Community unites over threat to Sheffield leisure centre

A demonstration outside Stocksbridge Leisure Centre against proposals to close it.
A demonstration outside Stocksbridge Leisure Centre against proposals to close it.

THE community of Stocksbridge rallied this week to urge a rethink over the proposed closure of its leisure centre.

About 500 residents braved the snow to pack a public meeting at The Venue in Manchester Road on Monday night to press the city council to pause over the strategy of shutting the centre as part of a reorganisation of leisure facilities in the north of Sheffield.

One of the key concerns among parents was that they would be left with nowhere convenient for their children to learn to swim – in an area where reservoirs and rivers posed a risk to safety.

The city council also came under pressure to reassess the future of the leisure centre alongside the more general needs of Stocksbridge, especially given the relative geographical isolation of the town.

“There was a rational acceptance that change needs to happen and that things can’t stay the same,” said Sam Tarrf, chief executive of Stocksbridge Training and Enterprise Partnership. “It’s how that change is made and on what basis.”

The city council is looking to withdraw a £400,000 annual subsidy for the 40-year-old leisure centre and swimming pool, which is run by Sheffield International Venues. It says the building is out-of-date and inefficient and has falling numbers of customers. Plans are being drawn up for a new swimming pool and gym in the north of Sheffield – thought to be with some of the Government’s £10m Olympic legacy fund.

But without a commitment to it being in Stocksbridge, residents fear they will be forced to travel a significant distance to reach the nearest leisure centre.

And they complain that they are not being given enough time to respond to the proposed changes, with the council due to confirm its budget at the start of March.

Mr Tarff said: “There needs to be a pause. Five weeks is not enough to have any kind of reasonable consultation.”

With the town council taking the lead, a plan should be developed to examine the future of the leisure centre and other public centres in Stocksbridge, he said. Other organisations could be involved in the running of leisure centres, for example.

But it was also important to address issues such as the children’s centre, which faces an uncertain future as a result of a £71,000 cut to the budget of STEP.

“We need to look pragmatically and realistically at the resources and what is best for Stocksbridge,” said Mr Tarff.

Penistone and Stocksbridge Labour MP Angela Smith said: “I applaud the people of Stocksbridge and the surrounding area for taking the time to show their anger at the proposals put forward by the City Council to close the Leisure Centre.

“Many pertinent questions were raised and yet at the same time there was an acknowledgement on all sides that an alternative way forward has to be established.

“In that context, I stand prepared to support local people in their efforts to do this, but in the meantime it is imperative that the council withdraws its closure proposal in order that ideas can be worked up.”