Save Leisure Gateshead response to Gateshead Council Leisure Review Report

Dear Martin and Alice,

Save Leisure Gateshead is a group of local residents who have come together in response to the

devastating news that Gateshead Leisure Centre is at serious risk of closure.

This letter sets out our response to the Leisure Review: Future Delivery Options Report, that was

published on Tuesday 25th October 2022. Our group is concerned specifically about the future of

Gateshead Leisure Centre, because this building is currently not being considered as part of the

proposed private partnership and is instead being recommended for permanent closure. We are also

concerned as this centre is the biggest and most central of all the leisure centres in the borough and

serves the greatest proportion of Gateshead’s population.

There are very few specific details about the financial position of Gateshead Leisure Centre in its own

right (despite requests for this by our members), or a financial forecast that shows what is required to

save it. We are therefore using the data-limited report as a basis but we are unable to 'drill down' to

the depth needed because of this missing information.

Meeting Local Needs

1. In Appendix 1 points 3 and 4, there is reference to The Council spending most of its funding for

physical activity on a minority of Gateshead residents. It is then stated that there is no evidence that

the leisure centre offer supports those in the greatest need and goes on to claim that funding leisure

services could actually be creating inequality.

2. Save Leisure Gateshead agree that The Council should focus spending on those in ‘greatest need’,

however assessing 'need' is a complex task as there are many variables. Whilst it is true that many

people using leisure centres are those able to pay, there seems to be an assumption that if you can

afford the cost, you have less ‘need’ for it. This is categorically untrue. Furthermore, the review fails

to acknowledge that those currently not considered ‘greatest in need’ may well move into this

category should the provision of leisure services be withdrawn. That the borough has residents who

are currently active and well is at least partly due to the current provision of leisure services.

3. In 2015 The Council decided that Gateshead's leisure services would need to be financially self-

sufficient by 2020, and that they would receive no additional funding. It is hard to understand how

the leisure services would ever have been able to achieve this while there was a simultaneous

expectation that they should be serving those unable to pay or keeping prices artificially low. For any

kind of service to be financially self-sufficient, it must rely on either a significant proportion of service

users paying, or on other funding streams. The directive to be self-sufficient seems to contradict the

directive to counter inequality.

4. A great deal of emphasis is placed by The Council on the ability of local residents to pay for leisure

services. This leads The Council to conclude that investment in leisure centres creates health

inequality, because those with the most health issues are not able to pay for them. Whilst it is true

that the national cost of living crisis is making many individuals and families struggle to make ends

meet, we would suggest that Go Gateshead gym membership is affordable for many, and the costs of

taking away a vital resource like Gateshead Leisure Centre is only going to create poorer health

outcomes. This is particularly true for those of us in the Bensham and Saltwell wards who have no

alternative in the local area. Bus travel to the closest swimming pool at Heworth from Bensham would

add an extra £4.70 per adult on to the price of a single swim. This may mean that some people who

are currently able to afford swimming because it is on their doorstep will no longer be able to because

of the additional cost of travel. Taking away Gateshead Leisure Centre is likely to create more


5. A recent report by UK Active1 states that leisure centres and pools can help to reduce the pressure

on the NHS. This is completely at odds with the claim made in the leisure review report that funding

leisure services creates inequality. UK Active suggest that the role that leisure centres and pools in

social prescribing is under recognised, and that improvements in health inequalities could be seen if

these services were to be used to their full potential. They also recommend that gyms, pools and

leisure centres should be more connected to community networks, not recommended for hasty

closure, as is the case for Gateshead Leisure Centre.

Financial Sustainability

6. Brief financial details are provided in the Review, including the allocated budget per leisure centre

from 2018/2019-2022/2023. It is clear that despite plans to become self-sufficient, Gateshead Leisure

Centre (along with many of the other facilities) consistently overspent against their budget. No details

are given as to why this happened and how it was allowed to continue, which ought to be absolutely

crucial to explain; especially as now the consequences are so severe. Was a business plan generated

in 2015 when Go Gateshead was given the directive to become financially self-sustaining? What plans

were put in place to review performance? Such dramatic overspends should have been addressed and

problem solved at a much earlier date when the proposed solutions wouldn't have been as dramatic,

sudden and impactful. Save Leisure Gateshead therefore agree with the view of GMB Union in

Appendix 1 point 74, that “leisure senior management have been aware of the issues within the service

but have not dealt with them”.

7. In Appendix 1, points 31-35 The Council acknowledge that their strategic decisions to limit

marketing for Go Gateshead, and to only offer fixed term contracts to potential staff have both

substantially impacted on Go Gateshead's ability to recover from Covid 19. This is extremely

significant. The current recruitment market is extremely challenging, and creativity and investment is

needed to be able to fill roles

The Council's decision to only offer fixed term contracts is completely

at odds with this. Having too few staff in an ever-shrinking and threatened service will increase

workload and stress for the employees who remain. And in an extremely competitive recruitment

market, why would someone choose to take a temporary fixed term contract with Go Gateshead when

better offers exist elsewhere? We would therefore argue that The Council's own policies have heavily

contributed to the current financial state of Gateshead Leisure Centre, and its ability to be self-

sufficient, yet its users are now to pay the price.

