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Campaigners say the continued closure of Friary Grange Leisure Centre is “extremely disappointing”.

The facility has remained shuttered since the coronavirus lockdown, despite Lichfield District Council’s other leisure centre in Burntwood successfully reopening.

Friary Grange Leisure Centre

Cllr Doug Pullen, leader of the council, said he remained committed to future investments in Friary Grange and a long-term replacement leisure facility.

But members of the Friends of Friary Grange say more needs to be done to get Lichfield’s leisure centre back open.

“We are pleased to have received a clear statement from the leader of Lichfield District Council that they are fully committed to the refurbishment of Friary Grange Leisure Centre and the construction of a new replacement leisure centre in Lichfield.

“However, the long delay in re-opening Friary Grange is extremely disappointing for our community.

“Our open letter raised several important points and while Cllr Pullen has addressed some of them, there has been no consideration given to our request that Lichfield District Council and Freedom Leisure will work with the clubs, Friends of Friary Grange, staff and users to safely reopen the centre in line with the timetable for the Burntwood Leisure Centre reopening.

“Furthermore, the initial promise of an ‘October opening’ is now quoted as ‘the end of October’.”

Burntwood Leisure Centre’s reopening has seen some provision for local residents, but the campaigners say it is not an ideal solution.

“Friary Grange members are unable to book classes at Burntwood due to a lack of capacity, local clubs are having to travel around the county to resume training, and disadvantaged groups unable to travel to Burntwood have been clearly marginalised by the decision to keep Friary Grange closed.

“We will continue to push Cllr Pullen, the responsible cabinet member and officers to work with Freedom Leisure, and to communicate with our group to work towards a gradual reopening of Friary Grange by mid-September at the latest.”

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10 Comments

  1. Doug Pullen has said £5 million is available for a new leisure centre in Lichfield.

    The Co-Op are spending £3 million just on a revamp.

    A quick Google seems to suggest a new leisure centre costs around £22 million.

    Work has begun on a Leicestershire town’s new £22.2m leisure centre.

    https://www.insidermedia.com/news/midlands/work-starts-on-22.5m-leisure-centre

    Back when the scheme was originally unveiled in February 2016, the estimated cost of the new state-of-the-art facility which will replace the current leisure centre between Central Parade and Chertsey Crescent was £17 million.

    But this has now soared to £25 million.

    https://shakinghands.co.uk/news/20170720_new-addington-leisure-centre/

    Where are the extra millions coming from? We appear to be following the Friarsgate route. Grand plans, with no money to fulfill them.

  2. It’s excellent news that the investments in both Friary Grange Leisure Centre and the new leisure centre are still firm commitments, and it’s brilliant to see Burntwood Leisure Centre open and being used. Clearly there is demand as I can’t get into an exercise class and family swimming sessions are full.

    Cllr Pullen’s statement finishes by saying that “phasing the re-opening was important to allow us to manage risk and to understand how best to provide services in a Covid-safe manner. We remain fully committed to re-opening Friary Grange and look forward to welcoming back customers to the centre by the end of October”.

    I’m not sure this makes sense.

    Some risks that were identified in the Leisure, Parks and Waste Management (Overview & Scrutiny) Committee papers would be better managed by opening Friary Grange, and some of the risks are hardly impacted by a delayed re-opening. For example, a risk was identified that users would be displaced by the delayed re-opening. Surely opening FGLC now would be better mitigation than delaying until October when users may well have got into the habit of going elsewhere? Similarly, the risk of reduction in income would be better mitigated by opening the doors and earning some income – keeping the doors closed generates no income at all.

    Other risks mentioned in the papers, such as Freedom Leisure ceasing to trade and the overall financial position risk to the council are not materially impacted by the continued closure. Freedom Leisure, according to its website, operates 99 leisure, entertainment and cultural facilities for 24 partners. The risk to Freedom Leisure’s solvency from opening Friary Grange now rather than October cannot possibly be material. Similarly, the marginal cost of opening Friary Grange in July rather than October was shown as £47,000 in the committee papers. Given the passage of time, and if the target opening was early September (to allow 2 weeks to heat the pool) rather than the end of October, this is likely to now be a marginal cost of just £23,500. Again, this is hardly a risk to the council’s overall financial position and if it contributes to people exercising more safely at a time when obesity has been identified as a major risk factor in Covid, would appear to be money well spent.

