Times are tough.
Now Croydon’s leisure centres and swimming pools – owned by the cash-strapped council and operated for them by Greenwich Leisure – are reducing their opening hours because they can’t afford the steepling costs of heating the buildings, and the pools.
GLL, who trade without any irony under the Better brand, say that their overheads have tripled since 2019 and that the position now is “unsustainable”.
In an emailed letter to regular users sent at the end of last month, Mark Sesnan, GLL’s CEO, wrote, “As winter approaches and the national energy crisis affects us all – there may be some changes to the timetable at your local Better centre in the next few weeks.”
You don’t have to be a genius to work out that “changes” doesn’t mean longer opening hours.
Better operates seven leisure and sports centres for Croydon Council, including five with swimming pools: New Addington, South Norwood, Thornton Heath and Waddon, while Purley leisure centre and pools have been closed since the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020.
According to Sesnan’s email, “I’m sure you have seen in the news that many companies, especially those in the leisure sector, are being impacted by the massive increases in energy and supply chain costs – and this is all on the back of the recent struggles throughout the pandemic which affected the leisure industry enormously.
“We’ve been working hard to introduce a range of energy saving initiatives across our centres from energy efficient lighting to pool pumps, and our teams on the ground have also been instrumental in reducing energy consumption across the board.
“This work is already having a positive impact, however, whilst we have made great strides in reducing our consumption, unfortunately energy prices are still at unprecedented levels.
“Our energy costs have more than tripled since 2019 and this is, unfortunately, not sustainable for us.”
To “help offset the financial pressures we’re facing and to ensure we can keep your leisure facilities open over the coming months”, Sesnan said that as well as changes to opening times, there will be special arrangements from December 19 to January 2 for the Christmas period.
Regular users are to be informed of timetable changes by email, and each centre’s website is also due to be updated. The timetable changes are expected to be in force at least until Easter.
This is not a measure restricted to Croydon. GLL runs 268 centres across the country, stretching from Cornwall to Newcastle, and the reduced opening times are being implemented at 200 of them.
The changes are “designed to minimise disruption and to avoid changes for schools and swimming lessons,” GLL said.
“This will enable us to turn off lighting, plant and equipment at the time of maximum energy use, when it is coldest and darkest. This is also when we are least busy.
“In practice, some centres will open an hour later or close one hour earlier on some days.”
But the measures are just the latest example of the erosion of public services in Croydon, where most of its 13 public libraries are now open for no more than two days each week as a cost-cutting measure introduced since the borough went bankrupt two years ago.
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