Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeSENCIOCOMMENT: 'Please sir, please may we have our keys back?'

COMMENT: ‘Please sir, please may we have our keys back?’

Steve Rowley, West Kent Sport & Wellbeing‘s Publishing Editor for nearly six years, takes a look at the tragedy that was Sencio Community Leisure and the recent closure of the district’s leisure centres in Sevenoaks and Edenbridge.

Since the demise of Sevenoaks Leisure Limited, who traded as Sencio Community Leisure, there are many conversations taking place online and hopefully in the chamber at Sevenoaks District Council (SDC).

We could go back and forth, looking for someone or something to blame for this disaster, and it is just that, an absolute disaster for the communities of Sevenoaks and Edenbridge. And we could get angry with the authorities and certain individuals for letting this happen in the 21st century.

Sure, SDC knew that the business was failing, and did nothing. They knew that they had been spending money they didn’t have. They knew that they hadn’t provided accounts to the council for over two years. They knew this day was coming because they claimed to have a plan for Sencio’s replacement. They knew all of this because they had two councillors on the Trustees Board, Cllr. Graham Clack and Cllr. Margot McArthur, the latter also being on SDC’s Scrutiny Committee into Sencio.

Sencio, which was run by Chief Executive Officer Jane Parish, was a non-for-profit leisure business set up to benefit the local communities of Sevenoaks, Swanley and Edenbridge, and in it’s early days going back to the 1980’s, it was very successful at doing exactly that.

Forty years later and Sencio could of held their hands up and told SDC that they could no longer achieve the desired effect of running a series of leisure centres and a golf course. They could have stopped asking for thousands of pounds in handouts from the council and simply admitted that they had failed. Sencio made the decision not to do this, no one else.

However, the way in which Sencio and indeed Parish ran the business, was so inept that they couldn’t even go into liquidation in the proper manner. My understanding is that because SDC own the property and land, Sencio, in accordance with their contract, should have walked into the council offices and handed back the keys whilst stating that their objective was no longer viable. Sencio made the decision not to do this, no one else.

After a ‘team meeting’ on Wednesday evening, Sencio then instructed the Evelyn Partners on Thursday morning who promptly came in to assess the situation. With the potential of owing many creditors, Sencio brought in Evelyn Partners to balance their books.

What they did next is open to speculation, but because of the refusal of even more money from the council, I believe they called in Evelyn Partners simply to get the councils back up! Sounds petty I know, but why would you not follow the agreement which was in place between the two organisations? ‘They didn’t help us, so why should we help them‘ is my view on the matter. Sencio made the decision to do this, no one else.

However, by giving them the keys, they have essentially locked their landlords out of their own properties. SDC and it’s councillors may say that they are working hard to get the leisure centres reopen as soon as possible. This in itself is actually not ideal, simply replacing Sencio with another operator such as Everyone Active who now run the leisure centre in Swanley, in my opinion is just painting over the cracks.

And it won’t happen until Sencio’s creditors have been dealt with anyway, which will mean the selling of equipment and internal fittings, including the £1 million investment for the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre’s gym refurbishment in 2018, which was also supported by Sevenoaks Town Council with a £95,000 contribution following a community consultation exercise. 

81-year-old Gym member Blanche Smith shows Cllr Peter Fleming the ropes at the Leisure Centre opening.

With local elections looming, the council and it’s councillors are in lockdown, and therefore I believe that Sevenoaks and Edenbridge will be without leisure facilities until May at the very earliest. I hope I’m wrong on this matter.

Conclusion
Amongst all of this mess are the people who have lost their jobs; the customers who enjoyed their early morning swim; the single mum who sent her kids to school on Monday morning and was looking forward to a catch up with friends after being on her own all weekend; the many users who suffer from disabilities and rely on the services that were provided; the patients who were socially prescribed by their doctor to do exercise; and the swimming clubs, who with hundreds of members, now find themselves without a pool to swim in.

I feel for all those users and the impact these closures will have on their health and mental health. However, we now have a great opportunity as a community to really push the agenda for health and wellbeing to the council and to ensure that they do what is right by their public. Hiding behind the wall of shame that was Sencio and blaming them will no longer wash with us.

SDC now need to listen and learn, they need to build a sports strategy for the district that means something. Simply owning two buildings and a golf course is no longer a strategy that they can be proud of.

I can promise you that West Kent Sport and Wellbeing will push this agenda and we need you, the community, to get behind us, to ensure that you all have leisure facilities that you are proud of and that will be forever protected from something like this happening again. These discussions will just be the beginning. Let’s leave anger at the door, leave the blame of both Sencio and SDC behind and start to build something worth everything!

We have launched a Facebook group for the Sevenoaks District community to discuss how Sevenoaks District Council should approach the areas’ sport and leisure strategy including the recent demise of Sencio and the closure of Sevenoaks Leisure Centre, Edenbridge Leisure Centre and Lullingstone Park Golf Club.

Simply go to www.facebook.com and search for Sevenoaks District Leisure.

Direct link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1338056143435327

 

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