Save Our Sport
You’d heard the rumours, we’d heard the rumours; but the blunt statement ‘Lime Kiln to close’ dropped on the community like a bombshell. It was a shock to the staff too, who heard from members of the public, not their management. The announcement came on Friday November 23rd, and the anger of local people was manifested at a mass meeting in the sports hall the following Sunday. Hundreds of people poured into the hall, bringing a badminton coaching session to a complete halt.
The event was covered by press, TV and radio, who were forced further and further back as the huge crowd filled the hall. Pictures were taken, quotes given, chanting and ranting took place- but what next? At that point, Brian Mantel, whose coaching session had been so rudely interrupted, climbed a ladder to speak. He said ‘we need to fight this together’ and ‘we need to organise.’ He pointed out that everyone had skills that could be used in our common cause.
Later that evening Brian began to call clubs using the centre. Learning that Richard Ward was doing the same, he called Richard and they worked together, dividing the remaining contacts. By Thursday night, less than a week after the announcement, they had organised a meeting at the Lime Kiln.
Over sixty people attended including representatives from almost all the clubs (some people just don’t answer their telephones) and many interested parties, including James Gray MP, who has given the campaign his full support. The media turned out in force, including the BBC’s Politics programme. Richard opened the meeting, before handing over to Brian.
Since the closure announcement people had been talking about how terrible it was, at a time when health, fitness and obesity are so much in the news. Parents were appalled that Wootton Bassett School was to lose its sports hall, and that the primary schools would have no pool to meet their obligations to teach swimming. Everyone had a tale of woe, but Brian’s asked people to concentrate on the solution rather than the problem, and not spend time talking about how the closure would affect their club.
Brian gave a presentation outlining the situation, emphasizing the need for everyone to fight together, and even offering a proposed structure for an action group. This involved a Steering Group, a User Group, with representatives from all the clubs, and a number of Working Groups, such as Publicity, Business and Fundraising. Brian suggested the name SOS for the group. At the mass rally, the chant had been ‘Save our centre,’ but Brian suggested Save Our Sport was more appropriate, since it was our sports that were under threat, not just the venue.
The meeting agreed to all proposals, electing James Gray as chair and Richard Ward as Vice-chair. The SOS campaign was given a mandate to represent the users, to investigate how the situation had occurred and to keep the issue in the public eye. It was agreed that we should concentrate on keeping the Lime Kiln open, going after those responsible for the debacle only after that had been achieved.
In the next few days SOS sent coach party to protest and ask questions at the full council meeting in Chippenham, and had representatives at the Area 2 meeting, and meetings of the Council Scrutinies Committee and Town Council. The first Steering Group meeting was on Sunday, and the Publicity Group held a meeting immediately after. Sue Hughes was elected Secretary, allowing Robert Dorran, the original Secretary, to concentrate on pursuing potential solutions to our problem.
Richard and Brian subsequently attended a meeting at the school, chaired by Head Teacher Chris Montecute, and attended by Delwyn Burbage, Chief Executive of North Wilts District Council, Graham Wilson, an NWDC officer. The schools governors, the Town Council and the County Council were also represented. Delwyn Burrbidge confirmed that the decision was financial. North Wilts Leisure Ltd., a trust running NWDC’s six centres, had told the council that they would become insolvent if they continued to run all six centres. If NWDC continued to support NWLL at the required level, they would become insolvent within a couple of years.
One of the most appalling features of the whole saga is that NWDC has chosen to close all three centre serving the east side of its area – but the reasons are obvious. Corsham makes a profit, TAZ, at Malmesbury, is new, and Chipenham is their headquarters and flagship centre. Lime Kiln, Cricklade and Calne are old and tired, and don’t make enough money - but we all know people like that, and we don’t get rid of them! Just before Christmas Councillor Diane Moore sent a letter answering questions the public had asked about the closure. The answers mainly consisted of passing the buck to NWLL and stating that sports provision was ‘discretionary’.
On December 23rd SOS marked the passing of the first month since the announcement by throwing a human ‘life-ring’ round the centre. Hundreds of people released helium balloons with a message card attached. That morning, Brian Mantel was interviewed at the BBC Wiltshire studio in Swindon, with councillor Moore joining in by telephone. Not for the first time, Cllr. Moore made the statement that the majority of people do not use leisure centres, a statement which, taken literally, is probably true. It would also be true of libraries, advice centres and even hospitals, yet no one has suggested that they should not be provided. It is also true that 100% of the children at Wootton Bassett School use the centre, as do the majority of primary school children, not to mention recovering heart patients, but they are a minority, so Cllr. Moore won’t concern herself with them. Cllr. Moore also stated that leisure centres were not a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle, implying that we don’t really need them. It would seem that Corsham, Chippenham and Malmesbury do need them.
Keeping the centre open is the main aim, and the officers of NWDC limited have said they will help as much as they can. NWLL have also cooperated, but have admitted that the business plan they recently submitted concerning their survival includes an allowance for the business they expect to accrue from the closed centres. If the Lime Kiln stays open, it will be their competition. Currently, SOS is trying to set up meeting with the commercial organisations that have expressed an interest in the centres, an initiative that James Gray is heavily involved in.
Despite a lot of work, it is hard to say if we are making progress. Certain organisations appear to be offering support, but they could just be stringing us along. A group headed by an very experienced management accountant is seeking more information about the finances, with a view to looking at the options if no one takes over the centre. One of the challenges is to keep people informed; SOS is not doing anything in a secretive manner, but it is not easy to disseminate information, and those who are working hardest to make something happen have not always had time to publicise their efforts. We hope this helps.
SOS Steering Group
For more information visit our website: www.savelimekiln.co.uk