I’m struggling to discover, from the available information on the internet, how the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons fulfils their stated objective of the relief of poverty. This from their report attached to their last set of accounts:-
Perhaps their CEO, Alex Brooks-Johnson, or Trustee, John Russell, could enlighten me? But probably not because they do not want to engage in debate about Beckenham Place Park so I don’t suppose they want anyone to delve deep into the wider issues of the charity.
Sure, they have a “Get Out Go Wild” holiday programme for disadvantaged city children and 227 kids benefitted last (financial) year. But that’s out of a total of 41,625, which is pretty pathetic. However, 227 is better than none, the programme being funded by London Quadrant and Phoenix Housing Associations, but for how long?
Wide Horizons say both Lewisham and Greenwich Councils provide support through joint initiatives to schools etc, but it is not explained exactly how they do so or how many of the 41,625 kids who enjoyed a WH experience are 1) from Lewisham 2) from Greenwich 3) fall into the category of disadvantaged, other than the 227 already mentioned.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against an outdoor education organisation, or schools and parents who can afford to use their service, but I think it is a bit rich that they claim to improve the lives of other kids in adverse social and economic circumstances when the only evidence of them doing so relates to a tiny percentage of 227 kids. Not unless they are hiding their light under a bushel, but this from the horse’s mouth:-
Some other numbers to consider:-
- 74 state primary schools in Greenwich
- 18 state secondary schools in Greenwich
- 64,500 children and young people under the age of 18 in Greenwich
- 74 state primary schools in Lewisham
- 17 state secondary schools in Lewisham
- 73,000 young people under age of 19 in Lewisham
You know how independent schools can apply to be registered charities? And some offer a bursary for maybe one child whose family can’t afford the fees. Seems to me the same sort of thing is going on with Wide Horizons.
Relief of poverty? They say they target groups such as “Looked after Children”, but where’s the evidence?
This is part of the booking form for Wide Horizons’ Horton Kirby centre in Kent:-
It is the only booking enquiry form I can find on the website, and I don’t know whether it is out of date, but it seems strange there is no other publically available guidance on pricing for their other centres. Anyway, it seems that a day trip out to Horton Kirby for a class of up to 32 will cost (did cost) a Lewisham or Greenwich school £343.60 (unless they have their own coach or can get one cheaper). There is nothing on the form to indicate lunch arrangements.
But hey, they are a charity! So unless anyone on Lewisham Council or Heritage Lottery Fund is prepared to apply proper scrutiny – LOL 🙂 ha, ha, – it’s obvious, innit, that the “regeneration” of Lewisham Council’s 240 acre Beckenham Place Park should be set up especially for them (one assumes at a similar cost to schools as Horton Kirby) and the 90 acre public golf course closed.
So, for the scrutineers amongst us, here’s some Wide Horizons by numbers:-
- 41,625 children had a WH experience 1/8/14 to 31/7/15 across eight centres (2 SE London, 2 Kent, 3 Wales, 1 Dorset) = average of 5,203 per centre = average of 14 per day (albeit accepting that over the Christmas holiday there would be no programme so that pushes the daily average up).
- 227 inner city disadvantaged London kids had a “Get out Go Wild” experience i.e. 0.005% of total
- This Easter the five day Eltham Adventure Holiday Club costs £150 (£30 per day) per child 9.30 to 16.00 or £200 (£40 per day) per child 8.30 to 17.30 with a 10% discount for second and subsequent siblings. (Relief of poverty anyone?)
- According to the report attached to their accounts, WH have 43 partnership schools across all centres; eight of the schools are in Greenwich and no information is available about Lewisham. However, I have seen other evidence that two Lewisham schools have used WH. Wow!
- Wide Horizons took 150 kids into Beckenham Place Park in July 2015 before closure of the public golf course – from Tower Hamlets. I don’t know how it was financed.
- By year five of the education programme coming to Beckenham Place Park (once Godot has arrived) Wide Horizons anticipate bringing 7,800 children annually during term time into the education centre i.e. 40 a day. They will charge the schools involved for their service. It is known that government funding to London schools is to be cut, albeit Wide Horizons work with schools for fund raising. And they organise other fund raising activities:-
- Also by year five, a holiday programme for ten weeks of the year will, apparently, see 5,000 kids annually participating in BPP i.e. 100 a day. This will be charged at £15 a day (concession of £10 available) and kids will have to provide their own packed lunch. How reasonable is that compared to the Eltham (London Borough of Greenwich) programme quoted above! How this discounted service will be achieved no one knows, given that both Greenwich and Lewisham are already described as benevolent landlords to WH, so the discrepancy between the two sites is quite puzzling. Indeed, even the Heritage Lottery Fund Case Paper concedes it’s a bit of a gamble:-
I have no idea how many Lewisham families will be able to take advantage of the “cheap” holiday scheme at Beckenham Place Park, but I would suggest that this WH programme will do little to relieve poverty.
