Friary Grange Leisure Centre

An independent Lichfield councillor has insisted leisure facilities should not be lost to the community just to help a school become an academy.

Friary Grange Leisure Centre

The Friary School is hoping to take control of the outdoor sports pitch and sports hall in-house to allow it to generate an income from external bookings on the site.

But the move has left the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre hanging in the balance, with the loss-making swimming pool unlikely to be sustainable if the other elements of the facility are lost to the school.

Cllr Jamie Checkland, Conservative member for Leomansley ward, told a meeting that the school “wanted its facilities back”, comments which were ultimately followed by his resignation from the governing body of The Friary School.

Joanne Grange

But Cllr Joanne Grange, independent member for Chadsmead ward, said the school should not be allowed to cherry-pick parts of the site at the expense of the local community.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t behind the school and its desire to convert to an academy,” she said. “But what is at issue is which community facilities pass to the trust as part of the process.

“This is a choice, and at the moment, the wider feeling is that the choice that has been made about the split of these public assets is wrong.

“At some point during the process to convert, the public asset has been carved up into part that the academy wishes to take and part that will be left behind. I don’t know who has driven this allocation but this decision has been made as part of the academisation.

However, the consequence of this split is that the part that isn’t currently earmarked to go to the academy will be left in public ownership and it is this remaining part that has been deemed as ‘loss-making’, with the ‘profit-making’ element then becoming an income stream for the academy and not available to financially support the entire facility.

“The ultimate outcome of this split is that Lichfield District Council currently feels it is not able to financially support the remaining parts.

“The facilities do not belong to the school to ‘take back’ – they are public assets, belonging to all of us through the payment of tax, and whether these transfer to the new trust is a matter of choice for Staffordshire County Council which currently owns them.”

“They do belong to the school”

Cllr Checkland told the public meeting held prior to his departure from the governing body that it was unfair for the school to foot the bill.

“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,” he said.

Jamie Checkland

“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.”

The Friary School headteacher Matt Allman said he believed the facilities would be run better by the school.

But Cllr Grange said the school needed to focus on what its primary role is.

“No-one is expecting the school to support or run the facility,” she said. “Indeed, schools should be for education rather than running and operating community facilities in my view.

“Equally, no-one is expecting the conversion to an academy to result in the wider community suffering the loss of the only public swimming pool in Lichfield city, and – whether we like it or not – this is currently the position.”

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12 Comments

  1. Whether the school has been paying in the past is irrelevant as the £70k was taxpayers money not independent income of the school. So that argument is, frankly, rubbish. If ANY of the facilities are gifted to make money for the MultiAcademy Trust it will be a betrayal of Lichfield taxpayers and voters. Checkland should be ashamed of his dereliction of his electorate.

  2. The school should not be refused access to the facilities, and it is only fair that they pay something towards the maintenance as a condition of that use. What they should not be allowed to do is take over the profit making part of the property (ie the pitches etc) leaving the non profit making parts (the pool and gym) with LDC who say they need the lot as a package to minimise the overall cost.

    The schools should concentrate on teaching and providing pastoral care rather than robbing the entire local community of access to the gym and pool as a consequence of their desire to run a community sports venture at a profit (renting out pitches etc)

  3. Well said by Cllr Grange and I fundamentally agree with her! How can the Councillor who has had to resign as a governor say it belongs to the school if 1/3rd is paid by SCC and 2/3rds by District Council? Am I missing something here, the maths say that more input has been from the District Council! So it is not owned by the school! As Cllr Grange has said the school cannot be allowed to cherry pick the best bits, the financially viable parts of the leisure centre.
    I was furious when I first heard about this as an ex employee of the leisure centre from 1987 working for John Travers and as an original member of Lichfield Swimming club under the control of Mr Chamberlain Tom Giles and Mrs Foyster. Mrs Foyster along with Sheila Dean went on to be the 2 main SCC school swimming teachers.
    I am even more furious now that I know more about the reason!
    Not only will Lichfield lose its only public swimming facility it will lose a well established Swimming club with up and coming National swimmers. My son being Masters champion in his events for Staffordshire ( he is also a County swimmer ) West Midlands and Midlands.
    We cannot and must not lose this facility!

  4. @John Griffin: “£70k was taxpayers money not independent income of the school.” Actually, that money was in fact part of the school’s slender budget, meant for the education of our children, paid for by the tax payer, not for propping up a failing leisure centre. That money could be spent on badly needed teaching assistants, books, equipment etc.

    People seem to be overlooking the fact that the school is unfairly lumbered with the issue because of a decision to lump the leisure centre in with the school as part of the school’s sports facilities. This decision was a good idea long ago when the education and leisure sectors were better looked after, but nobody envisioned this.

    C Cole wants the school to concentrate on pastoral care and teaching. Great Idea! Why not let them have their £70k back (that’ll fund a few teaching assistants) and let them continue to provide the community with access to the facilities they are taking on? The school repeatedly say that the community will continue to have the same provision in the AstroTurf and sports hall.

    Lynne, the school was afforded the provision of those facilities when the two establishments were allocated the same site decades ago. I agree that the pool needs saving. I agree that the management of the situation has been terrible. I don’t agree that it’s the school’s fault. The government is bullying schools into academising, thereby abdicating any responsibility for funding them as they previously have done, and as such schools are forced to find revenue streams wherever possible. If you want the school to focus on teaching and caring for our children, support them in this.

