‘We won’t give up our leisure centre protest’

Peter Morton and pal Chris Holcroft in the River Don as part of the campaign to halt the closure of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre
Peter Morton and pal Chris Holcroft in the River Don as part of the campaign to halt the closure of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre

REPRESENTATIVES of the campaign to save Stocksbridge Leisure Centre and its swimming pool will monitor tomorrow’s budget debate in search of a lifeline.

They are especially looking for the time to form a charitable trust with a view to securing a community mechanism and funds to keep the premises open. “We are not asking for the world,” said Fay Howard, of campaign group 4SLC. “A year would enable us to look at taking it over.”

Even without a last minute reprieve, and councillors vote to end a £400,000 a year subsidy, the centre would stay open until at least the end of April.

That’s the deadline for a report commissioned by the council and Sport England into possible options for leisure in Stocksbridge, both on the existing site or elsewhere.

The council has agreed to keep the door open a little longer - but it is unlikely to accept any deal that involves maintaining its current financial commitment. Other potential sources of money would have to be identified.

Campaigners will not give up, though. “We’ll have to review our thinking and see what avenues are open to us,” said Fay. “It won’t end on Friday. There has been too much time invested and too many people have shown the will and design to keep it open.”

The leisure centre, run by Sheffield International Venues with a council subsidy, is facing closure after 40 years because of its relatively high costs and low visitor numbers.

The strategy involves replacing Stocksbridge with a new sports centre in the north of Sheffield - widely believed by campaigners to be on the Thorncliffe industrial estate at Chapeltown - financed by Government Olympic legacy money, although no details have been confirmed.

Yet anywhere other than Stocksbridge means that local people will have to travel, which would cause inconvenience and especially affect people on low incomes, says 4SLC.

Protesters point to money being invested by SIV in new gym equipment at Hillsborough Leisure Centre and the refurbishment of the Arena - and they say the closure of Stocksbridge was being mooted privately as long ago as last summer, which would have given the community more time to prepare an alternative.

“We are not asking them to carry on with the subsidy ad infinitum, but it takes three months on average to set up a trust,” said Fay. “A year would give us the opportunity to complete a feasibility study, prepare a business case and look at the building to see what is viable and what are the funding options.”

Their case was highlighted last Saturday by Peter Morton and Chris Holcroft who, wearing wetsuits, navigated the River Don from The Bridge Inn in Thurgoland to Lowood Club in Deepcar to show the lack of alternatives if the facility closes. Cheered on by 100 people, Peter, aged 49, said: “I came up with this idea mostly because the people of Stocksbridge are in such shock about the idea of losing their leisure centre.”