The sports community of the Sevenoaks district has sent an open letter to Sevenoaks District Council raising concerns over the future of the districts three leisure centres, currently operated by Sencio Community Leisure, a not-for-profit leisure trust.
In the letter it references the obesity ‘timebomb’ facing the UK, incidents of depression and anxiety which continue to rise and the ‘tsunami’ of mental health issues caused in part by the global pandemic, stating that the cost of those social challenges to the public purse is incalculable, and should SDC fail to adequately support the provision of the not-for-profit leisure services, it would be hugely disappointing.
The letter was signed by a number of clubs and individuals including Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club, Sevenoaks Football Club, Sevenoaks Hockey Club, Sevenoaks Rugby Club, HC Knole Park, Sevenoaks Indoor Bowls Club, The Wheelchair Football Association, West Kingsdown Boxing Club, Sevenoaks Swimming Club, Tom Bosworth (Team GB Race Walker), Jakob Goodman (Team GB Swimmer) and Edward Oatley MBE, Chairman of the Sevenoaks District Sports Council.
Local schools also supported the open letter with all 33 district primary schools signing the document through Clare Strange, their events coordinator, whilst headmasters from both Solefields School and Sevenoaks Prep School also put their weight behind the letter.
The open letter asks Sevenoaks District Council’s cabinet to reconsider the decision by their People & Places Advisory Committee not to award Sencio a loan of £120,000 to help them through the Coronavirus pandemic period. It highlights why the leisure centres are of great benefit to the local community, not just for health but for mental wellbeing too.
Jane Parish, Chief Executive of Sencio, will appear on BBC South East News on Tuesday 7th July at 6.30pm to voice her opinions and concerns on the matter.
District Council’s right to respond
Meanwhile, a council spokesman said in response to the letter: “Clearly, this is a very difficult time for leisure operators and we have already taken action to support Sencio.
“Sencio has an existing £600,000 loan with us and, since the start of the pandemic, we have given them a six-month repayment holiday and paid their annual management fee to operate our centres up front. However, our People & Places Advisory Committee were concerned with their recovery plans and took into consideration their existing outstanding loan.
“The decision that will be made by our cabinet is not about reducing services or closing local leisure facilities. We are totally committed to ensuring high quality, affordable leisure and wellbeing services as demonstrated by our £20 million investment in our first new centre in 30 years and we will always seek to work with leisure trusts to deliver on our aims for a healthy community.”
Incidentally, the £20 million investment talked about by the council refers to the new leisure centre which is to be built in Swanley after much debate amongst local residents regarding the closure of White Oak. This new leisure facility will be run by SLM Community Charitable Trust, a subsidiary of the profit making company Sports and Leisure Management Ltd., whose directors received a share of £10 million in dividends in 2019.
The council spokesperson continued: “We are facing a deficit of £4.6 million as we have supported local residents, businesses and charities through the pandemic. We are continuing to press the Government for further funding to support our work and for the arts and leisure industries. The Government has announced funding is likely to come forward and we are hopeful there will be positive news for leisure trusts”.
Sevenoaks District Council’s cabinet will decide if further support is available for the leisure centres, above and beyond that already in place, at its meeting on Thursday 9th July. The meeting will be streamed live via the council’s YouTube channel at 7.00pm.
Will you be tuning in to see what the council decide? We would love to hear your thoughts on this story and what the local leisure centres mean to you. Please comment on our social media channels or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The open letter to Sevenoaks District Council can be read in full below:
JULY 6, 2020 – AN OPEN LETTER TO SEVENOAKS DISTRICT COUNCIL
FROM THE SPORTS COMMUNITY OF THE SEVENOAKS DISTRICT
It is all too easy to think of leisure centres as simply being there for a fitness class with friends, an invigorating swim or as a place to push some weights.
The truth is significantly more complex, especially in the case of Sencio Community Leisure – a not-for-profit trust set up expressly to serve the people of the Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) area and which now finds itself facing financial challenges from which it may well not recover.
The services provided by Sencio are about much more than opening the doors to leisure facilities and a golf course. Its staff, management and community partners have, over the past 16 years, provided tens of thousands of local people with a place that is part of the very fabric of their lives.
That might be offering a helping hand to a young athlete making sacrifices in order to be able to compete at local, county, national or international levels. We are blessed to have so much talent in our area and many of these people have realised their potential due to the help of the Sevenoaks District Sports Council in partnership with Sencio.
