SCHOOL camps operators across the Ballarat district are celebrating the chance to welcome regional students back for adventure from next term.
There are still a few challenges camp operators will need to iron out to meet restrictions and juggle bookings - most notably only having one school in camp at a time and the uncertainty of Melbourne schools - but they say they are rapt to get back to doing what they do best.
Log Cabin Camp in Creswick managed to host one school between remote learning lockdowns, organised on short notice. The camp has been unable to host any smaller family booking when permitted, like under eased restrictions for school holidays, due to its facility set-up which includes a commercial kitchen rather than kitchenettes.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino gave the green light to school camps on Monday for outside Melbourne and for regional Victorian students only.
Log Cabin Camp manager Grant Laidlaw said while it was tough for metropolitan schools, this move offered some welcome reprieve in regional Victoria.
Mr Laidlaw said JobKeeper and other government support schemes and grants had helped keep the camp afloat but there was only so much maintenance that could be done with no income coming in.
Knowing we can work in regional Victoria give us some freedom. We're open to regional schools and looking to fill some spots.Grant Laidlaw, Log Cabin Camp in Creswick
"We've had to sit quietly...Staff have been happy to help out but we've been waiting for this announcement." Mr Laidlaw said. "Knowing we can work in regional Victoria give us some freedom. We're open to regional schools and looking to fill some spots."
Mr Laidlaw said the school that stayed at the camp between lockdowns easily adapted to new restrictions in place, like hand sanitising, and some teachers felt it was safer in a sense than a classroom with children going home and mixing with other family each night.
IN OTHER NEWS
Cave Hill Creek near Beaufort has adapted its business model to be COVID safe. The camp, which is also a popular wedding venue, has transformed into a small boutique hotel with glamping options this school holidays. There are also half and full-day programs in outdoor activities like kayaking or climbing.
Until the state government's final step, not before November 23, the site remains limited to groups of 10 for weddings before a rise to 50 people.
Cave Hill Creek owner Tim Chandler said a return to school camps helped offer some certainty.
About two-thirds of school camps at Cave Hill Creek are for metropolitan schools. Mr Chandler said he was working with regional schools to waive minimum numbers and charges in a bid to get children back on site.
He said the restrictions were a big hurdle for small regional schools, who were now unable to combine with other schools to make up camp numbers, but this was a challenge Cave Hill Creek was happy to meet.
camps promote some independence and self-reliance and kids have been missing out on those skills. Camps are a lot of things but it's always about friendships.Tim Chandler, Cave Hill Creek near Beaufort
"The most exciting thing is for kids to have fun on camp. Camps are a great development opportunity," Mr Chandler said.
"They're important for the mental health of young people and it's why schools love going to a camp.
"...There are always lots of 'cool' and 'wow' when they first arrive and we miss the fun exclamations. There are challenges - camps promote some independence and self-reliance and kids have been missing out on those skills.
"Camps are a lot of things but it's always about friendships, It's also amazing to see the relationships between kids and teachers change too, rather than just what they see in the classroom."
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.