THIS WEEK saw the takeover of South Lakeland’s leisure sites and sports development by a new organisation. KATIE DICKINSON met the chief executive of North Country Leisure to find out how the organisation plans
to change facilities in Kendal, Ulverston and Windermere, as well as the strategy for developing sporting activity across the district.
IMPROVEMENTS worth £750,000 are set to be made to Kendal and Ulverston’s sports facilities over the next six months.
This week saw the takeover of all South Lakeland’s leisure facilities by North Country Leisure (NCL) in a new partnership which the district council says will save an average of £381,000 a year.
The Northumberland company has taken on the running of Kendal Leisure Centre, Ulverston Swimming Pool and Tennis Centre, and Windermere Outdoor Adventure Centre.
NCL was awarded the contract ahead of three other organisations after a procurement process.
It says it will be spending £750,000 on new projects in the first six months.
One of the first changes will be the introduction of an online booking system, which is to go live ‘in the near future’.
At Kendal, plans include a refurbished fitness gym with new equipment and multi-use activity studio, refurbishment of the swimming changing rooms, new pool plant equipment and a ‘new look’ to the building’s exterior.
At Ulverston the existing gym space will be reconfigured into a refurbished fitness area with new equipment and more room to work out.
NCL hopes to start building work in Kendal and Ulverston in June and have it completed by autumn, so users have until May to have their say on the refurbishments.
An NCL spokesperson said: “All works are planned to take place with limited disruption to normal services, with clear communication prior to work commencing and the aim is to keep some of the gym space open while building works are taking place.
“During the interim period all facilities will remain open as usual and existing staff from the current operators, Lakes Leisure, will transfer to the new partnership.”
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Chief executive John Maude said several of the Lakes Leisure administrative staff had decided to leave so there would be ‘a slight reduction in admin staff but an increase in fitness staff’.
All facilities and services will be reviewed, and NCL say they will be consulting with local residents and centre-users about the activities on offer.
Mr Maude said there was no intention to reduce the number of classes but that they hoped to add ‘more variety’.
As well as running the buildings, NCL will be responsible for sports development services in the district.
“It’s important to stress that this contract isn’t just about the sites – it’s about activities in the area,” said Mr Maude.
“Volunteer sport is really strong in this district and we will be appointing someone to work with local sports groups and village halls to develop what they do.
“We can help them in various ways, whether it’s helping them to get grants for improvements to buildings or working to get people qualified as volunteers.
“Statistics show us that there are a lot of older people in South Lakeland and we are keen to work with them.
“In other areas we work in we have set up walking groups and worked with local health professionals, and we are keen to do that here.”
NCL will be holding a consultation on its strategy in South Lakeland for the next 10 to 20 years, which will include its work in volunteer clubs and schools.
It said it aimED to “provide local communities with more opportunities to participate in sport and physical activity” through working with the Cumbria Sport and Physical Activity Alliance (SPAA) Foundation.
The company also plans to introduce its existing apprenticeship programme into the district – the scheme supports 24 young people who are developing careers in sport and leisure.
Mr Maude said NCL was ‘absolutely committed’ to holding more concerts and events in Kendal in the future and was in talks with Carlisle Leisure Limited and the Brewery Arts Centre about how it could develop the events held at Westmorland Hall.
Graham Vincent, SLDC portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, said: “This is an opportunity to create modern and better leisure facilities, and programmes, for the residents of South Lakeland.
“As well as managing our sports and recreation centres, NCL will introduce new outreach programmes to help bring leisure opportunities direct to people of all ages in their local communities. They will also promote the benefits of participation in physical activity.”
NCL is a not-for-profit charity which currently manages leisure services on behalf of Northumberland County Council, Copeland Borough Council and Eden District Council and is also in discussions with Newcastle City Council about running three of its facilities.
The new contract will run for a period of 10 years with the potential for it to be renewed for two further five-year periods and SLDC and NCL will establish a new board of local people to manage the partnership.