Councillors have criticised confusion over the reopening of Friary Grange Leisure Centre.
The facility’s pool will welcome back swimmers for the first time today (24th October) following the closure during the coronavirus crisis.
Lichfield District Council said other facilities would reopen from 2nd November – only for it to emerge yesterday that no group fitness classes would be available due to social distancing restrictions.
But Cllr Joanne Grange said that the full picture only emerged during a site visit to see the progress on Friary Grange – and said the council’s clarification on the fitness classes only came after questions were raised during the visit.
“Last week I said that I sincerely hoped the full picture had emerged in respect of Friary Grange reopening and we would not have further surprises – to now find out there will be no instructor-led exercise classes on offer is indeed a surprise and for this to be presented as a positive outcome smacks of nothing more than spin.
“It’s not at all clear to me that the cabinet were aware of the plans to cancel exercise classes, let alone agreeing to them.
“Indeed, at lunchtime on Friday, I had to point out that as members can book classes seven days in advance, many would be trying to book classes from Monday morning and that perhaps it would be better to explain there wouldn’t be any, despite assurance that all services would be available, rather than members to find out themselves when they tried to book.”Cllr Joanne Grange
Lichfield District Council said the gym would be extended into the dance studio, with group exercise classes unable to take place in the space due to social distancing restrictions.
Cllr Grange said:
“I am surprised that the capacity of the dance studio is stated at two to four users when I was told on Friday morning that the COVID-safe capacity is six people.
“It’s not entirely clear to me what has happened to reduce this number, especially when the pre-COVID capacity for Zumba classes was 12 participants.
“More worryingly, it was also confirmed at my visit this morning that the dance studio and gym would be out of action until the end of February 2021 at the earliest, so it appears that there will be no classes until that date.
“This has not come out in any of the discussions so far about Friary Grange Leisure Centre, so I am surprised that Cllr Cox now thinks this change will be welcomed.
“I am also more than disappointed that this decision, once again, appears to have been made without the benefit of an equality impact assessment.
“It is well known by the council, as a result of research that was quoted as part of the decision to delay opening, that exercise classes are predominantly taken by women, and that exercise classes are already at capacity at Burntwood Leisure Centre.
“It was also surprising that access to the temporary gym, at the bottom of a flight of stairs, hadn’t been thought about, albeit I am assured there is now a solution for this.”Cllr Joanne Grange
“All-but inoperable as a class venue”
Cllr Richard Cox, cabinet member responsible for leisure, said he recognised that users would be disappointed – but said coronavirus restrictions had given the council no other option.
“I’m pleased we have been able to agree this change with Freedom Leisure.
“As an area for group exercise, the dance studio would have had a COVID-safe capacity of between two and four users dependent on the type of class.
“This would have meant offering a very limited programme to a very small number of people.
“By re-purposing the dance studio as a fitness suite we’re still able to make use of this space throughout our operating times.
“I appreciate that those looking forward to exercise classes may be disappointed, but COVID-safe requirements effectively made the studio all-but inoperable as a class venue.”Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council
But Cllr Dave Robertson, Labour member for the Curborough ward, said residents had been left in the dark.
“The communication about the reopening of the Friary Grange has not been good enough.
“On Monday residents were told that the centre would need to close after only one month of reopening.
“Just four days later, a second statement reveals that there will be fewer services available until February at the earliest – this will mean that instructor led classes will have been unavailable for over six months since the facility could have reopened.
“These classes are much missed by the many people who attend them regularly and were one of the many reasons that the people of Lichfield felt so strongly about the future of Friary Grange.
“They were also a vital opportunity for some vulnerable people to socialise and look after their mental as well as physical health.
“The absence of a proper equality impact assessment to consider how this decision would further affect disadvantaged groups falls far below the standards we should expect of our council.”Cllr Dave Robertson, Lichfield District Council