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Plan to save Central Baths

A plan to turnaround the fortunes of Wolverhampton's Central Baths and save them from the threat of closure will go before Cabinet councillors next week.

The Cabinet will hear that running Central Baths and the council's 2 other leisure centres with a more commercial focus is the way to attract more customers and gain more income.

Central Baths, Bert Williams Leisure Centre and Aldersley Leisure Village are currently subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of around £2 million a year.

Central Government cuts to the council's budget are forcing the authority to make savings of £123 million over the next 5 years and the subsidy provided to the leisure centres is no longer affordable.

The council had previously announced that Central Baths, which is the most heavily subsidised of the 3 centres, would have to close unless the leisure budget could be made to balance.

Councillor Elias Mattu, cabinet member for leisure, said that the closure option was no longer on the table after he personally led the process to find a solution for Central Baths.

He added: "I said that I would leave no stone unturned to find a solution and avoid the closure of Central Baths and the report I will take for approval to Cabinet next week is that solution.

"The new management team running our leisure centres have engaged with Sport England and the Amateur Swimming Association as well as the campaigners fighting for Central Baths to look at new ideas and ways of working.

"What is very clear is that the leisure centres need to be run as businesses with a commercial focus. Leisure is a competitive industry and we have to offer a product and an environment that attracts people at the right price."

The professional advice received from Sport England and the Amateur Swimming Association confirms the council's belief that all 3 leisure centres have the potential to generate substantially more income than they do currently.

Cabinet will be asked to support the leisure centres becoming the leading provider of fitness in the area and marketing them as such.

The new approach will see the branding and marketing of the facilities strengthened and the customer put at the centre of decision making.

Staff will be trained to the highest standards and the facilities and equipment at the centres will be on par with those in the private sector.

Much of the plan is commercially confidential, but some of the key initiatives being introduced include:

  • improving the customer experience by de-cluttering and giving a new layout to the reception areas - for example removing the glass screens from the reception desks which are unwelcoming
  • providing 1 telephone number for all leisure centres that will be answered by the council's customer service team - ensuring all calls are answered
  • installing a new computerised management information and booking system to make it simple for customers to see what activities are on offer and become members, book and cancel appointments
  • offer swimming lessons for children for 50 weeks of the year rather than the current 39 - ensuring more Wolverhampton children have the chance to learn to swim and enjoy being in the water
  • offer different types of swimming and other fitness activities at specific times to attract people not currently using the centres
  • refurbish the changing and ancillary facilities at Central Baths - which could be part funded by Sport England
  • the catering kiosk at Central Baths will be refurbished and will open at weekends to serve refreshments during swimming galas and major events. A catering counter will be created Aldersley Leisure Village

Councillor Mattu said: "We have worked extremely hard to identify ways that by commercialising the operation at our leisure centres we can ensure they pay for themselves and don't require the level of subsidy they have needed in the past.

"We will need to make some initial investment and where possible we will look for external funding opportunities to assist with this. That investment will enable us to provide a leisure offer that attracts far more customers and retains those customers.

"I shall be recommending that this new approach is supported by my Cabinet colleagues next week."

  • released: Wednesday 19 March, 2014