Wokingham Borough Council plans significant investment to give residents high quality leisure facilities across the borough to improve and sustain health and wellbeing in their communities, following the appointment of a new leisure partner.
Places for People Leisure is a social enterprise which says it is passionate about improving opportunities for communities to be physically active. It is one of the largest leisure operators in the UK managing a portfolio of more than 100 leisure facilities for local authorities across the country. As a social enterprise its focus is on improving residents’ health and wellbeing.
The company is due to take over the running of the contract from 1 May. This new 15-year contract will cover Loddon Valley Leisure Centre, Carnival Pool, St Crispin’s Sports Centre, and Bulmershe Leisure Centre, as well as Arborfield Leisure Centre and Ryeish Leisure Centre. As part of the new contract, improvements are planned across the borough including two new council built facilities to replace Bulmershe Leisure Centre and Carnival Pool.
At Bulmershe, a modern building will replace the existing outdated, and expensive-to-run facility. It will include a six-lane 25m swimming pool and teaching pool, a larger gym, a four-court sports hall, and an additional studio. The planned new teaching pools at Bulmershe and Carnival will include movable floors, to give greater flexibility to meet the needs of a larger range of groups of all ages and abilities.
The new Bulmershe site will also benefit from a new café so that families can relax and refuel after a swimming session. The current centre was built in the 1970s and its facilities are tired and in desperate need of investment to bring it up to the standard required to help the council support its vision ‘to create a great place to live, an even better place to do business’ and the borough-wide health and wellbeing strategy.
Council leisure facilities offer many preventative services, which contribute to savings within its social care budget which is under severe financial pressure. The new Bulmershe Leisure Centre will bring huge benefits to both The Bulmershe School and the community. A better range of more accessible facilities will benefit all residents including young people, families, and the elderly. It will also encourage more physical activity in Woodley and surrounding area, including Earley, as well as provide more support to those with long-term health conditions.
Significant investment into the existing leisure facilities are also planned elsewhere. Ryeish Leisure Centre is being refurbished with a state-of-the-art fitness suite, dance studio, and full size 3G pitch ahead of its re-opening this summer. A new 3G sports pitch will also be built in Arborfield, and work has started on a new skate park at St Crispin’s Leisure Centre.
Cllr Norman Jorgensen, executive member for environment, sports, environmental health, leisure and libraries, said: “We were particularly impressed by Places for People Leisure’s strong focus on partnership working, their passion for improving the health and wellbeing of residents, and their extensive plans to improve facilities and refurbish a number of the centres.
“The new contract should bring unprecedented benefits to the Wokingham borough. It will help us to increase and improve our leisure offer by providing residents with affordable leisure activities and high quality, self-funding facilities, as well as help us to strengthen the council’s financial position.
“It’s great that at a time when other local authorities are being forced to look at closing centres, we’re instead looking to expand and improve existing facilities and open new ones. This is all despite an unprecedented reduction in our revenue support grant from central government.
Darrell Gale, acting strategic director of Public Health for Berkshire, said: “The new contract includes new public health outcomes to support our aims to get everyone in the borough active, so that they can benefit from the physical and mental health improvements that exercise brings.”
Sandra Dodd, chief executive at Places for People Leisure, said: “We’re delighted to be appointed as the council’s leisure partner. As a social enterprise, we aim to enhance opportunities for all members of the local communities we serve to adopt more active and healthier lifestyles, in line with our mission to create active places and healthy people. Over the coming years we are looking forward to working in partnership with the council to invest within the facilities and ensure that we provide inspirational places for people to take part in physical activity.”
Picture left to right: Darrell Gale, consultant in public health; John Bates, Places for People; Cllr Norman Jorgensen, executive member for environment, sports, environmental health, leisure and libraries; Dan Walker, Places for People.