- Beckenham Place Park is 240 acres, the revenue generating public golf course used to take up 90 acres of that, yet Wide Horizons claim they need the whole site – for 40 kids per day!?!!! Oh, sorry, 100 during holidays. By the way, what says the Lewisham troll who mocked me for pointing out that WH brought 150 kids into the park in July 2015, saying that wasn’t many and implying there would be many more on closure of the golf course? Erm ….
- Wide Horizons will be supplying canoes and kayaks exclusively for use under their direction for the new lake in the park and the plans indicate storage for 12 of the former, 36 of the latter. They will also project pilot private hire.
And now we come to the nub of why Wide Horizons supported closure of the revenue generating golf course, despite 150 kids having coexisted with it in July 2015 – because there is to be an expensively constructed lake just for them!
Canoes and kayaks are not cheap, but I suppose WH will get a discount for buying bulk (one assumes life jackets too!) Perhaps they will fund it via initiatives such as this:-
You don’t think Wide Horizons’ #mates want messing around on lakes (and other “approved” activities such as cycling) in order to keep their hand in for cronies’ adventures in France do you?
It would be good to be able to discover just exactly what providing life changing adventures for “disadvantaged children” means. How many and how often will disadvantaged kids go to the Ardeche, for example?
Wide Horizons social media feeds and website don’t really enlighten us any more than the report attached to their accounts. Yes, we see tweets and Facebook posts of happy children at WH centres, but how were they able to participate, who paid, who was included and, most important of all, who was not and how many were “disadvantaged”?
You know what else I can’t find on the WH website? It’s severely lacking in testimonials.
Here are some more Wide Horizons by numbers for accounting period 1/8/14 – 31/7/15:-
- Income £2,912,233
- Outgoing £2,901,235
- Operational surplus £10,998
- Reserves £330K to £430K
- Staff costs £1,701,137 (58% of income)
- Buildings and maintenance costs £419,448
- Vehicle costs £178,347
- Other costs (cost of generating funds, catering, depreciation, legal, audit etc) £386,122
Looks like they will have to up their game if they are to have another base in Beckenham Place Park, or maybe they will close one or both of the Greenwich ones. If so, the expectation of an average of 40 kids a day during term time to visit Beckenham Place Park looks even less impressive, in comparison to the overall size of the site and the fact that “Everyman” revenue generating golf has been closed for a fake lake for #mates.
So, for the benefit of an estimated 40 (occasionally 100) children a day, a 90 acre revenue generating public golf course was closed. An “Everyman” course which, by my reckoning, if running at full capacity could have 216 players on it at any one time throughout the day (4 players on tee, 4 progressing on fairway, 4 on putting green x 18 holes = 216 x £s = wasted possibility to maximise a public asset.) And there is still another 150 acres of Beckenham Place Park.
Still, I suppose Wide Horizons will need a training facility for when peeps go off to the Ardeche with however many lucky kids who are funded! Or rather, whose parents can afford it.
I can’t help thinking Wide Horizons is an enterprise for the enjoyment and employment of outdoorsy types to provide jolly japes and jaunts for their peers, as much as for the advancement of outdoor education. Seems to me that as far as Beckenham Place Park is concerned a group of #mates got together, including the hierarchy of Wide Horizons, and decided upon the type of park that suited them, which did not include the heritage and revenue generating public golf course.
Quite where this leaves the council tax payers of Lewisham I don’t know, with the prospect of Lewisham not only incurring capital costs (including an expensive lake) for Beckenham Place Park over and above the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, but also the continued maintenance of the 240 acre site, with very little (if any) savings having been achieved by the closure of revenue generating public golf and Wide Horizons contributing little to the upkeep and they are to benefit from a “peppercorn” rent.
This, in order to bring outdoor adventures to a relatively small number of children compared to the overall size of the park, on a site where Wide Horizons’ coexistence with revenue generating public golf had previously proved possible, in a climate where school budgets are to be reduced, and no clear indication of how “the relief of poverty” is to be achieved.
Is it just meanie old me?
Anyway, here’s a curious thing to end. If you go to the Greenwich Council website and put in a search for Wide Horizons you get a result for Councillor Christine May, who is a director of the “charity”. Not that you will find that information on WH website, but you will at Companies House. If you go to Lewisham Council’s website and search, there are no results. Strange! However, at the Lewisham AGM on 27th March 2017, item 83 Mayoral appointments, two senior members of Lewisham staff plus all 55 councillors were appointed to one body or another. One of the bodies is Wide Horizons. The Mayor’s appointee is Mr John Russell, who is neither a Lewisham officer or a councillor but is the Trustee of Wide Horizons. Hmm.