Following a £1.7million investment in gym facilities in the Chichester district, leisure centre attendance has risen by 43 per cent.
Chichester District Council has said its three centres, Westgate in Chichester, The Grange Community Lesiure Centre in Midhurst and Bourne Community Leisure Centre in Southbourne ‘have continued to go from strength to strength’ after management was handed to Everyone Active in 2016.
At Westgate in Chichester, the new developments have included the provision of a gym area, which has doubled in size, a new hot yoga studio and group cycling studio, a larger group exercise studio, new energy reduction LEDs and improved café and reception areas.
Nevertheless, some other gym ventures in the area have raised issues surrounding planning policy when setting up new sites.
‘An extremely successful partnership’
In an attempt to encourage more people to take part in physical activity, Chichester District Council transferred the management of its three leisure centres and sports development service to Everyone Active in May 2016, following a ‘detailed’ review.
This was considered the best way of managing the council’s sports development service and three leisure sites.
Councillor Eileen Lintill, cabinet member for communities, said the council thought ‘long and hard’ about the partnership.
She added: “We recognise the importance of leisure services and we want to invest in them so that they expand.
“A lot of money went into the investment.
“It is an extremely successful partnership and one we feel will continue to flourish. All three centres have seen a terrific response.”
Eileen also said the partnership intends to ‘engage local schools’ and there have been some ‘really good results’ so far.
There has also been a ‘significant increase’ in the number of disabled users using the facilities and the council said it was particularly pleased with the ‘big increase’ in attendees in the over 50s and under 15s groups.
Cllr Lintill added: “Not only have the centres seen a significant increase in the amount of people using the facilities, but they have also expanded upon their outreach services, improving people’s health and wellbeing, an example is the walking club.”
She said councillors have recently reviewed the performance of the centres and were ‘really impressed’ with what has been achieved.
A council spokesman said that people have been ‘blown away’ by the achievements.
“It is making such a difference and taking the centres forward,” she added.
‘Attendances have been the biggest improvement’
Speaking to the Observer in a tour around the new facility at Westgate, Stuart Mills, Everyone Active’s contract manager, said all of the targets for the centres ‘have been met’.
He said the new developments will help improve health and fitness in local people, whilst also making it more inclusive for the ‘less advantaged’.
He added: “It will ensure good health is prolonged. We now have cardiac classes and specially trained staff which show the benefit of exercise.
“We spoke with the council about making the centre more easily accessible for the less advantaged and disabled people.
“We don’t want people put off because they can’t afford it.”
Stuart pointed out that the centres have been accredited as having Quest Excellent facilities at all three sites.
“We are in the top 13 per cent in the country,” he said.
But Stuart said attendance had been the ‘biggest improvement’.
“We have seen the number grow by a huge amount, whilst doubling the size of the gym brought the wow factor,” he said.
‘Difficult’ planning policy
While Everyone Active is on the up, a number of gym businesses and clubs have struggled to find premises in the district in recent months.
Grit Gym in Station Road, Chichester, closed down after it was refused permission to move to an empty industrial unit in Terminus Road earlier this year.
The decision was due to policy that requires employment space to be marketed for a minimum of two years before it is allowed to be used for alternative purposes, such as leisure.
At the time, Chichester District Council’s economic development team urged approval, arguing that gym facilties can aid employment and there were no other suitable sites for the club.
In July, founder of Checkatrade Kevin Byrne was refused permission to convert a part-completed office building in Selsey into a £1.7million leisure facilty on similar grounds, as councillors noted it would ‘punch a huge hole’ in the planning policy.
Another club to fall foul of the rule is the not-for-profit Academy of Gym, which is still searching for a place to create a base in the area for its 180 members.
Kris Hampton, who runs the club, said: “It’s really hard because most facilities are industrial use and they have got to be marketed for at least two years before they consider a change of use into leisure so that’s where we find the difficult part, because you can find somewhere and say that would be perfect but you have to wait.”
She added that the club could not afford a city centre location and was looking for a unit around five miles outside of Chichester.
She said 13 of the gymnasts had nevertheless made the county squad and another three had reached the regional team.
The Observer asked the district council if it would consider changing the planning policy.
A council spokesman responded that over the last three years, there had been 157 new recreational, cultural and sporting businesses set up in the district, with many supported by the council’s economic development team.
Where applications are refused, guidance is given by planning officers on what could help a similar plan.
She added: “Each planning application is assessed on its own merits against a series of planning policies that are agreed as part of the Local Plan.
“These policies are in place to make sure that there are facilities and businesses of the right type in the right place.
“The Local Plan is currently being reviewed and we hope to consult on it towards the end of this year, which will enable the public to comment on the content of these policies and suggest any changes.”
Facilities available to all
There are a number of initiatives Everyone Active runs to help improve access to gym facilties.
All three of the district’s sites continue to offer discounts to compass card holders.
This is a county scheme tailored to providing special rates for young people under 25 who have special educational needs and disabilities.
Everyone Active also supports Looked After Children and care leavers by providing a more affordable and ‘incentivised’ route to those wanting to lead more healthy and active lives.
Free access to facilities is given to the Chichester District Council’s Wellbeing team to deliver obesity clinics throughout the year. The wellbeing team is based at the centres and they also work with Time to Talk.
Chichester District Council also offers free use of the public facilities at all of the leisure centres during off peak hours to families identified by its communities team.
Children identified under the programme are also offered free places to practice sport in community holiday camps.
Investments have also included recycling facilities, energy efficient lighting and reductions in single-use plastics.
Are you a regular visitor to any of the three leisure centres run by the district council? What do you think of the refurbishments? Let us know on our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.