STUDENTS have launched a campaign to save the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), based at The Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis, from closure.
The school announced it would be closing the CCF branch after struggling to find enough staff members to run it, but students have said they will miss out on valuable life skills and experiences if it cannot be saved.
The Woodroffe School CCF was set up in the 1990s, offering training to young people in three sections – Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – which has proved invaluable when applying for higher education and careers in the military.
The CCF requires two staff members or volunteers to run each of the three sections, plus a contingent commander. Following the recent departure of two key members of staff, including contingent commander Katie Morley, headteacher Dr Richard Steward said it was “impossible to sustain” and announced that the school had “reluctantly” taken the decision to disband the CCF.
In a letter to parents, he said: “This is a decision we take with great sadness as the CCF has been such a significant feature of the school over the years and has offered amazing opportunities to hundreds of our students.
“I have personally asked every member of staff if they would be prepared to help out, some of them several times, and I have even included the question in interviews for new staff where appropriate. In addition, I have asked all the governors as well as appealing for parental volunteers, both by direct letters and via the PTA.
“I have also worked closely with Captain Nick Chambers and Colonel Carson, our links in the military, to see if we can find a way forward – but to no avail.”
Dr Steward said that part of the problem was that staff already ran several other clubs and activities for students in their spare time, including the Duke of Edinburgh scheme which had “increased dramatically” in popularity in recent years.
He added: “We have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have had the support of Nick Wootton, Chris Wilcox and Emily Humble Smith, as well as Simon Ransome-Williams in school, but with over 100 cadets we need a much larger group of adults, including another couple of staff members.
“It will be very sad to see the CCF disappear – and it may be that one day it can be revived but there are still dozens of ways in which students can take part in outdoor adventure activities.”
Dr Steward added that the school was looking into setting up an Expeditionary Society and intended to use its links with local Cadet Forces to encourage students who were particularly keen on the military aspects of the CCF programme to join local groups.
Some parents have since taken to social media to complain about the closure and have said they know of several people willing to volunteer.
Speaking to LymeOnline, Dr Steward said he was disappointed with some comments made on social media, adding that volunteering for the CCF was complex and some of those who had come forward were not found to be suitable. Volunteers have to attend several sessions to ensure they are suitable and go through a Ministry of Defence vetting procedure, get CRB checked, have two references and complete a week’s training at a military camp.
Students have now set up an online petition at https://bit.ly/2NDG7Nf to try and save the CCF, and are hoping more people will come forward to help run the contingent.
Woodroffe pupil Will Newton commented: “The experience and training the young people get in CCF becomes invaluable when they interview for higher education and their future careers, as it forms well-rounded individuals in addition to academic education.
“CCF also forms friendships and support networks across all age groups within the school, helping to boost confidence in day-to-day school lives. It improves social skills, behaviour, confidence, independence and youth empowerment.”
Will added that the CCF provided “fantastic opportunities” for both students and staff, including leadership skills, survival skills, first aid training, flying experiences, opportunities to train with adapted weapons, trips to warships, submarines, helicopters and tanks, camps and special courses.
The CCF also took part in the annual Remembrance parade in Lyme Regis, and the local branch of the Royal British Legion said they were “dismayed” to hear about its closure.
Vital link with Armed Forces
Branch chairman Ian Marhsall commented: “The CCF was the only cadet force in the Lyme Regis area and as such was the only means by which youngsters could experience and engage with the ethos of service life within the armed forces. This was a vital link as we have few military regular units based in the county.
“In this 100th year where we will be remembering the fallen of the Great War, to disband the CCF in this year may be construed as insensitive, particularly as the CCF will not be on parade this year at the Remembrance service.
“The timing of this decision is also unfortunate at a time when the government is seeking to achieve a greater and meaningful accommodation of young people engagement with the Armed Forces.”
In a letter to the headteacher, he added that the local community “would be very grateful” if the decision could be reversed.
The 1st Lym Valley Scout Group has described the decision to disband as a “tragedy”, with Scout leader Karen Yelland commenting: “I was greatly saddened to hear about Woodroffe’s CCF impending closure. I know as a group we have had the privilege and pleasure of parading with them over the years and were hoping to do so for years to come.
“However, this is not just a civic tragedy but a much larger one for the 100 young people who will lose out. Nobody benefits when a uniformed youth organisation closes. The Scouts will not, nor the Guides, benefit from this regrettable demise.
“As someone who is a volunteer with the Scouts, I have always promoted choice and opportunity above our group’s own interests. I have had Scouts who have benefited from CCF; there are also those who excel in CCF and not in other uniformed youth organisations – these are the young people at most risk of not being able to achieve their full potential as a result of the closure.
“This is also a tragedy for aspiration in Lyme Regis. Why should we, as volunteers and youth workers, take away these brilliant opportunities for our young people? What is even more damming is that the proposed replacement for CCF is not a like-for-like replacement, it is nothing more than patronising tokenism.
“I can only hope that an agreement to save the CCF can be reached, and if not, the young people find suitable alternatives elsewhere. Failure to do anything would be an absolute tragedy.”
Town and district councillor Cheryl Reynolds has also joined the campaign to save the CCF. In a letter to the headteacher, she wrote: “Would you please be prepared to give all these people that are now coming forward to volunteer a second chance? I know many of them and they are concerned that an organisation that has been in place since 1992 should continue. I have many emails from people in the town who will support this and I am happy to send them on to you showing the support.
“I myself am more than happy to help with administration. I love your school, it saved my life in many ways as a young girl and for that I shall be always grateful.
“The CCF is an organisation that treats everyone the same and gives opportunities to all young people regardless of their background. Please, please reconsider and give these youngsters and their supporters another chance.”