Failed green attraction reopens with educational aspirations

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BOSSES at an outdoor education firm who have taken on Doncaster’s failed Earth Centre site yesterday unveiled the fruits of a multi-million pound makeover of the former colliery.

Kingswood bought the attraction, which originally opened around the turn of the millennium, from Doncaster Council for an undisclosed sum 12 months ago and started work on site last October.

The company, which runs eight other outdoor education centres in the UK and one in France, hopes to attract school groups, and as part of the deal will offer subsidised trips to Doncaster children.

It predicts that it will create around 200 jobs at the Dearne Valley outdoor education centre, which also includes zip wires and has retained much of the centre’s “green” features.

The canopy outside the main entrance is one huge solar panel which is used to heat water for central heating and all sewage and waste water is processed on site with the warmth produced used in growing fruit like bananas.

New accommodation blocks have been built on the site, which was once home to Cadeby colliery, with each block, designed to house up to 64 children and their teachers, named after South Yorkshire’s pits.

The finances of the sale and the upgrade, which yesterday was receiving the finishing touches from builders, remain closely under wraps, but the first group of children is expected to arrive next Wednesday.

Assistant manager Chris Garsden said that 14 local people had already been given jobs on site, and it was hoped that number would increase as the school trips season got under way and more staff were needed.

He added: “Doncaster Council was very keen that the site went to an education provider given its previous history and we have been careful to be sympathetic to the buildings and the site.

“We have restored them, and brought the buildings and the site, which was very overgrown with brambles which were up to an inch thick, back up to an excellent standard for use by groups.

“The accommodation blocks, which are all new, are up to the standard of a Premier Inn, and finding this site has been a catalyst of change for the company, this is by far our most impressive centre.

“A lot of the time it is pretty hard to get a teacher to say ‘wow’, but those that we have shown round so far have been very impressed.”

Mr Garsden said that in the modern educational age, it was not simply enough for teachers to take groups away on the traditional summer camp enjoyed by previous generations.

It will cost schools around £40 per pupil per night to stay at the site.

Mr Garsden added: “Teachers now have to justify what they are doing educationally, we are aiming to help with that.”

In its new incarnation, the site will be known as Kingswood Dearne Valley.

The outdoor instructors – who are currently being housed at Doncaster College’s High Melton campus – said the facilities were “superb”.

Bryony Lewis, 23, who has worked for the company for nearly five years at most of its centres, said: “This site doesn’t really compare with the others, it is massive and much better than anything else.”

Daniel Jones, 18, who moved from Caerphilly in Wales to take up an apprenticeship at the site, said it was a “dream job”.

He added: “We are all looking forward to getting started.”