8. In point 39 of Appendix 1, reference is made to a set of recommendations agreed between The

Council and FMG Consulting Ltd, that formed part of a “transformation plan” to improve performance

in leisure services. The progress described at the end of August 2022 shows that very few of these

recommendations were actually achieved. Some, such as partnering with Gateshead College to offer

volunteering opportunities, had not progressed beyond a discussion. Point 40 in Appendix 1 states

that these actions have "done little to change the financial position across the leisure service". How

did The Council ever expected these improvements to have made any impact when they have not yet

been completed. Also, the significant impact on income that the decisions to limit marketing and staff

contracts were having since 2021 as described above in point 6, would have thwarted any attempts

to improve service performance.

9. Save Leisure Gateshead believe that a reduction in marketing of Go Gateshead, reduced opening

hours – especially outside of the typical working day – and the sporadic closure of services has had a

negative impact on the public’s inclination to take out memberships. In 2021 social media was full of

comments on Go Gateshead’s pages demanding information about opening plans and chastising The

Council for not opening sooner. A petition with over 700 signatures was submitted to Gateshead

Council in May 2021 by one of our members, demanding that plans for Gateshead Leisure Centre be

shared. This shows how much people wanted to come back to use leisure centres in the borough, but

The Council’s own decisions meant that this was impossible. The Council’s own policy has created

insurmountable obstacles for many potential members, and therefore reduced potential income. Save

Leisure Gateshead argue that more consideration and acknowledgement needs to be given to this,

especially before making such a dramatic and impactful decision as to closing leisure centres

completely and permanently.

10. At Gateshead Leisure Centre, erroneous decisions such as closing the pool for half an hour before

lunchtime and limiting soft play to prescribed slots have created barriers to more people attending.

Many of our members have commented how they are unaware of what services are available now.

People have arrived at centres expecting to be able to use a service, but they have been informed that

it is closed or unavailable. People who have previously hired space within Gateshead Leisure Centre

for community activities have been prevented from doing so. There have been no plans in place to

welcome former businesses and groups back to the centre to hire space. Families who would have

used children's activities such as Clip-and-Climb and soft play as well as family swimming, have been

unable to access these. There have been no refreshments available. This deliberate targeted reduction

in services has, in and of itself, caused people to relocate their businesses and groups, let their

memberships lapse, or not restart them after the pandemic. We strongly believe that the statement

made in point 33 that “it is looking more and more doubtful that The Council will be able to achieve

its pre-Covid income levels” is a direct result of decisions that The Council has taken to reduce service.

11. Point 25 refers to the “leisure services team working incredibly hard to implement measures to

increase income..." Our points above emphatically challenge this statement. How can income have

ever been increased with a halt on marketing and the policy to offer contracts of employment that

had no chance of attracting essential staff in the current recruitment climate? Including statements

like this in the Leisure Review appears disingenuous and inaccurate.

12. The review refers to the need to restore the roof, heating, and electrics at Gateshead Leisure

Centre at substantial future costs. We have requested further information about this but have so far

been ignored. We have requested this information because it is well known that councils are rarely

able to attract competitive quotes for building work, and we would like to make our own assessment

of funds needed. We would also like to point out that The Council invested £8 million in a

refurbishment of Gateshead Leisure Centre 12 years ago – this included roof repair and guarantees

for the work should have been part of this contract. We believe this to be another example of The

Council’s mismanagement that has led to severe consequences for Gateshead Leisure Centre and the

local community.

Community Engagement

13. Save Leisure Gateshead is made up of local residents, many of whom are members of Go

Gateshead, past and present. Our members and other people we have consulted with in our broader

campaign work have fed back that there has never been a focus on in-person engagement and

consultation with members about what is needed within Gateshead Leisure Centre. We note that in

point 11 of Appendix 1, where The Council's Thrive strategy is set out, Go Gateshead are allocated the

task of offering a "wider range of facilities and programmes driven by local need". We don't believe

that this was ever achieved. There have been no genuine attempts to engage either members of Go

Gateshead or residents in the local community to contribute to the development of Gateshead Leisure

Centre, to ensure it was meeting our needs. If this had been done, we strongly believe that it would

have had chance to thrive.

14. There have been several online consultations relating to Gateshead Leisure Centre and the broader

leisure services offer over the last few years, but there is no reference to the rate of participation or

outcome of any of them in the Leisure Review. This makes us question how much money was spent

on these exercises, and how much they contributed to the overspend that is now being used against

the service.

