CROYDON IN CRISIS: With Greenwich Leisure, who operate the borough’s leisure facilities, under intense covid-19 financial pressures of their own, local mum RACHEL GARNETT (pictured left) explains the vital importance of the continuing campaign to save Purley Pool from closure
Every day, staff at Purley Leisure Centre would swing open its doors to enable people to take responsibility for their health – lessening the burden on the NHS and social care.
No matter what your income, you would be able to access a 25-metre pool, a teaching pool and a recently upgraded gym.
It is where tens of thousands of children have learnt to swim, a life-preserving skill – a skill that all children need, not just those whose parents can afford it. Local schools across the south of the borough from Coulsdon to South Croydon came to Purley Leisure Centre for the swimming classes that are part of the curriculum.
It was home for fitness classes and sports clubs, including a swimming club for people with disabilities.
It was where you saw people and made friends.
Given how loneliness, poor mental and physical health impact our society and the economy, these are all these vital aspects of healthy life – something that covid-19 has laid bare.
The centre was constantly well attended and brought in custom for the local economy. The pool is very accessible, as Purley is a transport hub. Croydon’s next nearest leisure centre is at Waddon; from Coulsdon or Kenley, it can be at least a two-hour round-trip via irregular public transport and the traffic-clogged Purley Way.
Of course, and in common with all the borough’s leisure centres operated by GLL under their Better brand, Purley Leisure Centre had to shut during the first coronavirus lockdown last March. But when Croydon’s other centres reopened, Purley was kept closed.
The council kept schtum, with no word or consultation with local people about why their leisure centre had been singled out in this way, apparently abandoned.
Purley Pool has long seemed under threat of closure, whoever has been in charge of the Town Hall. The local resident-led Save Purley Pool Campaign, originally run by Fred Wallis, had saved the pool from closure by the council twice before, when under threats from the Conservatives in 2010 and then when Labour were in charge in 2015. By 2016, there was cross-party support in the council for keeping a public pool in Purley.
Too often, there is a view that the south of the borough is affluent. This is not the reality.
Purley Food Hub, which helps local people in crisis who are without food, provided nearly 49,000 meals in 2020. Many schools in and around Purley have higher than the national average of children with special educational needs, disabilities or who have free school meals.
Purley Leisure Centre had a higher proportion of over-60s using it than any of the borough’s other pools through the council’s free swimming sessions. But that free concession for this age group ended last month.
There is a large volume of house- and flat-building in the south of the borough, with more people moving into the area, just at a time when the council seems set to remove the provision of a vital community service – its fitness and leisure centre. More residents would mean more users of Purley Leisure Centre – and this would surely only add to the centre’s income.
Covid is an increasingly desperate situation for thousands of people. No wonder, then, that thousands of us who use Purley Leisure Centre have rallied to support it.
The Save Purley Pool Campaign, of which I am part, has gathered together again.
After months of asking what was happening with Purley Pool, we were told by Councillor Oliver Lewis, the cabinet member for sport and leisure at the council, that the reason the pool wasn’t reopening was because of the council’s finances.
So is the council not applying for a slice of the millions of pounds available in covid recovery grants and sports funding?
Just last Friday, there was a deadline for applications for the £100million UK Active Fund. Cllr Lewis and council officials knew about this well in advance, because we told them about it. The Government fund was set up specifically for leisure centres which have been financially hit by covid-related closures.
We know the council didn’t apply for Purley. Have they applied for the borough’s other leisure centres?
We have asked, but so far no reply.
This is important. We were told that the newer, more-profitable, leisure centres help to support others, like Purley – a cross-subsidy system that was working well before lockdown. Covid has affected the income of all the centres in Croydon and the council said that this was one reason why Purley couldn’t reopen. If the council could get compensation for the losses as a result of covid then they could plug that gap and plan towards a reopening at Purley.
But if the Council have not applied for other centres to help with Covid losses it makes no sense – for Purley or indeed all the other centres.
Two “asset” reports about Purley Leisure Centre, one new and one old, were also cited by the council among the financial reasons for its closure. The reports essentially show a lack of maintenance on the facilities in Purley going back years. Maintenance is the council’s responsibility.
The 2020 asset report was written by an architectural and design practice (I wonder how much they were paid?). But if we take what the reports say at face value – we don’t know why they were commissioned – the amount needed to bring Purley up to standard is approximately £200,000, or what the Croydon public now call, “less than half a Negrini”…
Even before the UK Active Fund, there were many other funding streams available which the council should be aware of and submitting applications for. It is seven years ago now since the leadership of Croydon Labour accepted a paper which made a firm recommendation for the council to take advantage of the approximate £1billion-worth of grant funding available in this country every year for all kinds of sports and fitness projects. Nothing was ever done about those recommendations.
Croydon Council is bankrupt, after making terrible financial decisions, such as handing hundreds of millions of pounds to the failing house-builders Brick by Brick.
The council may be wanting to sell off the Purley Leisure Centre site to the highest bidder because of their financial mistakes. This would be short-sighted and wrong, because people need the leisure centre and local businesses need it.
But what we also need is a council prepared to take responsibility for their actions, starting by accessing available money, so that children, those with chronic health issues, older people and all the users of the pool and gym can return through its welcoming doors.
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