A Cornwall MP has told residents to ‘use or lose’ their local leisure centre.
Following a visit to St Austell Leisure Centre, MP Steve Double said he is confident ‘everything necessary is in place to keep people safe’.
St Austell was one of eight centres and three pools to reopen on Saturday, July 25 in line with government guidelines.
The leisure centre is run by charitable leisure social enterprise and not-for-profit organisation GLL, who have put stringent safety measures in place to reduce the risk of infection.
Mr Double met with GLL’s Cornwall head of service James Curry, senior general manager Amelia Kitchen and Cornwall Councillor Mike Eathorne-Gibbons, who is a cabinet member who oversees the leisure agreement between the council and GLL.
Cornwall Council owns several leisure centres in the area, but they’re operated by GLL which manages the lease.
Mr Curry said: “We are lucky to have a sports hall at St Austell that has the space to run socially-distanced fitness classes, for example, can only take half the number of people they could in pre-Covid times and, after the huge losses GLL has suffered during the four months of lockdown, that presents us with a huge economic challenge.
“As a charity, GLL hasn’t been eligible for any government funding to date and that has led to a deep hole in our finances. We are doing our very best to run as many services as possible in Cornwall and are delighted with the excellent feedback we’re getting from customers. Our swim schools in Newquay, Truro and St Austell are scheduled to reopen this month and we are also hoping to open our Bodmin swimming pool. The grim reality, however, is that we are constrained by the safety regulations rightfully in place and, to get more centres open, we desperately need funding.”
Mr Double said he wanted to visit the leisure centre so he could satisfy himself on the measures in place and understand why GLL is currently unable to open all its facilities.
He said: “Several constituents have raised the issue of the hydrotherapy pool at St Austell not being open, but James has explained that, given its size, only one person and their carer can currently use it at a time. Given the running costs involved, I understand that simply isn’t sustainable.
“My message to the community is please support your leisure centres as much as you can.
“They’re doing everything necessary to keep people safe and the old adage of use it or lose it definitely applies.”
Cllr Mike Eathorne-Gibbons said: “Leisure centre providers across the country are facing significant financial shortfalls as a result of the lockdown and ongoing impact of Covid-19.
“As with more than two thirds of council leisure services in England, there has been no government funding for leisure services in Cornwall.
“We have been working hard with GLL to find a solution. Together with local authorities across the South West we have been lobbying government to urgently provide a rescue funding package to safeguard the future of leisure centres.
“GLL and Cornwall Council remain committed to re-opening more leisure facilities across Cornwall as soon as possible and we will continue to do all that we can to make that happen.
“We want to thank everyone in Cornwall who has gone back to using their leisure centres and we hope that more people will take up their services again and support our important community facilities.”
Protest organised in Wadebridge tonight
Six other GLL operated facilities across Cornwall currently remain closed.
Tonight there will be a protest outside of Wadebridge Leisure Centre starting at 5pm, which is still waiting to reopen.
Amanda Pennington, a Wadebridge town councillor, said: “Members of North Cornwall Dragons Swimclub plus other swimmers, pool users and people who use the facilities at Wadebridge Leisure Centre will be having a protest demo there to raise awareness that the centre is still closed.
“Wadebridge swimming pool is home to the North Cornwall Dragon swim club, the winter training pool of Polzeath Surf Life Saving club, and where RNLI and pool lifeguards do their training. It has now been shut since March when lockdown started. The facilities at the leisure centre include a hall that is used by many users, including the local netball team, volleyball club, badminton club, squash club, basketball club, indoor hockey players, karate club, trampoline club, gymnastics club. There are possibly more that I am unaware of.
“The local secondary school uses the hall to deliver PE lessons, and primary schools from Wadebridge, Padstow, St Minver, St Teath, St Tudy, St Issey, and other surrounding villages use the pool to deliver their statutory swimming lessons. It is vitally important that children in Cornwall learn to swim, and have a local facility where they can stay fit and active. None of the schools are able to access the centre and there has been no date given that might give us some hope of when the centre will reopen.
“I have been in contact with our MP Scott Mann, who understands and sympathises with our concerns but seems unable to help. Cornwall Council are also unable to help, and GLL/Better say they do not have the money to reopen as with current Covid guidance in place it will cost more to open than they can make.
“Our Prime Minister has said people need to get fit to fight Covid 19 and the continued closure of our leisure centre and pool means people in Wadebridge and the surrounding areas are not able to access leisure services. For those without their own transport there is no public pool within easy reach.
“We have been told by GLL that when Bodmin pool does open the costs to use the pool is going to rise significantly for clubs. Pre Covid the price per lane per hour was £13.50, but when Bodmin reopens it will cost £20 per lane per hour. This will mean that the swim club becomes something that is not available to young people from poorer families ( 27% of children in North Cornwall are currently living in poverty). There are also many staff still furloughed in GLL/Better centres in Cornwall that fear they will lose their jobs. This is unacceptable.
“I do hope that by holding this event we can help people understand our plight and send a strong message to those who have the power to reopen our centre, or provide a rescue package, that Wadebridge Pool and Leisure Centre must reopen.”
CornwallLive has contacted GLL for a comment.