Renewed sports management contract targets missing young

The posed press photo launching the renewal of the management contract for the council’s sports facilities at Summerfields and Falaise earlier this month is telling. It shows Freedom & Leisure’s Managing Director Ivan Horsfall-Turner and lead leisure councillor Andy Batsford pedalling exercise bikes Boris-style in the foreground either side of the gym shoe FL mascot, while the company’s staff, not too many in the first flush of youth, provide enthusiastic entourage.  They were celebrating confirmation of another five years of responsibility given to FL to manage the two sports facilities either side of the Bohemia Road – and why not?

But the focus of this provision needs to be broadened, according to Cllr Batsford.  The health-conscious middle-class and/or middle-aged that join swimming clubs, play competitive badminton and work out on a structured programme in the gym are already well catered for. The car park overflows on weekdays, he says. It is the youth of the town, particularly 11 to 16-year-olds – too old to want to hang around with their parents but failing to engage in sport on their own – who are to be especially targeted under the terms of the new contract. An “active communities” officer is to be engaged with the task of devising and promoting a series of programmes, scheduled mainly at weekends, to draw in this missing generation.  He or she will link in with the council’s own street providers, Active Hastings. And there will be new equipment to attract them: a climbing wall, a mega-inflatable in the swimming pool, new gym and fitness equipment at both Falaise and Summerfields, an “improved” cafe at the latter.

None of this sounds too radical, and it is reasonable to deduce that, notwithstanding these initiatives highlighted in the new contract, the council is generally happy with the current set-up. The chief comfort is no doubt that it is cost neutral in the annual budget:  FL, a not-for-profit company set up over a decade ago by former staff of the leisure department of Wealden Council and now managing a range of sports facilities across the south-east, are largely left to set their own prices and absorb their own costs with no subsidy other than provision of the buildings rent-free.  Cllr Batsford is also keen to emphasise the advantages of staying within the FL umbrella for signed-up members who can enjoy access to other facilities of theirs in Kent and West Sussex.

Masterplan
On the other hand, alongside the apparent continuity of provision at Falaise and Summerfields over the next five years, looms a contrastingly ambitious blueprint, the ‘White Rock Park and Bohemia Masterplan’ commissioned by the council from a consortium of architects and designers led by a major Swedish consultancy White Arkitekter and put into the public domain last summer.  The area covered by the Masterplan runs from the seafront over White Rock Gardens and the site of the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus to Bohemia Road and across it to the museum and Summerfields Woods.  Apparently central to the future vision of this Masterplan is the development of a brand-new leisure complex, supplanting both existing facilities, that would act as a catalyst for major residential development alongside.

Asked how funding for such a complex could be raised in this era of extended austerity, Cllr Batsford maintains that requisite finance could be borrowed against the prospect of a commercial return.  He cites the Crawley K2, also managed by FL, as a successful model to aspire to, if not emulate.  But the comparison is surely far-fetched.  The town of Crawley itself may have a population not substantially larger than Hastings and St Leonards, but its proximate road links make it a natural hub, the combination of M23 and M25 offering an easy drive from a big slice of South London as well as much of West Sussex. By contrast, a coastal town offers natural attractions, but can only pull in the punters from one side – the other is under the waves.

 

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