Financial rescue package needed for leisure centre

MORE than 250 residents packed into a public meeting where they were urged to support their leisure centre with a �25,000 grant, as it faces financial difficulties.

John Howard

MORE than 250 residents packed into a public meeting where they were urged to support their leisure centre with a �25,000 grant, as it faces financial difficulties.

A meeting which saw so many people attend that some had to stand, and others could not even get in, was held at Debenham High School, to see if villagers were willing to back the facility financially within the community near Eye.

Debenham parish councillors called the meeting after being approached by their community's leisure centre and asked to support them, or possibly face losing the centre by April.

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Many villagers, who raised many questions during the meeting on Tuesday evening, said there was no way they wanted to lose it. But they said that any cash handed over should come with strings and representation on the management board.

Residents were also angry that the directors of the leisure centre did not attend the public meeting to answer questions, despite the service needing money from the village.

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Debenham Leisure Centre, run by a charitable trust in Gracechurch Street, is used for sports including football, squash, bowls, fitness training and badminton, with up to 3,000 visitors a week.

Backing it could lead to a jump in council tax locally and Ron Walters, chairman of the parish council, said: “We have been asked to provide regular money to support them and are considering it, and have not yet made a decision.

“We do consider the leisure centre to be a valuable resource. We understand their electricity bills have gone up enormously and they have put solar panels in to try and help their financial situation.”

Mid Suffolk district councillor Kathie Guthrie, who represents Debenham, said the authority would continue funding if the parish provided similar backing.

And Chris Fry, corporate director with the district council, told the meeting: “Mid Suffolk has, and continues to be, very supportive of Debenham Leisure Centre, it provides a key community facility to the village and surrounding area.

“We currently give a �25,000 grant a year and were approached during 2008 for additional assistance and ongoing help. Our resources are very stretched, we have a limited budget, and have got to support a number of other organisations, leaving us with a grant budget over subscribed.”

Mel Aldis, a manager at the leisure centre, said: “The support has been overwhelming from both groups and individuals. We are waiting to hear with our fingers crossed.

“Some people found it disappointing that we did not go but that was the decision that was made, and I can't comment on that. But I think we will be here for many years to come.”

Debenham Parish Council will meet again next week to consider the opinions raised by residents during the public meeting and make their decision. Up to 30 other parish councils in the area are also being approached for financial support.

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