The National Trust’s slogan at present is “Everyone needs nature”.
At the National Trust-run Morden Hall Park, just a short tram ride from Croydon, there is nature in abundance in a free-to-enter green oasis in the city, seemingly a perfect venue for a Bank Holiday weekend visit, offering a taste of a country estate with a glimpse of its agricultural and industrial history.
This former deer park is one of the few remaining estates that used to line the River Wandle during its Victorian industrial heyday.
The river meanders through the park creating a haven for wildlife. The snuff mills, which generated the park’s income in the 18th and 19th centuries, survive to this day. The National Trust has even renovated the western mill, and it’s now used as a learning centre.
Or at least it was, until coronavirus.
Now the future of the learning centre, and the staff who work there, is under threat as the National Trust seeks to make urgent savings because of the shortfall in income caused by a summer-long lockdown detering visitors to Morden Hall Park and its other attractions around the country.
According to NT staff working at Morden Hall Park, “Our amazing learning department and those at National Trust sites nationwide are faced with closure due to a decision by the Trust to stop providing its in-house education services.
This will directly impact on school visits and all other forms of learning provision for children, adults and families alike at Morden Hall Park, at a time when nature and the environment should be at the forefront of the Trust’s message and focus.
“Only by inspiring children and young people to love and respect the natural world will they realise the importance of looking after it.”
The Morden Hall Park learning team is a group of around 50 dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers led by one full-time staff member, the learning officer, and three part-time members of staff.
According to those working there, the Trusts closure plans will provide no cost savings at all on a department who last year were visited by more than 7,000 children from 130 local schools, as well as organising other activities for adults including nature group workshops, park explorers (for under-5s) and photography courses.
“Every year, the learning team bring thousands of school children to the park to take part in an extensive outdoor learning programme. We cater for all ages, from pre-schoolers through to primary and secondary school children, even university students.
“We also host a wide-ranging series of courses for adults, for example honeybee talks, bat detector and photography workshops.
“We engage with our surrounding community by holding many free events within the park, offering fun and educational activities, including pop-up summer holiday events for all the family.
“We are devastated by the thought of losing what has been built up here over the past 30 years and worry not only about the impact on our community here in south London, and the direct impact on wildlife habitat within the park, but also the effect this decision will have in terms of support for the Trust countrywide by people who are committed to conservation and the engagement of young people.
“Our team reaches out to every sector of society, we ensure that those children who might otherwise not get the chance to visit a beautiful place like Morden Hall Park and learn about the plants and animals that live here get that opportunity.
“Please help us to save the learning team at Morden Hall Park, and those at other National Trust sites, to ensure that everyone gets access to it.”
The petition, “Save Our Learning Department”, can be signed by clicking on this link. After all, as the National Trust says, “Everyone needs nature”.
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