Fenland leisure centres offered ‘lifeline’ to keep them afloat

Freedom Leisure centres will reopen across the region on April 12

Freedom Leisure centres will reopen across the region on April 12 after being forced shut due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. - Credit: Archant

The trust that manages Fenland’s four leisure centres is hoping to receive a financial lifeline from Fenland District Council (FDC) to help support it through the coronavirus pandemic.

The council has agreed an urgent financial relief package with Freedom Leisure, which operates the district’s leisure centres in Chatteris, March, Whittlesey and Wisbech.

Freedom Leisure has sought urgent financial support from its partners, including FDC and 22 other local government authorities, to help meet ongoing costs through the crisis and to ensure it can fulfil contractual obligations to manage leisure facilities on their behalf once the outbreak is over.

The financial package agreed includes a loan to help protect the services that people value, and funding to cover staff keeping the leisure centres safe and secure so that they are ready to reopen as soon as possible when restrictions are lifted.

Cllr Chris Boden, leader of FDC, said: “We must do everything we can to protect our leisure centres and the sustainability of our contract with Freedom.

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“We are only just into the second year of a 15-year contract that has already seen considerable investment by Freedom into the leisure centres. It also saves the council around £500,000 a year, equating to around £5.6m of savings over the remaining 14 years of the contract.

“Our financial forecasts show that the council faces a continuing budget gap, with the need to find over £1 million in savings by 2024/25 exclusive of our additional COVID-19 related costs and future funding uncertainties.

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“If the Freedom contract ended and we took over the management of the leisure centres again this would add significant additional cost to the Council.”

Cllr Sam Clark, the council’s portfolio holder for leisure, added: “Helping Freedom to meet their ongoing costs throughout this crisis will help protect our leisure centres and ensure that existing leisure centre memberships are protected and honoured so that users will be unaffected once the facilities can safely reopen.”

The Government has already provided funding of almost £1.1 million to help cover the council’s costs related to COVID-19, although further funding has yet to be announced.

Ivan Horsfall Turner, managing director of Freedom Leisure, said: “We are grateful for the support we are getting from Fenland District Council and share their aspiration to reopen centres and enable customers and members to access their local leisure centres once more.”

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