Update - Meeting with NWDC Thursday Jan. 25th
Firstly, my apologies for keeping everyone waiting for this update. As you will see, I had something even more important to do on behalf of SOS, and I was away from last Thursday until Monday 5th.
The meeting between SOS, Wootton Bassett School and NWDC took place at The Civic Offices on Station Road. Present at the meeting were Cllr. O'Gorman, Laurie Bell (NWDC officer), Dave Gardner, (V.chair WBS governors) Richard Hunt (WBS governors), Richard Ward, Brian Mantel, Sue Hughes and Rob Dorran (all SOS). Invited representatives of the school’s management team, Chris Montectue and Cat Mangham, were unable to attend through illness. Graham Wilson, an NWDC officer, was also ill, but Laurie Bell is just as closely involved in the issues with Leisure Centres.
The school had been asked to invite Wiltshire County Council, but the illness of various members of staff meant that this did not happen. Wootton Bassett Town Council, who provided the room, could not be represented, due to a clash with another meeting. However, Brian Mantel had a meeting with Johnathan Bourne, (Town Clerk) on Tuesday.
Cllr. O’Gorman began by saying how distressed she had been by the decision taken to close the centres, even though, at the time, NWDC had no choice. She told us that the elected members and officers of NWDC were all committed to trying to find a way of keeping the centres open. Laurie Bell qualified that by pointing out that the officers’ first concern ensuring the future of the three centres that are staying open, but they were trying to find a way of saving more of the facilities.
It emerged from the meeting that the possibility of the Lime Kiln being taken on by a commercial leisure company still exists, and NWDC are talking to a number of such companies. Details of those negotiations are commercially sensitive, and cannot be made public. (If they were, it could jeopardise any potential deal). Officers are currently preparing recommendation on all options for a meeting of the council on Feb.8th. This will include any bids from commercial leisure companies, and the SOS community business plan.
Given the difficulties associated with a community take-over, it is in everyone's best interest that the Lime Kiln is run by a professional leisure company. Therefore, we have asked that NWDC consider any community based plan only as an alternative to closure, and not in competition with any plan from a commercial organisation. On that basis, we expect that, if they are sincere in their declared intention to keep the centre open if at all possible, they will be prepared to discuss any issues arising from the business plan, rather than simply dismissing it.
NWDC made it very clear that their budget for running leisure centres will be the £818,000 already allocated, and that no further money can be found. They will not fund any Social Enterprise running the Lime Kiln from this budget (it all goes to the contractor running NWDC centres) and they cannot give any organisation money from the figure set aside for the cost of closure. It also emerged that the ‘hot-mothballing’ option is no longer being considered. Closure will be permanent.
After much debate, Carol O’Gorman said that if we wanted to include some funding from NWDC in a business plan, we should do so. This was not a u-turn; she did not say the money would be available. My reading of this was that she was saying ‘If you want to base your business plan on money that we won’t be giving you, go ahead.’
The crucial outcome of this meeting was that we (SOS, the school, and the Town Council) had to come up with some kind of business plan by Wednesday Jan.31st.
What Happened Next?
I spent the weekend trying to organise a meeting with the school. I was invited to a meeting on Monday 29th, but the time and venue were never confirmed, so I did not attend. However, I did go to a meeting on Tuesday, with Tony Baker (SOS), to meet Chris Montecute (school head), Cat Mangham (school deputy head), Johnathan Bourne (Town Clerk) and Phil Tanner, an accountant helping the school. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss submitting a business plan. I had earlier received a copy of a partially completed plan, commissioned by Jonathan Bourne and written by Astrid Morris, Business Manager at the Ridgeway School, who took over their own sports centre. The Ridegway sports facilities are very similar to the Lime Kiln, although the schools are run on a different basis.
I had already done some work to enhance this plan, feeding in information SOS had learned from meeting NWLL and further intelligence from my own researches and meetings. We discussed the potential business plan, but, for tactical reasons, I won’t go into detail. (After all, anyone can read this).
The conclusion of the meeting was that SOS should submit a business plan on behalf of the community. Johnathan Bourne ‘gifted’ the partially completed plan to us as a starting point, leaving me with the task of completing it by close of business the following day. We agreed that, as had been suggested at the meeting with NWDC, we were submitting a plan only as an alternative to closure, and not to compete with any commercial bid.
I managed to submit an outline plan before 4.30 on Wednesday, by dint of working all Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. Tony Baker and Astrid Morris assisted me by telephone, and Alistair Aitken was kind enough to read through the document to filter out my late night typos.
We now await the outcome of the meeting on Feb. 8th, and after that we will know where we stand. If no commercial bid is made which includes the Lime Kiln, the community option will be the only one left. However, if a commercial organization steps in, the pressure will be off. This is why I am waiting until after the meeting before I call another meeting of the business group. I know many of you have been working hard to gather information to create a business plan, and that work will not be in vain.
If we have to go down the community route, all your work will come together to help define how the centre could and should be run. If a commercial organization takes over, we will submit our findings as recommendations to them.
I hope that will satisfy the hunger for news, and I apologise again for keeping you waiting.