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COMMENT: Who will have the last word on our leisure facilities? Will it be you or your councillors?

“The role of a local councillor is to serve as a representative and advocate for their community, make decisions on behalf of their constituents, and work collaboratively with others to improve the quality of life within their community.

They should maintain an open line of communication with their constituents, they should be accessible and responsive to our concerns and keep us informed about local government decisions and policies that affect us.

With these statements in mind, and the recent decisions made surrounding the leisure facilities in the Sevenoaks district, I would like to ask: “Should leisure facilities be looking at the next stage of their evolution, or should they simply remain a place for leisure activities?”

Councillors in the Sevenoaks district voted to earmark £1.83m of public money over the next two years for an interim operator to look after their three facilities, but they also have the opportunity to think about their leisure strategy and what would best benefit the community going forward from 2025.

The emerging leisure market
In the early 1970’s, when modern-day leisure centres started to pop up all across the UK, in most part because of a significant increase of public investment in sports and leisure, they were designed to simply provide swimming facilities and a space for the local community and their surrounding area.

Since then however, leisure centres have become commercial businesses, competing in an increasingly popular market against national chains. While the primary purpose of a leisure centre is to provide facilities for physical activities, they can now serve as a community hub and a space for social interaction.

By offering additional services such as community events, educational classes, and cultural programmes, a leisure centre can become a multi-functional space that enhances the overall wellbeing of the community. For example, a leisure centre could host a soft-play area, cooking classes, dance classes, language classes, or other educational programmes that would attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

Moreover, a leisure centre can also incorporate sustainable features such as energy-efficient systems and green spaces that promote environmental sustainability and improve air quality. These features can contribute to a more sustainable and healthy community.

The truth is that Sevenoaks’ leisure facilities, the now defunct operator [Sencio] and the serving councillors, were all stuck in the 1980’s, with no real direction or plans for the future. Simply owning three leisure facilities is no longer a sports strategy.

Sure, the community still want access to a swimming pool, a squash court, a weekly roller-disco, a Yoga or Pilates class, and a gym, but while a leisure centre can simply provide these activities, it can also be a space for social interaction, community events, education, and sustainability.

Therefore, I urge you all to speak to your councillors over the next two years to ensure that when the time comes, they have a leisure strategy fit for purpose in the 21st century. The book is wide open but it has yet to be written.

Next month I will be looking at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the state of the leisure facilities, including open areas, in their region.”

Steve Rowley
Publishing Editor of West Kent Sport & Wellbeing magazine and Founder of One Team Media Ltd.

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