Derbyshire Girlguiding leaders back campaign to stop closure of Peak District activity centre

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Derbyshire Girlguiding leaders have been left upset and angry after the national board of trustees announced plans to close the organisation’s outdoor activity centre in the Peak District.

Glenbrook, in Bamford, is one of five centres around the country recommended for closure at the end of 2023 before being sold off to ease reported pressures on Girlguiding’s finances, with the charity’s bosses claiming it would take investment of £20million to keep the facilities fit for use in the coming years.

While the proposal is subject to a statutory consultation period until August, the news has shocked rank and file members across the region and sparked a campaign of opposition, including those north Derbyshire units who have used Glenbrook more often than most over several generations of girls and young women.

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Kate Wicks, who has led Chinley Guides since 2014 and serves as district commissioner, said: “Reading the announcement email on May 18 was like having a bucket of cold water poured on my head. Glenbrook is absolutely vital to our unit. It’s like having an enormous back garden with adventurous activities.

Tina Railton, back left, at Glenbrook with members of the 6th Buxton Methodist Brownies.Tina Railton, back left, at Glenbrook with members of the 6th Buxton Methodist Brownies.
Tina Railton, back left, at Glenbrook with members of the 6th Buxton Methodist Brownies.

“There’s lots of good research on the important of time outside for wellbeing, and Glenbrook is the perfect place to do that. When indoor meeting was restricted during the pandemic, we could go there and the girls were turning cartwheels, having fun and going a bit wild in a way they couldn’t do anywhere else.

She added: “The fact that it belongs to Girlguiding gives our members a sense of ownership too. It feels like it’s owned for the children, to ensure everybody gets the privilege of these experiences. You know the ethos is there, and that everyone has the same priorities for the girls – and it means the prices are affordable.

“Thinking of other places we could go, they’re smaller, further away, and as a wheelchair user I know they’re not as easy to get around. I really don’t know what we’d do without Glenbrook. The girls would miss out on so much. That’s what really breaks my heart.”

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Tina Railton, 41, a former district commissioner who leads all four age groups from rainbows to rangers at the 6th Buxton Methodist unit, had a similar reaction, having been visiting the centre since she was a Brownie herself.

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Chinley Guides leader Kate Wicks.Chinley Guides leader Kate Wicks.
Chinley Guides leader Kate Wicks.

She said: “I’m really angry, devastated, not only because my girls won’t be able to use it but because the staff and instructors at Glenbrook are brilliant.

“There may be other places we could go, but we use Glenbrook because its owned by Girlguiding. We know it’s a safe site, we know everyone who works there, we know it’s fully accessible for disabled members. Where else would we be guaranteed that kind of facility?”

She added: “People might have ideas about Girlguiding as a craft club, sitting around knitting and sewing, but we’re not just sitting in a church hall for 90 minutes a week.

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“My units are able to go to Glenbrook in the evenings and do archery, building fires, bouldering, camping. It’s about creating memories, but also learning to overcome challenges.”

Glenbrook has been a welcoming destination for girls and young women for decades.Glenbrook has been a welcoming destination for girls and young women for decades.
Glenbrook has been a welcoming destination for girls and young women for decades.

As well as welcoming local units for regular meetings, Glenbrook is important to others from much further afield as a residential destination.

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Tina said: “Packs come from across the region to use it, because groups can come there even if their leaders haven’t been assessed for the necessary licence – the staff at Glenbook have all those qualifications.

“Luckily our unit leaders have that licence, but it takes time to complete and not everyone has that time. By closing the centre, you’d be taking opportunities away from those groups.”

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As the backlash grew this week, there was a follow-up email to leaders and young adult members from chief guide Tracy Foster, chief executive Angela Salt, and chair of trustees Catherine Irwin, citing the £20m figure.

Brownies come to the site to learn outdoor skills like making fires.Brownies come to the site to learn outdoor skills like making fires.
Brownies come to the site to learn outdoor skills like making fires.

The message continued: “We cannot afford this level of investment. There has been historic underinvestment by Girlguiding in the activity centres and they have been running at an overall loss for some years, despite successful efforts to generate more business from different markets.

“The activity centres have been used by less than ten per cent of our membership over the past decade. We know most of our members are choosing to have adventures within their units, near their home, and in other locations and facilities.”

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Both Tina and Kate have written to the trustees with questions, and will be encouraging their young members to follow suit.Tina said: “The members haven’t been consulted. The trustees say the centres are not being used by Girlguiding members but I don’t know where they’ve got their figures from. Glenbrook is always busy. I tried to make a booking a couple of weeks ago, and there were only two weekends left for the whole year.

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“They’ve not released any information on the organisation’s finances and there was never any announcement about the centres being under review or at risk of closure, and no encouragement to use them. I think a lot more people would have come here if they knew this was in the pipeline, just to keep that history and heritage alive.”

Kate added: “I don’t like it one bit the way this has been done. It’s really hard to make anything of the reasoning. It’s at odds with what I’ve seen with my own eyes about how well these facilities are used. It’s hard to be confident that every possibility has been explored when we’re not getting any information.

“I don’t know why these decisions are being made without talking to the membership.

HRH Princess Margaret is escorted up the drive of Glenbrook in June 1980HRH Princess Margaret is escorted up the drive of Glenbrook in June 1980
HRH Princess Margaret is escorted up the drive of Glenbrook in June 1980

“There are so many amazing women, and men, involved in Girlguiding, some really creative thinkers. I’d hope there would be a solution other than what’s being proposed. I may be a bit idealistic, but I’d like to think shear force of numbers can force a rethink.”

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On the future of the Glenbrook site, Girlguiding has said: “That proceeds from the sale of the five properties will be going back into a designated investment fund to support Girlguiding activities, adventure for girls across the UK, and to invest in the future of Girlguiding. We’re open to options related to the sale of these properties.”

When askedto clarify those options, along with an expected timeline and predicted price, the organisation declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Girlguiding said: “Through rainbows, brownies, guides and rangers, we support girls to laugh, learn, explore and have adventures. We help all girls know they can do anything, and we're proud to be squarely focused on what drives, challenges and excites girls now and in the future.

“For over 100 years, Girlguiding has changed as the lives of girls change. Girlguiding’s board of trustees regularly reviews strategy, risk and resources, in order to focus on the organisation’s core mission for all girls and to ensure it is financially sustainable for the future.”

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They added: “Following a comprehensive review, the board of trustees have made the recommendation to sell the five activity centres Girlguiding owns - Blackland Farm, Foxlease, Glenbrook, Waddow Hall and Ynysgain. Under the proposal the five centres will keep operating until 31 December 2023. Girlguiding is now beginning a period of consultation with staff who may be affected by any implementation of this recommendation.

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“We are planning for all 2023 events and bookings (including Magic and Mayhem and Wellies and Wristbands) at our activity centres to go ahead, and the proposal is that the activity centres remain open until December 31, 2023. We remain committed to giving all girls opportunities to experience adventure within their units, near their home, and in other locations and facilities.”

To sign a petition against the closure, go to tinyurl.com/yu676xeu. For campaign updates, join facebook.com/groups/257354313454907.

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