The organisation that runs Greenwich’s leisure centres is to expand into Lewisham after councillors there decided to end its deal with its current provider, Fusion.
Greenwich Leisure Limited, which trades as Better, is expected to take on centres such as the Glass Mill in Lewisham and Wavelengths in Deptford after Fusion struggled to reopen them after the coronavirus lockdown.
While Greenwich’s leisure centres are open for business again, most of Lewisham’s remain closed and Fusion has recently warned staff they are at risk of redundancy. Only one of Lewisham’s centres, in Downham, has reopened – and that is run by a different operator, 1Life.
GLL operates centres across the UK, and many of its memberships are valid nationwide, so the decision opens up the possibility of Greenwich and Lewisham leisure users being able to use each others’ facilities for the first time. GLL was spun out of Greenwich Council’s leisure department in the 1990s, and also operates centres in Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Andre Bourne, Lewisham’s cabinet member for culture, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Lewisham Council continues to work towards the safe reopening of leisure centres, subject to the new Covid-19 restrictions. As leisure centres and swimming pools were forced to close during the height of the pandemic, the entire sector has faced significant financial challenges for operators as five months of closure brought an abrupt stop to income whilst staff and maintenance costs continue.
“The council has decided to take the opportunity to secure a new partner, which will see the phased reopening of leisure centres and swimming pools starting this autumn. The council’s current leisure partner, Fusion, is looking to concentrate on other areas of business in light of the impact of coronavirus on [its] operating model.
“The council is working with GLL, a not-for-profit social enterprise and one of the UK’s leading operators of leisure centres who currently manage 100 public facilities across London under the ‘Better’ brand. It is anticipated the transfer of centres will be completed shortly.
“An immediate assessment of leisure centres will then be undertaken and we expect to provide an update in mid-September on the phased reopening from this autumn.
“The pandemic has significantly affected behaviours and attitude to sport and leisure and it is important that we seek involvement from all of those who use our leisure facilities. In the coming weeks we will be in touch with users to take on board their views as we consider our reopening plans.”
Anthony Cawley, director of operations at Fusion Lifestyle, said: “We are really proud of what we have achieved in Lewisham since we started our contract in 2011. We know how important leisure facilities are for the health and wellbeing of the local community and we believe that the initiatives we have undertaken in Lewisham have made a really positive difference to residents in the area. We will be in touch with our members in due course around what this means for their current memberships.”
The Lewisham contract will be welcome news for GLL, which also runs libraries in Greenwich and Bromley and has also been badly hit by the lockdown. Greenwich Council recently agreed to spend up to £810,000 supporting the organisation after the coronavirus lockdown, extending its contract to 2031. It recently faced criticism from the Unite union for offering its staff six months’ unpaid leave to help it save money after the lockdown.
Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain
Grainne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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