on the water and on the hills were completed by the young people who attended the centre. The programme was extended to support Art, Geography Field Studies and Adult Leadership. At this time, the Centre was operating under the auspices of Strathclyde Regional Council Ayr Sub Region’s Education Department and latterly like all the other Centres in Strathclyde it had a responsibility for the delivery of the Social Strategy for the 90’s.
It is hard to imagine the Croft functioning today despite the undeniable high-quality experiences the young people enjoyed. The domestic arrangements would be unacceptable to the authorities and probably many of today’s parents. Its capacity was also sadly an issue because it rarely took more than 18 young people. Financially it had no prospect of realising the cost recovery targets required of centres today and its future was therefore untenable. As a consequence, it closed in 1993 as part of a cost savings programme by Strathclyde Regional Council.
During the closure proposal period, a campaign was raised by pupils who had attended the Centre and it was successful in retaining a service on the Island which was essentially two Instructors and some equipment. No permanent base was identified at that time. The idea was to use most of the equipment and a vehicle for the delivery of a similar service as the Crofts but based at Whiting Bay Youth Hostel. The Hostel had spare capacity especially in the autumn/winter period which had traditionally been a busy time for the Croft. Alastair Pratt and I were offered the option to take up the two new Posts. Clearly, this could not be perceived as a great opportunity for everyone and Alastair declined the offer. So, I helped close the Croft in June 1993 and found myself at the heart of creating a new service with no staff. In August I had 80 boxes of equipment, some old kayaks, second-hand dinghies and a Transit Minibus. I was now the administrator, cook, maintenance man and Instructor of a new service.
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