District Council tells Sencio to reopen leisure centres after agreeing new £300k grant

BUT WILL A £300,000 GRANT REALLY HELP THE STRUGGLING OPERATOR?

Sevenoaks District Council has agreed to provide further financial support to help reopen the District’s leisure centres and produce a robust recovery plan for the trust.

Sencio, which operates the Council’s leisure Centres in Edenbridge, Sevenoaks and Swanley as well as Lullingstone Golf Course, has been severely impacted across most of its operations since the start of the pandemic and seen a huge reduction in its income.

Although under Tier 3 rules gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can open, the three leisure centres are currently closed. Sencio has told the Council that the increased costs they are faced with coupled with the reduction in services they can offer makes reopening unviable without further financial support. Sencio have also said that despite the councils previous support unless it receives further urgent financial help the trust could cease trading.

Last night, (Tuesday 15 December), the Council’s Cabinet agreed to give Sencio further funding of £300,000 to help deal with the current financial impact of Coronavirus and on the condition that the leisure centres reopen at the beginning of January.

The Council is also providing an additional £30,000 to fund a new recovery plan for the trust that will aim to give our residents access to the services they want as the leisure centres emerge from the impact of Coronavirus in 2021 and beyond.

The council will be seeking to provide further support to Sencio by applying for Sports England funding that has just been made available to support leisure trusts who have seen their revenues fall through the current pandemic, lockdowns and tier arrangements.

This latest financial support is on top of the help already provided. Earlier this year, the Council agreed to a year’s repayment holiday on an existing £600,000 Council loan equal to around £82,000. In addition, the Council also paid Sencio its annual management fee upfront earlier this year.

Cllr Lesley Dyball said: “We are absolutely committed to high quality leisure provision in the District and this substantial grant will help Sencio and make sure that it reopens its doors in January.

“The two national lockdowns and the ongoing restrictions have clearly had a profound impact on the leisure sector. There will be more challenges ahead for the leisure industry, and like most businesses, Sencio will need to change and adapt to survive going forward. By also providing funding for independent leisure experts, we are helping Sencio to adapt and embrace the new ideas needed to deal with the challenges of the future.”

Sencio not willing to open?
At the end of November Sencio’s Chief Executive Jane Parish sent members an email explaining why the leisure centres would remain closed until further notice. You can read the letter in full below: 

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Hello,

As we approach the end of what has been a year the likes of which few of us have experienced, I hope that – above all else – this finds you and yours safe and healthy.

Like everyone, we’ve had numerous challenges to negotiate these past months and I’m afraid I have yet another to address. And I have agonised long and hard before writing to you.

With Kent being placed in Tier 3 from this Wednesday, there is a significant impact on what we can, as leisure providers, offer to members and customers. Crucially, the restrictions mean we cannot run any group exercise classes or organised adult sport unless it is from a single household or bubble.

The government has pledged to review this on December 16 but, for the time being, this has presented us with an incredibly difficult dilemma.

The current situation is further complicated by the fact many of our customers have all-inclusive memberships across classes, the gym, swimming and dry sports such as badminton. This makes dividing up those activities permitted within the guidelines to deliver a situation fair to everyone a logistical challenge we’ve found hard to reconcile.

We have been operating – when permitted to do so – at just 30% of our usual turnover – while during periods of “lockdown” it costs around £50,000 a month to keep one dormant centre running behind-the-scenes.

Regrettably, we have therefore decided not to reopen our leisure centres on Wednesday. We will, however, be monitoring the situation on a regular basis and in line with the latest government guidelines as and when they’re adapted.

This decision has been reached only after very extreme consideration as to the service we’d be able to offer you in this short term – and the costs of keeping buildings open at a time when usage is restricted by the law and impacted (as it always is anyway) by the festive season.

I fully appreciate this will be disappointing but, rest assured, it’s not a course of action we’ve taken lightly and that we will doing everything possible to reopen our centres at the first opportunity. Assuming it happens, I will write to you again following any new government guidance issued on December 16.

With regards to your membership fees, I can advise you as follows:

As advised previously we will credit the November monthly direct debit payments taken. These will now be credited in January.

Annual memberships will be extended in line with the total closure period for November and December.

Everyone at Sencio Community Leisure is all-too-aware that exercise and fitness is, for so many people, an essential element of their physical as well as their mental wellbeing – and I am sorry to have had to write this letter.

Best wishes

Jane Parish
Chief Executive

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