A RURAL outdoor centre has closed its doors for the final time – despite being just as popular as ever.

Durham County Council officials say cutbacks mean the authority can no longer afford the £77,000 annual subsidy for the Outdoor Learning Centre, in Bridge Street, Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The final group to use the centre as the base for a packed week of activities were 25 children aged nine and 10 from Delves Lane Primary, in Consett.

Headteacher Karen Holden said the school had been bringing groups to Middleton-in-Teesdale for years.

“We are devastated to see the place close. The children have such a lovely time, they enjoy it and they learn such a lot.”

She added: “It is also affordable. A number of our children come from a deprived background and their parents could not afford commercial providers, so this centre enabled us to be inclusive.”

She said as well as taking part in varied outdoor activities, the visits helped children with their social skills and gave them a taste of independence.

“This week, we have been up to High Force, enjoyed a mystery trail and been out in the woods looking for animal tracks in the snow.

“Some years we have been twice. At the moment, I don't know what other opportunities there are. We will have to see what is available and what the prices are.”

In addition to the annual subsidy, Durham County Council was faced with having to fund repairs to the heating system, roof and kitchen.

Head of centre Stuart Thompson said although its closure was a sad occasion, it was also a chance to celebrate the thousands of children who had benefited from a visit to Middleton-in-Teesdale.

“That experience is lodged with them. The big thing about here is that we rarely stayed on site.

“More often than not we got out into the elements and habitats and the children felt the wind on their faces.

“The county provided the opportunity for many thousands of children to come – we must not lose sight of that.”

With the official closure confirmed for March 31, confirmed bookings from 12 schools around the county have had to be cancelled.

“We have had a waiting list – we have never had to advertise for groups,” said Mr Thompson.