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Chair of governors says The Friary School wants its facilities back from closure-threatened leisure centre

The chair of governors says The Friary School wants its facilities back from the under-threat leisure centre in order to help it become an academy.

Friary Grange Leisure Centre
Friary Grange Leisure Centre

Lichfield District Council revealed last week that it had been served a 12-month notice on the joint user agreement at Friary Grange Leisure Centre by Staffordshire County Council.

The two authorities had been unable to reach agreement on new lease terms for public use of the facilities which would have supported plans for The Friary School to become an academy.

The chair of governors at the school, Cllr Jamie Checkland – who is also a Conservative member for the Leomansley ward on Lichfield District Council – told a public meeting last night (15th July) that it was not fair for the school to keep underpinning public access to a leisure centre.

“I’m a regular Friary Grange Leisure Centre user,” he said. “And I’ve been on the governing body of the school for around eight years.

Jamie Checkland
Jamie Checkland

“I became a councillor because I’m disappointed with the sports provision within Lichfield.

“I’ve been fighting on behalf of The Friary School to get a fair crack of the whip in relation to the facilities and the income that comes in to the school and the way in which the pool and other elements are managed.

“My priority is the children of the school. They are there to be educated and the money that comes into The Friary School should be used for their education.

“For a number of years now, because of the contract signed in 1971 – when it was just a sports centre – the county council was paying a third and the district council paying two thirds. In 1978 a pool was built on the side and the contract was not changed.

“As time has eroded the school has been picking up the county council bill. As it stands, around about £70,000 a year goes towards supporting the sports centre and school – that’s your pupils’ money.

“We gave notice that the school wanted their facilities back. They do belong to the school and they create an income. They were built by the county council as a sports centre and astro turf pitch as part of the school.”

Cllr Checkland was challenged on his view by the public meeting’s organiser, Caroline Fellows, who said the issue was not just about school pupils.

“I’ve got give kids,” she said. “Four have gone through the Friary and one is due to come up.

“It is all well and good saying you’re providing for The Friary School, but my kids aren’t at school all the time. They are about to break up for six weeks.

“But this time next year they won’t be able to use the facility or the pool.”

“It would be lovely if you were able to support me”

Cllr Checkland had campaigned for election to the district council in May on issues including health and wellbeing.

The email sent to members of The Friary School PTA by Jamie Checkland before the election
The email sent to members of The Friary School PTA by Jamie Checkland before the election

In a note seen by Lichfield Live which was sent by Cllr Checkland to parents via The Friary School’s PTA email group just days before the vote, he outlined his credentials and asked parents to vote for him.

He wrote: “I am standing for the Conservative party in the local elections.

“I would encourage everyone to use their vote as it is these councils [district and city] who make the decisions about your home area and the type of place you want Lichfield to be.

“My main drivers are health and wellbeing, sport and leisure, and clearly all issues around local young people.

“It would be lovely if you were able to support me.”

But in his comments to the meeting, Cllr Checkland hit back at residents who questioned how closing the swimming pool would impact on students at The Friary itself.

“Legally, there is no requirement for secondary schools to provide swimming,” he said.

“The reality is that it is a 40 year old building that has lacked investment.

“The priority for the school’s money is the children. We can bring in additional income through the sports centre and astro turf that will support renovation of those facilities which hasn’t happened previously.

“I can assure you that the sports centre and the astro turf will be open to the public for a smooth transition come the end of April.

“The bit we will not have control of is the swimming pool, while the gym is a district council facility.

“Yes, there’s obviously going to be a big impact in terms of cardio and physiotherapy and that needs to be taken account of. If there’s something we can do as a school then we will try to accommodate this.

“That’s why this is an open process.”

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15 Comments

  1. C Cole

    16th July, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Or alternatively… we want the profit making parts of our building back – forget the pool, we don’t have to provide swimming facilities for secondary age children.

    We’ve been paying to use the building for a long time and now want to benefit from the income instead!

  2. Steven Partlett

    16th July, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    @C Cole – When you put it like that it does seem quite grasping. I don’t feel like I have a clear understanding of who owns what here, and which facilities need improvement. Is the gym not profit making? Does the roof over that need improvement, or is that just over the pool? Does anyone know the answer to these questions, or are they being deliberately vague?

  3. Joanne Grange

    16th July, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    I find it hugely disappointing that lessons do not seem to have been learnt about councillors’ conflicts of interests. For a councillor to stand up at a public meeting and state that his priority is the children of a single school rather than the whole community is astounding.

    I wrote to Cllr Pullen last night about this matter and expressed my concerns about Cllr Checkland being involved with, and ultimately voting on, the proposal to close Friary Grange Leisure Centre given his clear statement about where his priorities lie and called on Cllr Pullen to ensure that this very clear and publicly stated conflict is appropriately managed.

    I also expressed concerns about the dual-hatted councillors who sit for both SCC and LDC being involved in the debate and vote given SCC has already taken the action to serve notice as presumably having already been involved with the SCC decision it would be very difficult for them to then support any action which contradicts the stance their other council has already taken.

  4. Dave Robertson

    16th July, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    All of the buildings at Friary Grange are ultimately owned by Staffordshire County Council and have been paid for by our council tax.

    The all weather pitch and sports hall are profit making and help to subsidise the swimming pool, which is very expensive to run (as all pools are). When the school becomes an academy the school buildings, sports field, sports hall and all weather pitch will be transferred to a private company call Greywood Multi Schools Trust. There are very good reasons for the new academy to retain ownership of the sports hall and all weather pitch during the day.

