I heard yesterday that after nineteen years the Environmental Trainers Network will close in March. Their sad announcement states that ‘the continuing impact on our audience of the economic downturn has meant that this year for the first time ever, bookings have become too low and unpredictable for the programme to be sustainable.’ For those who did not know them (i.e. my imagined international audience) ETN provided an impressive programme of affordable day courses in a wide, wide range of topics relating to conservation, people and environment. Over the years they have supported, informed and encouraged countless dedicated individuals and organisations. Their demise comes as a shock. It feels like a canary song in a dark tunnel, warning about what is happening to the environmental movement in the UK, especially England, in this recession.
This time last year Losehill Hall, The Peak National Park Study Centre closed. That was another body blow. For more than 35 years Losehill had provided the leading residential courses for the countryside sector in England, and in its heyday had had European standing. It was a hothouse, a powerhouse, of ideas and networking for rangers and other environmental staff. Travelling in Australia we met people whose lives had been strongly influenced by courses they had attended there. On the Foreshore in Fremantle, WA Peter bumped into a woman who had attended two of his Losehill courses more than eight years ago – he’d clearly made an impact! At Mount Field National Park, in Tasmania we met a ranger who had trained there and was appalled and incredulous when we told her Losehill was no more.
I never worked for ETN. Both Peter and I worked long and hard at Losehill Hall and campaigned, with many others, to highlight its value and prevent its closure. We achieved a stay of execution but then the unthinkable happened and it was shocking. I am sure the same will have happened at ETN; this decision will not have been made lightly or without a fight and probably anguish. I salute all the work ETN has done over the years and offer my heartfelt sympathies to all who have been affected by its closure.
And, for what it’s worth, a small piece of advice for ETN. Go with a bang and a fanfare – not a whimper. I ran the last ever professional training course at Losehill and pulled out every stop I could think of to make it a celebration of all the good stuff that had flowed from the place. I am proud of that. Do the same. May your last two courses be a proud celebration of your achievements. Make them occasions to remember. Embody the very best of what you do right to the end.
So, two great training resources with contrasting business strategies that were pillars of open training in the UK are gone within a twelvemonth. A chill wind blows through this country – colder even than the sub zero temperatures outside. Some people would have us believe that these gaps open up new opportunities for the public sector. That will be us, and people like us, then? I am not convinced.
Yes, there are ideas bubbling away in the TellTale cauldron for new training, with different partners, some rather ETNish, some longer. But our business heads are cautious, this news speaks of a unhappy, unconfident and shrinking sector- a landscape barren because it is inhospitable. It could suggest that the days of ‘open’ training courses, that brings together people from different organisations, is over. I hope not. Open training courses do more than increase skills and knowledge; they allow people to network, to compare and contrast experiences, to make links that polish the vision and strengthen the resolve across the environmental sector.
‘In house’ training, where trainers like us go into an organisation to deliver bespoke training that meets the specific needs of that team, cannot do that. It is different, immensely valuable, especially in improving that team’s or that organisation performance, but different. It doesn’t give this broader vision.
“Without vision the people perish’
Last week (before the ETN news) I was in a discussion on this topic that ended, ‘okay we’ll do it, it may fail, we probably won’t make any money but we’ll do it because we want to’. I feel that even more strongly now. I want to run some open training because it can be an empowering countercurrent for the beleaguered passionate and committed people who make up much of the environmental movement. It is a tiny act of resistance on behalf of the environment.
Which is a nice link to a current source of inspiration from Tasmania. Look at The Observer Tree. If I could see which tree to tie myself to in order to resist the onslaught of our financial cuts on our environment, I would be there. Possibly running training courses for all comers from my lofty perch!