    The key risk is the Covid-risk to people, but again opening Friary Grange, and spreading demand over both leisure centres rather than trying to cram everyone into one centre is a better way of mitigating this risk – picking up on the “space” element of “hands, face, space”. As Freedom Leisure manages 99 facilities, it’s not clear to me what additional information will be available in October that isn’t available now. If the delay was partly so understanding on “how best to provide services in a covid-safe manner” could be developed, we should surely know enough from the Burntwood opening and Freedom Leisure’s experience from its other sites?

    I am clearly delighted that there is full commitment to re-opening Friary Grange and the suggestion that returning demand at Burntwood would be used to inform decisions on the restoration of services at Friary Grange appears to have been superseded as an approach. Given it’s impossible to measure unfulfilled demand at Burntwood, and given exercise classes and family swim sessions have been fully booked on many occasions since opening, this method of determining FGLC’s future was always a little dubious.

    But as there is “full commitment” to re-opening Friary Grange, the only remaining question appears to be one of timing. So why wait until the end of October? The identified risks are no worse and, in many cases, better mitigated by re-opening, and given the level of experience built up since the end of July at Burntwood and Freedom Leisure’s other sites, surely enough is known by now about how to provide the services in a Covid-safe manner?

    I can’t see any logical, financial or safety reasons to keep Friary Grange closed to the end of October. And given there’s renewed commitment to build the new leisure centre, commercially it makes a lot of sense to focus on building the market for the new centre and retaining existing users, rather than risk people finding alternatives, by opening Friary Grange now rather than waiting.

  3. This is frustrating. The Public Purse is being used to keep Friary Grange closed – furlough payments to staff. How can this be a good use of public funds?
    The Leisure Centre should be opened as quickly as possible to improve our mental and physical health.
    If you want to book a family swim in Burntwood, get out your diary, as you will have a long wait – sessions are overbooked!

  4. Friary Grange stays closed for no good reason other than LDCs cabinet wanting it to stay closed! They wanted to shut the place completely but didn’t bank on the community reaction. COVID 19 closed it and that’s now being used as an excuse to keep it closed. GET THE PLACE OPEN!

    Give the swimming club, the tri club and all other users their facilities back and at least give us the chance to look after our health and wellbeing by being able to exercise close to home, not with a trek to Burntwood, or anywhere else.

  5. Well analysed Joanne. Sadly, I think #CDC may well be right. LDC couldn’t close it due to community reaction and COVID-19 has done their job for them. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Friary never re-opens.

  6. As someone who used the fitness suite regularly I look forward to the day it reopens but logic must prevail. Due to its size it cannot accommodate the same numbers it used too if social distancing continues. An appointment system might work but it won’t suit everyone’s life schedule. Showers would still be a problem though.
    I think it will be a long time before we see a solution unless a vaccine is found.

  7. @Johnneo – you are completely correct that FGLC will have to look different when it opens and people will need to use it differently.

    The infrastructure to allow people to book gym time is already in place through the shared system with Burntwood and the gym at Burntwood has been split with some being accommodated in studio 2. The same could happen at FGLC – for example the under-utilised squash courts could accommodate some equipment (squash courts are available at King Edwards).

    The pool at FGLC is the same size as BLC, and now the roof work has been done there’s space upstairs that could be brought back into use. FGLC has the advantage of two doors – the main front one and the side door which could help with moving people around the building, and some of the dry side activities have access to fire doors which could be used as exits.

    It would take a little bit of imagination, but in my opinion it can work. Showers would be a problem, but no more than they are at Burntwood and every other leisure centre. For dry side activities the solution is to encourage people to come dressed for action and then shower at home afterwards. For wet side, people arrive “beach ready” so just need to remove outdoor clothes.

  8. Joanne Grange – are you aware that King Edwards leisure centre has now no connection with LDC or freedom leisure so squash courts would not be available ( King Edwards school run it) unless some new contractual arrangements were forthcoming. The school may not want to play ball!

  9. @ Johnneo – I am aware. The point I was trying to make was that squash players have access to courts – at the moment it’s members only through Lichfield Squash Club, and checking their website membership is available at £10 per year.

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