It might also be a cardiac rehabilitation patient using Sencio services as part of their GP-prescribed recovery. Maybe it is a person going through a weight loss regime. Or it could be someone who experiences loneliness and for whom a fitness class and cup of coffee with friends is the highlight of their week. Sencio has a catalogue of people it has helped transform their lives.
And then there are the primary schools who use Sencio pools to fulfil their national curriculum obligations in the teaching of swimming – and groups such as the Sevenoaks Powerchair Football Club who train in the sports hall at Sevenoaks Leisure Centre.
The obesity “timebomb” facing the UK is well documented, while incidents of depression and anxiety continue to rise and, as mental health campaigner Ruby Wax recently said, we are facing a “tsunami” of issues as we go through and come out of a global pandemic. The cost of both of those social challenges to the public purse is incalculable.
We live in one of the most affluent parts of the country. For SDC to fail to adequately support the provision of not-for-profit leisure services on its doorstep – and in buildings it owns but which have been left to Sencio to manage and upkeep with virtually no income for almost four months – is hugely disappointing.
Make no mistake, a commercial leisure operator will simply not have the desire or motivation to engage with and support local communities to the extent we have seen from Sencio. They will be responsible to shareholders and we will lose a leisure provider concerned only with helping local people and not driven by profit.
It is time to decide what type of leisure provision we want in Sevenoaks, now and in the months and years ahead – and before it is too late.
- Clare Strange (representing all 33 Sevenoaks District primary schools)
- Thomas Bosworth, Team GB Race Walker, Commonwealth Games silver medallist and Olympian
- Jakob Goodman, Team GB Swimmer
- Adam McEvoy, National Development Director, The Wheelchair Football Association
- Edward Oatley MBE, Chairman, Sevenoaks Sports Council
- Andy Richardson, Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club
- Trevor Nicholson, Chairman, Sevenoaks Rugby Club
- Paul Lansdale, Chairman Sevenoaks Football Club
- Iain Pearson, Chairman, Sevenoaks Hockey Club
- Kelly Burden Secretary, Hockey Club Knole Park
- Joan Moffat, Director, Sevenoaks Indoor Bowls Club
- John Heuerman, John Heuerman Sevenoaks Tennis Academy
- Mary Evans, Otford LTC/Deputy President Kent LTA
- Martin Brown, Sevenoaks Tri Club
- Tony King, Chairman of Sevenoaks Swimming Club
- Mickey Bowden, Head Trainer at West Kingsdown Boxing Club
- Steve Rowley, Publishing Editor, Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing magazine
- Dougal Philps Headmaster, Solefields School
- Luke Harrison, Headmaster Sevenoaks Prep School
- Mr Chris Birch
- Mrs Lorraine Rowley
- Miss Georgia Randall
- Mr Jaymes Randall
- Mrs Heather Seal
- Mrs S Ratnarajan
- Mr G Ratnarajan
- Mr Benoit Alteirac
- Mrs Wendy Alteirac
- Mr Tom Richard
- Mrs TJ Richards
- Mr Christopher Hogg
- Mrs Julia Hogg
- Mr Oliver Wildgoose
- Mrs Fiona Wildgoose
- Mr A Gwyther
- Mrs H Gwyther
- Mrs K Haigh
- Mr Gordon Hogg
- Mrs Alida Hogg
- Mr Alan Bumstead
- Mrs Christine Bumstead
- Mr James D R Horgan
- Mrs Alicia G Horgan
- Mr Dominic Daly
- Mrs Siobhan Daly
- Miss Julie Fulcher
- Mr Tim White
- Mrs Kate Cartledge
- Mr Ben Lloyd-Booth
- Mr Richard Lloyd-Booth
- Mrs Louise Roberts
- Mr Marc Ruddle
- Mrs Polly Ruddle
- Mrs Wendy Weir
- Mrs Jennifer B Davie
- Mrs M Tilley
- Mr D Tilley
- Dr T Warburton
- Mrs L Warburton
- Mr D Beckett
- Mrs N F Beckett
- Mr M Wilkinson
- Dr K Wilkinson
- Mr P Morgan
- Mrs T Morgan
- Mrs Z Lazur
- Mrs C Hayes
- Mr Robin Marchant
- Mr Tim Dickinson
- Mr Michael Mathews
- Mr Alan Mills
- Mr David Stachini
- Mr David Golding
- Mr Derry Wiltshire
- Mr Arthur Alexander
- Carboni Family
- Copp Family
- Barlow Family
- Hogg Family