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Open Letter: NO OUTDOOR EDUCATION FOR OUR KIDS… BUT THEY CAN VISIT PUBS AND CLUBS?

August 2020

                                                 onswact aca cva.png

Whilst the Outdoor industry sector understands the recent response by Premier Berejiklian was reactive, the words were damaging and revealing. In the interview conducted on 11 August about the recent Tangara School COVID-19 cases, she was heard to say “Extra-curricular activities, those excursions and overnight things which ordinarily you would do, are not acceptable during a pandemic,”. Not only did this indicate our sector is accused of being ‘unsafe’ but not considered an industry that is equivalent to the value of restaurants, cafes and clubs who can continue to operate after cases have been linked to multiple of these facilities.

Outdoors NSW & ACT (ONSWACT), Australian Camps Association (ACA) and the Christian Venues Association (CVA) have joined forces to voice some common-sense attitude and request consideration for the $7.6 Billion industry sector in NSW. Collectively we call for a responsible return to outdoor education and to remember the benefits of outdoor activities that are in great need at this time. Alarming numbers in suicide, mental illness, and other health issues are on the increase and there is no better time to act than now.

“Premier Gladys Berejiklian warns camps and excursions are a pandemic no-go”

This seems to be an over-reach that defies logic, evidence and stated government policy intent. It is one thing to ban unregulated overnight house parties, but another thing to shut a highly regulated, risk-conscious industry that delivers indisputable benefits to our young people, our society and to our economy.

***

THE SITUATION

The sector applauds the efforts of the NSW Department of Health on their management of recent outbreaks and the tracking of cases for the prevention of further infections. We also commend them on the understanding of our business and how we operate in line with public health orders and COVID-19 Safe guidelines. We understand more than anyone that we need to reintroduce overnight retreats and camps responsibly, and that they need to return; for education and health outcomes as well as for the economy in regional communities.

Since March 2020, and for some since October 2019 (due to impact from the Bushfires and then floods) we have not been able to welcome a public-school back to our facilities. All other states, including Victoria, resumed Camps in June/July, although understandably Victoria have ceased camps during current lockdown.  The NSW Department of Education has recognised the need for day outdoor activities to recommence and currently provides this guidance to schools; “Day field trips to outdoor locations with no physical distancing requirements can take place (e.g. DoE Environmental Education Centres and sport and recreation facilities, trips to local river to collect water samples)” (www.education.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/advice-for-families, 7 Aug 2020). However, overnight camps remain on hold for Term 3. 

As we were emerging from lockdown, it was acknowledged that localised outbreaks would occur. The Premier noted that when they did, the outbreaks would be contained, contacts would be traced, and sites would be cleansed.  That is what is happening, in all but in our camp and retreat facilities.  Overnight Outdoor Education Programs are still in ‘lock-down’.

The sector couldn’t be more prepared for camps to return as the underlying nature of outdoor education is high risk activity and they have solid risk management principles planted in their everyday operations, outside of COVID-19.

***

COVID SAFE PLANS FOR ACTIVITIES

Since May this year, the Outdoor Council of Australia has been working with all state peaks and sector associations to provide a COVID-19 Safe framework and template for our sector. This would enable them to get back to business in the safest way possible for their staff and their guests, and ready for when their state allows resumption.

 “Our sector engaged very quickly into resetting and preparing for when our customers return”, said Lori Modde CEO of Outdoors NSW & ACT.

They used the Outdoor Council of Australia template and adapted it to their activities and when the Service NSW templates came out a few weeks later, they matched their plans with those to identify any further gaps. This has been a regular conversation on our weekly sector forums and the sharing between operators has been amazing as they all know they are in this together. It makes no sense that their main customers are told not to go!”

It is at this point that we reflect on the overnight accommodation providers, hotels, motels, that are considered ‘essential services’ under the NSW Public Health Orders, and have been able to continue to operate in the earlier stages of lockdown and have been found to be the cause for outbreaks in Victoria. Restaurants and Cafes have had clusters due to community transmission yet are able to continue to operate. Yet we find there is a blanket rule and claim that camps should not occur in a pandemic. Can we please remind people that our camp facilities, like the hotels, cafes and clubs, are COVID-19 Safe and COVID-19 Safe Plans and registered with Service NSW.