    Focus your criticism on the councils and their poor management of the leisure centre itself. Wasn’t Freedom Leisure a superb choice of company to take it on? The solution lies in finding a way for the councils to better fund the rest of the Friary Grange, not in robbing Peter (the school) to pay Paul (the leisure centre). The school needs the money more than ever, especially with Mr Johnson in charge of the country. He isn’t exactly championing funding education.

  5. Being the cynic I am. I feel the solution given to us will be:

    – council tax payers will pay for complete refurb
    – council lets the school trust have the centre for free
    – 30 year agreement that the council subsidises the leisure centre and the school trust takes all the profits and the council makes all the repairs
    – the trust make it almost impossible for anyone outside the school to use the facilities
    – councillors say they have saved the pool for all of us

  6. @Craig – the position you are taking would be relevant if the status quo was going to continue and the school was going to remain under LEA control. However, this is not what is happening.

    The “sins” of the past and how SCC and LDC chose to allocate our money to their various budgets is no longer relevant. Equally, what that money could have been spent on should SCC and LDC have chosen to allocate their budgets differently is no longer relevant. This is the sunk cost fallacy – what happened in the past is not relevant to decision-making about the future.

    What is relevant is the future arrangements. The school, in its current form, ceases to exist when the conversion to an academy completes. It is, to all intents and purposes, a new school, under new ownership and under the control of a trust. Is it right that public assets pass to this privately owned trust if the consequence is that the wider community loses out? Is it right that a privately owned trust takes income from the profit making elements of a publicly owned facility which could be used to support the remainder of the facility for the wider benefit of the community?

    Whether we like it or not, the situation we are in has been crystallised as a direct consequence of the multi-academy trust wanting to take over the running of the school. Whether this is a good or bad thing, or whether the school feels forced into this is not relevant and I offer no views and make no comment on this action. However, what is at issue is the consequence of this decision. If the school wasn’t transferring to a multi-academy trust we would not be having this discussion and the status quo would probably have continued.

  7. Joanne, would you then be up in arms that the school was forced into special measures and made to become a part of a national corporate MAT, thereby losing the leisure centre anyway? Do you realise that the likelihood of the community retaining use of any facilities at all would then be slim to none?

    There would be no status quo. The notion that there would be a status quo is the fallacy. You’re effectively proposing we sustain the leisure centre to the detriment of the school. Is it the responsibility of the school to support the leisure centre? To prop them up?

    What people seem to be missing is that the school HAS to become an academy, whether that’s under their own initiative as it is now, or by force in a ruthless national corporate group thanks to government policy.

    At least this way, the school are able to work with the community to use the facilities they retain. Staff are not made redundant, the pupils and community are largely unaffected except for the better and the school will remain, to all intents and purposes, as it is now. Should they be taken over by a national chain, this would not be the case. They would be given a new corporate identity and absorbed into the structure, toeing the business line. A small local MAT like this one is a far preferable solution.

    It then remains for a separate funding system to be found for the leisure centre. I don’t want to see it closed: I have used it for many years, as have my family. I simply find it misguided to somehow apportion responsibility for keeping the leisure centre open to the school who have their own priorities of educating our children to the highest possible standard with next to no money.

  8. Craig – let me try and put it another way to see if that helps.

    If the income that results from the MAT admitting the public to the currently publicly owned facilities is crucial to the MAT’s business model for running the school then I think we’d have to say there may be an issue with their business model.

    We do, however, know that the income from those currently publicly owned facilities which it is proposed to transfer to the MAT could be used to prop up the other facilities which it is proposed will not transfer.

    The potential solution of maintaining the facilities as one unit (i.e. not splitting them and not transferring the “profitable” elements to the private organisation) is one that the leader of the council suggested in his press release. Of course, the school would have access to the facilities but the income would be used to support the entire of the facility for the wider community.

    Are you really suggesting that the ability of the school to become part of its chosen MAT is dependent on the income the public pays to use the transferred facilities? To be very clear, I am not suggesting the leisure centre is maintained to the detriment of the school. I am not proposing the trust that will operate the school should maintain the leisure centre. What I am suggesting is that the leader of the council’s suggestion appears very sensible – all the facilities remain in public ownership and are operated by an organisation other than the MAT. The school has access, the council’s retain full ownership and hence full responsibility for upkeep.

    The MAT would have access, the income from the “profitable” parts supports the “loss-making” parts and the wider community retains the full suite of facilities. Win-win all round.

  9. Well put Joanne, retaining the centre under local council control keeps it all, including the pool, open for all of the local schools which use it for swimming lessons and the wider community for health benefits.
    The original proposal actually looks like a dodgy deal between a business (Greywood Trust) and the council!

  10. It shouldnt be lost to the community it’s invaluable to those who can’t afford an extortionate gym membership
    Just out of interest is there a New Branded Gym being opened in Lichfield any time soon ???

  11. Are taxpayers still funding Lichfield’s vanity project the Garlic Theatre to the tune of X amount of hundreds of thousands a year ,surly by now this should be self sufficient ,that money would be better spent on something the whole of the Lichfield community can use and appreciate …dare I say it the friary sports center

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