    However, the Trust has the freedom to enter in to an arrangement with the District Council to lease the facilities back to the community, outside of school hours, in return for a peppercorn rent, particularly in the short term. This would mean that the District Council could continue to rely on the profit made from these buildings to reduce the investment needed to keep the pool open.

    Whilst this would mean that the Trust would not benefit from this profit, it would not reduce the current budget which the school receives, but instead mean that the school has to wait until it makes money from facilties which we have all paid for via our council tax.

    I pressed Cllr Checkland to place this item for discussion on the agenda at the next Friary School Governors meeting. I will be happy to attend on behalf of the residents in my ward should he think this will be beneficial.

  5. John Griffin

    16th July, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Is Greywood Multi Schools Trust connected to any current governor or the Head via family, especially family who are legal representatives or business people in any related area such as property, IT or school services? Since or taxes will be supporting whatever salaries or projects the Trust determines, directly or indirectly, we need to know now, since MultiAcademy Trusts are NOT inspected, as the Head of OFSTED complained publicly today.

  6. Darryl Godden

    16th July, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    I ask again, Cllr Checkland (or anyone else from the council/The Friary governors) why the rush to become an academy?

    And to the good people of Lichfield, over the past 24 hours we’ve seen detail gradually being put into the public domain, not because LDC/The Friary governors wanted to, but because they were forced to.

    I said it at the start, when this news broke, that the whole situation stinks to high-heaven, nothing has transpired to challenge that view.

  7. Cllr Sue Woodward

    16th July, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Huge conflict of interests here as a party political candidate signed an electioneering letter – including not only himself but other Conservative candidates – as Chair of Governors. Even worse than that is the breach of Data Protection legislation. What an abuse of private information. It begs the question, how widely was this abuse known? Was it sanctioned by agents, the Conservative Association, the candidates themselves? Was it a one-off or were other databases compromised across the District? More questions to be answered.

  8. AnnS

    16th July, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Following the meeting last night those were my very thoughts #Joanne Grange. Jamie Checkland made it very clear where his priorities lie and they are not with the community but with the school. So, there is surely a conflict of interest, and therefore he should not be part of the decision making process.

  9. Kim Rochelle

    16th July, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    As a resident of Leomansley Ward, I would hope that Councillor Checkland, who was democratically elected, would consider representing mine and my neighbours’ best interests as his priority in any debate in Council and not his own agenda as Chair of the Board of Governors of Friary Grange School. He clearly states that the pupils of Friary Grange School are his priority, therefore he has bias towards the interests of the school and not the best interests of the Ward residents, who may not have elected him but who accept the democratic decision, in any debate and vote. Unless there are different rules for Councillors, this sounds very much like a conflict of interest. Seven weeks into the newly elected Lichfield District Council I’m starting to feel that I’m having a “deja vu”.

  10. C Cole

    16th July, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    There is a clear conflict of interest with Cllr Checkland on the issue of Friary Grange Leisure Centre. At tonight’s council meeting he declared his interest as Chair of Governors but failed to leave the room until about 10mins later when he was asked to leave, his continued presence being pointed out by another member. He didn’t go to the vestibule with the other members with conflict of interest, but went behind the chair where he might still have been listening… he might not, but he’s not being seen to be acting impartially

  11. Kim Rochelle

    17th July, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    I understand that Councillor Checkland has been tasked with leading a small cross-party working group at Lichfield District Council to develop the draft Strategic Plan for the next four years. Sorting out the Friary Grange Leisure Centre will be a key part of that Strategic Plan. Given that Councillor Checkland is Chair of Governors at the Friary School and that he has already made his position on the future of leisure facilities there very clear, is it right that he should still chair the Council working group?

    Also, can he really continue both to be Chair of Governors and be a local Councillor or should he consider his position and decide which role(s) he feels that he should resign from? I think that both Councillor Alastair Little (Chair of the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee) and Councillor Doug Pullen, Leader of the Council, should take these matters up with Councillor Checkland and report back on Lichfield Live on the outcome of their discussions.

  12. Darryl Godden

    17th July, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    I agree with Kim, excellent point.

  13. Helen Branch

    18th July, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Am I missing something? The Friary Grange School is currently not an academy and is under Local Authority control. There are controls put in place to stop newly converted academies asset stripping and selling off publicly funded buildings….so why doesn’t the sports centre, pool etc belong to the local authority?

  14. Joanne Grange

    18th July, 2019 at 10:56 am

    @Helen – You are missing nothing. The school and the leisure centre are both currently “owned” by the tax payer via SCC. As part of the academy proposal it is suggested the “profit” making elements of the leisure centre transfer to the proposed academy leaving the “loss” making elements behind with SCC.

    SCC has offered LDC a fully repairing lease on these remaining elements but the financial viability of this is not, currently, something LDC is looking to take on given it would not have the benefit of the “profitable” parts to mitigate the cost.

    Cllr Checkland is wrong in his statement that the school wants “their” facilities back. They “owned” by all of us via taxpayers’ money, just like the school is paid for by taxpayers and does not have its own money.

    In effect, it’s the drive to convert the school to an academy that has crystallised this situation

  15. John Griffin

    18th July, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Absolutely, Joanne, and it was Allman’s appointment that was done with the express intention, known at the time, to convert the school to an academy. This is prime Lichfield land and assets, owned by the taxpayer; a company formed only in March 2019 with no assets will get the lot to do whatever it wants. The only track records that can be examined are those of the directors in their respective jobs and Mr Allman in the success of his previous schools in driving up results and OFSTED grading.

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