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A £1 million bail-out for Suffolk's largest leisure trust to be discussed next week




The details of a £1 million bail-out for Suffolk's largest leisure trust are set to be discussed next week - as it prepares to close its doors for a second time.

West Suffolk councillors have been recommended to approve the details of the loan to Abbeycroft Leisure on Tuesday.

Abbeycroft Leisure runs 16 health and wellbeing centres across the county including five leisure centres including Bury St Edmunds , Mildenhall , Brandon, Haverhill and Newmarket .

July 2020: Reopening in a 'Covid' safe way has still has a "huge impact" of income, say council officers
July 2020: Reopening in a 'Covid' safe way has still has a "huge impact" of income, say council officers

The not-for-profit organisation also has centres in Hadleigh and Felixstowe works with five different district authorities.

It has been forced to close its doors for a second time from tomorrow until December 3, with all memberships 'suspended' during this time.

A total of £500,000 of the loan from West Suffolk Council will be repayable in six years, and following talks, the remaining £500,000 over 10 years. Payments will start after three years.

Pre-Covid. In July 2019, the trust CEO Warren Smyth, West Suffolk Councillor Jo Rayner and Brett Gooch, leisure centre manager, announced a programme of £1.8 million improvements to Newmarket Leisure Centre.
Pre-Covid. In July 2019, the trust CEO Warren Smyth, West Suffolk Councillor Jo Rayner and Brett Gooch, leisure centre manager, announced a programme of £1.8 million improvements to Newmarket Leisure Centre.

West Suffolk Council has a long-term working agreement with the leisure trust, which became a social enterprise in 2010, to run facilities on its behalf.

According to a West Suffolk cabinet report, all income for the trust ceased when it was forced to close its doors on March 20. Reopening in a 'Covid-safe' way, it adds, has still "had a huge impact on the viability of leisure services and operators across the country".

West Suffolk Council agreed the loan in July 2020. The cabinet report states that "Abbeycroft's cash flow position and balance sheet position mean that it has to consider very carefully taking on any external debt at this time, including the agreed loan facility with the council".

Apart from the business support grant scheme, Abbeycroft has received no central Government support to assist with the impact of Covid-19. West Suffolk Council was able to provide "some financial support" through its Covid-19 grant, "albeit limited due to its own financial challenges and other demands"

The council is hoping to recoup some of the money from Government throughan income loss scheme which was not forthcoming due to a "technicality". The Government also recently announced that £100 million funding will be available to support leisure trusts running council facilities, about which the council is awaiting details.

West Suffolk councillor, cabinet member for leisure, culture and community hubs, said:

Except for a small business support grant, Abbeycroft Leisure has received no central Government support to date and we continue to bring pressure to review this position.

"We want to ensure our leisure centres can welcome people back to exercise safely after the latest lockdown. Being physically active has never been more important for health and the opportunities provided by this council and its leisure trust have been invaluable for many.’

"Our collaborative open book arrangement with Abbeycroft means we have been able to work with them as they prudently and responsibly manage the impact on revenue caused by the pandemic.

Recent industry projections mean Abbeycroft must carefully consider taking on external debt at this time, including the loan facility. We are therefore reviewing the terms in light of these continuing pressures.

"I’d like to remind people to stay healthy and come back and use their safe leisure centres once lockdown is over."

Abbeycroft said on its website: "We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, which means we re-invest any financial surplus back into our services.

"We were ‘virtually’ there for you during the last lockdown and we are here for you again, and together we will get through this together.

"We’ll have lots of ways to keep you active and positive during this lockdown to ensure your health and wellbeing remains a priority, so keep an eye for communications via email, via our app or on our social media pages for updates.

"Thank you for your continued support and understanding during these difficult times."

You can follow the trust on the hashtag #WeAreHereForYou

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