Fresh financial support for Suffolk leisure centre operator agreed as Covid-recovery continues
- Credit: Archant
Fresh financial support of £420,000 has been offered to a not-for-profit gym and leisure centre operator in Suffolk to help them stay afloat while Covid-19 restrictions continue.
Babergh District Council's cabinet on Thursday agreed to provide Abbeycroft Leisure, which operates the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury and Hadleigh Pool and Leisure on behalf of the authority, with a £150,000 loan and £270,000 grant.
The loan is to cover finances for the period up to March 2021, and is secured against the company's assets.
It follows a financial bailout earlier in the year of £256,000 grant funding and paying the £238,000 annual management fee in advance.
Independent councillor Derek Davis, cabinet member for communities, said it was crucial to ensuring leisure and sport facilities remained available for the district.
"Without the hard work, close connections and open book approach we would be facing the quite dreadful scenario where our residents would be facing a future without the leisure provision they deserve, desire and need," he said.
He added: "No-one should doubt the importance of gyms, swimming pools, fitness classes and other offshoots these facilities bring to the physical and mental wellbeing of our residents."
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Warren Smyth, chief executive of Abbeycroft said: "As a not-for-profit social enterprise, we reinvest any operating financial surpluses into the facilities and services that we operate.
"During this incredibly challenging year we've already used our own reserves to ensure that we can continue to support the health and wellbeing of the whole community.
"Physical activity will be key to the nation's recovery from this pandemic, so we look forward to welcoming residents back to enjoy safe, regular exercise in great facilities."
However, concerns were raised by some cabinet members over the amount of cash being supplied - particularly when budgets for the authority were already proving tight as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conservative cabinet member for economic growth, Michael Holt, said: "With what we have given already plus another £270,000 and another £150,000 loan in a time when we are having trouble with the budget, I do have issues with how much money we are pumping in.
"They are essential services but we are giving money to an outside body with no real guarantee of those centres remaining open."
It follows concerns about the closure of the Abbeycroft centre in Holbrook to the public, although that facility remains open for schools, community groups and sports clubs.
Babergh's support follows a £500,000 loan over 10 years provided by West Suffolk Council, to help the firm stay afloat and safeguard the leisure centres it runs in Brandon, Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill, Mildenhall and Newmarket on the authority's behalf.
West Suffolk Council leader John Griffiths, Conservative, said: "A strong and varied leisure and sports offer will be more important than ever as we seek to recover from this pandemic, protecting and improving our people's wellbeing.
"As lockdown ended we saw a strong return to leisure centres, and whilst they have had to close again, we know our residents really value what they offer.
"We want to ensure we and Abbeycroft can welcome people back as soon as possible."