It has been widely publicised that children are not as much at risk with COVID-19 when compared to older populations. This is still being researched and is unclear, however “Children seem to either show no symptoms when infected, or only mild symptoms.” (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute). So it cannot be understated that having a COVID-19 Safe plan is still incredibly important in all settings, school, shops, accommodation or camps, no matter the age and that’s the approach our industry has taken.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) relaxed their guidelines on boarding houses and has indicated that there is no greater health risk to students in a camp situation than a school environment.

“Our industry cannot be anymore ready to get our kids back to outdoor learning. It’s hard for people that are not in our industry to understand but we do risk for a living and have been COVID prepared since May and we can provide so many more benefits to communities if only given the chance to get back to business” said Martin Burney, President of Outdoors NSW & ACT.

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THE DATA

The total Outdoor sector, worth $7.6 Billion to the NSW economy annually, has been shut for a minimum of 6 months. A paralysing figure when you analyse it to represent a possible $3.8 Billion loss to the state’s economy to date.

A Forbes article from July 2018 reporting on a study by Environmental Research, University of East Anglia, in relation to ‘forest bathing’ found, “Spending more time in green spaces was linked to reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rate, reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of type II diabetes, reduced all-cause mortality and death from heart disease….Among all the participants, on average, there was an increased likelihood of self-reporting one’s health as “good.””

In a research paper done by Marsden Jacob & Associates in 2018, it was calculated that an estimated $508 million was saved in lifetime healthcare costs by people participating in outdoor pursuits in NSW alone. And the Outdoor Youth Programs Research Alliance (OYPRA) reported from their nine-year study in late 2018, the sharp rise in the youth anxiety and mental health challenges can be improved through participating in outdoor programs. In addition, the students improved confidence, self-efficacy and increased belief to achieve their goals after the participation in outdoor programs. Data that is incredibly hard to argue against and endorsed by leading universities including the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

CEO of the Australian Camps Association, Peter Griffith’s spoke of the OYPRA independent research, “It clearly shows that camps decrease anxiety, increase connection to schools, increase connection to peers and increase efficacy. There is no better way to improve every student's mental and physical health than to take part in a camp, especially as students return to school following such a long period of social isolation.”

ACA, CVA & ONSWACT have confirmed they have supported years 11 & 12 in not participating in camps at this time. “For the little time these students, in these important schooling years, have had at school this year it is understandable that the school’s focus is on the HSC outcomes but we ask schools to remember camps are not the only option to ensure their mental health does not suffer.” Says Graeme Janes, CEO of Christian Venues Association. “They need to be reminded to get out and smell the fresh air and connect with the outdoors to recharge and reset. A successful outcome for any student must include building resilience and self-confidence, not simply academic performance. The lessons learned during camps and other outdoor experiences contribute significantly to this important aspect of schooling.”.

***

OUR PLEA

The state government does have an opportunity to do a great service to our school students, our families and to the economy by allowing COVID-19 Safe school camps to re-commence.

An estimated 6,000 employees in this sector are on JobKeeper with no ability to transition to paid work in the time frame of 28 September and will need to progress to JobKeeper 2.1 and continue to rely on government support.

Students on camp have less contact with less students than at school, wider spaces in which to social distance, protocols and agendas to follow with clear hygiene requirements (more than at school), not required to take public transport and are not hanging in public areas before or after school. Oh, and did we mention they get the mental health benefits and the skill development opportunities for long-term use.

We ask the government to remember that it’s not the venue that gives someone COVID-19, it’s another infected human that transmits the disease. Please don’t punish the venues for which they are not responsible for the issue but are certainly part of the solution to preventing it to spread.

Give our kids the ‘camp memories’ and health benefits and resume camping in Term 4, 2020.

 

For more information

Lori Modde                  CEO, Outdoors NSW & ACT
                                            www.outdoorsnswact.com.au
                                            ceo@outdoorsnsw.org.au
                                            0415 279 822

Pete Griffiths              CEO, Australian Camps Association
                                            www.auscamps.asn.au 
                                            ceo@auscamps.asn.au,
                                            0402 844 861

Graeme Janes             CEO, Christian Venues Association 
                                             www.christianvenues.org.au
                                             ceo@christianvenues.org.au
                                             0418 228 537

 
 
 
 


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