Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Local Sport For Local People

Some of local women who's weekly netball will be affected.
Photo from the Watford Observer 
Our local district council (Three Rivers) has successfully put out to tender the management of the local leisure centre, which was won by a new company. As part of that tender, a proposal has been agreed already by Three Rivers to halve the current sports hall and turn one half into a soft play area.

This will affectively stop many local people, some of whom come to our church communities, from taking part in team sport at a time and place that is easily accessible to them. As Christians we worship a God who takes our bodies very seriously, and medical research has shown that keeping physically active is good for us physically but emotionally too.

The loss of this facility would be significant.

Tonight I have written to local councillors and I enclose the text of the letter below. Could I ask if you, if you live in the WD3 post code, to spread the word and encourage people who are concerned, which may yet include you, to write too?

William Penn Leisure Centre


Dear all,
I am writing to you to express my grave disappointment that you made a decision without consultation to change the facilities at William Penn Leisure Centre. I believe that this change will be for the worse, and to the detriment of whole community.
As part of the tendering process for the facility, I understand that the size of the current sports hall will be halved, and one half converted for use as a soft play area. The hall is a well used community facility, especially during the daytime, with many local groups including soft tennis, badminton, walking netball, return to netball, girls netball and five aside football all using it weekly. This dreadful decision will impact groups that meet at the weekend too like Tae Kwan Do where 3 generations of a family regularly take part in the sport, enabling quality time as a whole family whilst modelling that sport is something for all generations.
I do understand the economics too - whoever wins any tender, in this case Everyone Active, has to make profit on the facility, and the council need to make sure that it doesn’t run at a loss, but I’d like to suggest that if this plan goes ahead there will be significant financial ramifications, as many of these groups will no longer be able to meet at all.
When you made this decision as part of the tendering process, I believe that you did not take into account the shear number of local people who use the hall facility. I accept that some of the groups are relatively new, but nonetheless, a decision was made by you on data that was just not accurate. The netball groups probably amount to 60-80 people each week, for example.
Team sport at this level, which was specially encouraged as part of the London 2012 Olympic games legacy and is usually part funded by Sport England, is a really important part of caring for people’s physical wellbeing. I do not need to tell you the significant amount of money the NHS currently spends on ailments caused as a direct result of obesity and inactivity. Team sport such as those mentioned above are a great way to counter that rise in the present and the future. Halving the size of the sports hall prevents many of those existing team sports from being played at all on site - you cannot play netball or five aside football on half a court or pitch. You just can’t. I am aware that part of the proposed refurbishments will include an all weather 3G surface outside, but netball cannot be played on that surface, neither can badminton. By halving the size of the hall effectively stops those groups from meeting.
Team sport also builds community. As a faith leader locally this is something I am passionate about. One of the benefits of local team sport is that it brings people together who otherwise would not meet, and it allows friendships to be built. To lose the sports hall in any useable form will stop those sports happening for local people at a time that works for them. Other venues are available outside of the area (e.g. in Watford and Hemel Hempstead or indeed in some cases in the evenings or weekends), but the fact that these groups meet at a local venue at a time that suits those who attend is meeting one of your own priorities as a council for 2017/18.
The loss of this sports hall could also have other ramifications. In the event we needed to hold a big community meeting in a neutral venue, the sports hall is an ideal space. In the event of a major incident that hall will be an essential asset . I was Vicar of Leverstock Green following the Buncefield explosion. I know first hand how the Fire Service worked with Herts County Council and Dacorum Borough Council to use the hall at Jarman park for triage and temporary accommodation. Whilst we wouldn’t want to keep a hall solely for those reasons, the loss of that space could have a significant impact in a major incident.
I understand that the hall space will be redeveloped to become a soft play area. These sorts of facilities have become a God send for parents and their kids. Many of the bigger ones locally (in Watford for example) are part of bigger chains. They tend to be housed in much larger buildings with significantly more space and therefore more facilities. I am not convinced that the proposed space in William Penn with Gambardo’s for example, and talking anecdotally with local families the appeal of a bigger space is greater. Whilst soft play facilities allow parents to have a coffee whilst their children have fun but what they don’t do is model a healthy lifestyle. Children seeing and knowing that their parents play team sport though demonstrates that sport is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all.
The introduction of a soft play area into that space in William Penn is not a golden bullet either. I am not sure that the addition of this facility on site would create sufficient revenue to offset the loss of monies from the closure of all the local groups mentioned above.
By following through on this redesign you are in effect saying to our communities that profit is much more desirable that maximising the opportunities for local people in Mill End and Maple Cross to play team sport and to take some responsibility for their own emotional and physical wellbeing. Yes, I am aware that Three Rivers are not obliged to provide our community with the sports facilities that we enjoy at William Penn, but I would argue that it would be in our shared interests to keep them and that it is probably your moral duty to maintain them for the benefit of all.
Yours sincerely,