Parent power saves abandoned centre

Michael Prestage

Left high and dry by local government re-organisation

The children working hard on their rugby are probably unaware that their places at a much-loved education centre in south Wales were secured thanks to a remarkable display of parent power.

More than 100 children who showed an aptitude for the national game of Wales were selected from primary schools in the former Mid Glamorgan to attend the Ogmore Residential Centre last week.

For many it would have been their first nights away from home. The friendships forged with children from other towns and villages will remain with them for years to come. They are the latest to undergo what former students lovingly describe as the "Ogmore experience".

They are lucky. Ogmore was mothballed last year as a result of the local government reorganisation in April. None of the four new unitary authorities that now cover the old Mid Glamorgan area - Bridgend, Merthyr, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf - could afford to run the centre.

It looked like the end for Ogmore, which was set up in 1935 to provide holidays for children from deprived families in the south Wales valleys.

The wooden dormitories have long gone, replaced more than 20 years ago with buildings that can house up to 160 children. Before its closure the centre ran 190 courses in anything from music to sport and catered for about 7,000 children a year.

"It would have been a disaster for children in this area if Ogmore remained closed. We couldn't allow it to happen," said Ros Williams, whose four children attended the centre and who became a driving force in the bid to revive it.

News of the camp's closure galvanised other parents and former students of Ogmore into action. They set up a charity trust to run the centre and it successfully re-opened in September after a closure of five months.

Parents now hope that a bid for Pounds 1.8 million of lottery money will be successful. They aim to upgrade the buildings to see Ogmore into the next century.

A concert by former music students who are now working with professional orchestras highlighted the plight of the residential centre and was an important fund-raiser.

Ros Williams said the new Bridgend council had supported their efforts to re-open Ogmore, but the other authorities had been less forthcoming. She feared internal politics in the councils were to blame.

She said: "Ogmore is still particularly important for underprivileged children. No one has ever been refused a place here. It also gives children from small isolated communities the chance to widen their horizons."

Peter Tuhey, an educational consultant who is redesigning courses at the centre, said: "This is a prime example of parents, teachers and ex-students coming together and by their enthusiasm and commitment getting things done. "

He said there had been marvellous support from local headteachers who had allowed staff to teach courses at the centre.

"Traditionally, the place has run on the talents and commitment of teachers. It only happened because Mid Glamorgan schools supported the centre," he said.

Already 45 courses a month are being planned to show that the centre is viable. Sport, music and arts courses are being run as pilots for the full range intended to be on offer from January.

Lyn Cole, a teacher at Tynewydd junior school, Ogmore Vale, who was involved with the rugby skills course, said: "From a school's point of view everybody is very keen on Ogmore. This week has been successful. The children have enjoyed themselves. It is an experience for them."

Ogmore is well-known for its music courses. The local authorities in the former Mid Glamorgan were so small that they had difficulty finding enough children keen to play in orchestras. Ogmore provided a setting for 180 young people to come together to make music.

Katy Wright, 17, learned the recorder on her first Ogmore course while at primary school. She now plays the cello and is a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the National Youth Choir of Wales Sinfonia. She has applied for a place at the Royal College of Music.

Katy, who is a pupil at the Pencoed comprehensive, said: "As well as firing my enthusiasm for music the social aspect of the courses here have been important. Some of my best friends were met through Ogmore. I was gutted when I learnt it was closing."

Ros Williams warned: "The future is still uncertain, but we have shown there is still a demand for courses here and the centre is well supported by local schools and the community as a whole. When you look at the good work that has been done over the years we're not prepared to lose Ogmore."

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