A community is devastated at radical council cutbacks ‘which will affect public mental health’, says Steve Keenan.
Wimborne residents are facing loss of access to the swimming pool and sports facilities at Queen Elizabeth school following council cutbacks. Dorset Council is set to withdraw an annual £500,000 grant to manage and subsidise the leisure centre attached to the school.
Without the money, the school has indicated it could not afford to keep the 25m pool, gyms and 3G outdoor pitch open to the community.
It will now have to find ways to fund the leisure centre, while the centre’s public closure would also reduce central government funding to the school by £280,000 per year.
“We would find a way to continue the commitment to our school sports programmes, but our preferred option is for the school and council to continue working together,” said Head Teacher Katie Boyes.
But that seems highly unlikely, with Dorset Council saying the centre accounts for 30% of its £1.7m annual leisure budget, the rest being shared between eight council-owned leisure centres.
Cllr Laura Miller, Portfolio Holder for Customer and Community Services, said: “Dorset Council simply cannot justify spending so much public money managing a centre we do not own, in an area that has so much comparable leisure provision close by.”
The news is not unexpected as the council went out to consultation last year. It received 1,800 replies: unsurprisingly, there was overwhelming support for the status quo.
Claire Ruscoe from Wimborne said: “My sons aged 14, 12 and nine all swim with the Manta Rays swim club at QE on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. It is very well attended so if this facility goes, many of those regular swimmers will have to stop swimming and some will never start it back up.”
Liz Mills of the Manta Rays club added: “This is the only leisure centre in Wimborne and there is a high demand for swimming – we have a waiting list for our swimming club. It is so important.”
The news comes just six months after Port Regis School closed its pool and gym to adult members. The former St Mary’s School near Shaftesbury is also planning to only allow schools or clubs in future, rather than individuals.
Swim England (SE) recently warned that up to 2,000 pools could be lost by 2030 as they come to the end of their lifespan, while not enough new facilities are being built to replace them.
SE is asking the Government for £1bn for new pools and for refurbishment of existing ones.
It says that swimming helps to save the health and social care system more than £357m a year as being active in the water can help prevent, and treat, a number of physical and mental health conditions.
But while councils have statutory responsibility for social care and libraries, they do not have to provide leisure facilities by law – and councils are all facing pressure on their budgets.
Dorset Council has said it will help the school find alternative funding and offer a one-off £150,000 to replace the all-weather pitch. It also maintains there are a number of other leisure centres nearby, including a pool at St Michael’s Middle School in Colehill.
In a statement, it added: “Dorset Council operates three other leisure facilities in the East Dorset area, as well as two country parks, so it is felt that there is clear evidence that Dorset Council is supporting the community to be physically active. Many other areas of Dorset are less fortunate and don’t have access to the same level of leisure facilities.”
The decision to withdraw the funding will be taken at Cabinet on March 1.
by Steve Keenan