15. Save Leisure Gateshead is alarmed at the speed with which The Council are trying to consult the

community about closure. To go from the community having no idea that Gateshead Leisure Centre

is under threat to complete closure in 4 months, without allowing time for a community-led response

or action plan to be developed is disrespectful of the community they are meant to serve. Moreover

it is appears as a quick-fix to paper over their years of inaction and mismanagement, using the “energy

prices” and “cost of living crisis” as an excuse.

16. The covert nature of the Leisure Review has meant that the local community has had no

opportunity to research alternative options to the closure of Gateshead Leisure Centre. This is despite

efforts made by local residents in 2021 where a petition with over 700 signatures was submitted to

The Council to “share plans for Gateshead Leisure Centre”. Save Leisure Gateshead therefore

emphatically challenge the conclusions in Appendix 1 point 75 that “no further options should be


Availability of Alternative Facilities

17. In point 40 (g) the review states "The leisure centres are often old buildings that are unattractive

to residents who are sometimes able to access an increasing number of more modern and purpose

built facilities at lower cost and offering a wider range of activities than the council is currently

offering". We would like to challenge this statement from a number of perspectives. Firstly, the use of

the word "sometimes" feels quite important, as we would argue that there are no "modern, purpose-

built facilities" within the area of Bensham / Saltwell that could take the place of Gateshead Leisure

Centre. We would also challenge that private gyms are usually a lower cost. It is our view that Go

Gateshead offered extremely competitive rates, especially when account is taken of the existence of

the pools, sports halls and squash courts. We would like to point out that the nearest alternatives to

Gateshead Leisure Centre are Pure Gym and Anytime Fitness in Gateshead town centre (20 mins walk

away) and Gym Etc in the Team Valley (25 mins walk). This is not accessible for people who are unable

to drive, or for those who have limited time to be able to visit the gym e.g. a lunch hour. Finally on this

point, we would suggest that the main reason that Gateshead Leisure Centre has become unattractive

is the lack of upgrading and investment – and sometimes enough effort put into basic cleaning – in

the changing areas in the gym and the pool. We believe that this is a direct result of the leisure centre

never being able to gain the revenue needed to be self-sufficient, as already outlined in previous


18. Point 40 (h) states "There is currently a lack of creativity, innovation and community led delivery

within the Council's offer". We would completely agree with this statement, but we vehemently

disagree that a solution to this would be to close Gateshead Leisure Centre. We strongly believe that

genuine and effective community engagement would result in the leisure centre thriving and meeting

the needs of the local community. We believe that engagement with local residents and genuine

consultation with Go Gateshead members could boost income, regenerate interest and allow this

valuable asset to be used to its full potential.

Gateshead International Stadium (GIS)

19. As per the response of the GMB Union, we challenge the notion that GIS is excluded from the

leisure review. In Appendix 1 point 74, GMB make several scathing comments including how

management options set out in 2017 with a target date for completion in 2018 continue to be “fudged,

draining essential resources from key services”. They also note that GIS has the least benefit to local

residents and that its closure could have potentially allowed other centres to remain open. They refer

to GIS as a “white elephant” and state that other services could be decimated by allowing this to “plod

on”. Save Leisure Gateshead agree that GIS has a much smaller reach to the local community than

Gateshead Leisure Centre, and for this reason it should be included in the review of services.


• We believe that Gateshead Leisure Centre has the ability to thrive and to become self-

sufficient with the community’s involvement and does not create inequality.

• Gateshead Leisure Centre provides essential social, mental, and physical health benefits to

the local community, lowering the financial burden to the NHS and welfare services. We

strongly disagree with the implication that those using Gateshead Leisure Centre would not

suffer health disadvantages if it were to close.

• We believe that the mismanagement of Local Authority finances by not addressing

overspends, having policies that create a dependence on funding and destroy a service's

ability to reach financial self-sufficiency are more of a contributory factor to local health

inequalities than the existence of local leisure services.

• We strongly disagree that the people that use Gateshead Leisure Centre don't have a genuine

need for it. We believe that The Council's fixation in the report on those who are unable to

pay to use leisure services gives a false impression about need, and the importance of the


• We strongly disagree that there are viable local alternatives to Gateshead Leisure Centre to

the residents of Bensham / Saltwell.

• We respectfully request that more detailed information about the costs needed to repair

Gateshead Leisure Centre are made available to us, so we can make our own assessment of

the work needed to save the building.

• We demand that GIS should not be excluded from the Leisure Review as proposed, but rather,

assessed against its contribution to ‘tackling health inequalities’ in the same way as the rest

of the leisure services.

• We request that the period for consultation is extended beyond January, as an

acknowledgement of the gravity of the review’s recommendations. The permanent closure of

Gateshead Leisure Centre would have lifelong impact on the local community, and to rush

through this process as a quick fix to balance budgets is completely unacceptable. The service

is not ‘unaffordable’ – it is simply an issue of where The Council chooses to spend its money.

Yours sincerely,

Save Leisure Gateshead

1 January 2022, UK Active, Leading The Change