The efforts of campaigners to save Friary Grange Leisure Centre have been hailed by a Lichfield councillor.
A Cabinet meeting at the Lichfield Garrick last night (7th October) saw councillors reverse a planned closure of the city’s last public leisure centre.
It came after thousands signed a petition calling for Friary Grange to be saved.
Cllr Joanne Grange, an independent representative for the Chadsmead ward, said she was pleased to see people power paying off.
“I am delighted that the decision to close Friary Grange has been reversed and that the Cabinet recognised the strength of public feeling about this facility,” she said.
“Throughout the past three months, I have not spoken to anyone who thought that closing the only remaining public leisure facility in the city was a good idea.
“I am also delighted that the staff who work at Friary Grange now have certainty about their jobs.
“What has impressed me most with the campaign was the way the people of Lichfield came together to make their case under the leadership of Caroline Fellows and Matt Wilson.
“Throughout the summer the campaign was good humoured, with the unofficial motto of ‘nice but noisy’, and included residents of all ages from across the city.
“I am equally impressed that the campaign group is not seeing this as the end, but just the beginning of the next stage of ensuring the city of Lichfield has leisure facilities that are fit for purpose for the next 50 years in a growing city.”
“We should not limit our ambitions”
Cllr Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council has called on local residents to continue to show the value they place on Friary Grange by using the facility going forward.
Cllr Grange said it was important that all parties involved in the future of the site made the most of the current strength of feeling.
“I think there is the opportunity now to do something special and we should not limit our ambitions,” she said.
“Of course, it is important that residents now use the centre and that Freedom Leisure makes the most of the free publicity it has received for the centre from the campaign.
“I have been surprised to meet people who weren’t aware of the facility on Eastern Avenue so there is clearly more to do to make sure that people are aware of the many classes that are put on and the opportunities for both sporting and social activities.”
Despite the victory, Cllr Grange said there were still issues to be explored around the decision-making behind the original closure plan.
She explained: “As a council there are lessons that need to be learnt.
“We need to understand why it took a petition to force Staffordshire County Council but to the negotiating table over the terms of the lease.
“We need to understand why we were in a position of needing to make a decision so quickly in July, without the opportunity being presented for public consultation despite the academisation of the school being known about, and to make sure that future consultation is effective and not just seen as a tick box exercise.
“I also hope that residents will remember the power of the petition and how 1,000 signatures is the magic number required under the council’s constitution to require action.
“The biggest lesson of all is that by working together we can force change and make Lichfield and the wider district a better place to live for us all.”