Wolverhampton's Central Baths have been saved from the threat of closure after Cabinet councillors last night (26 March) approved a plan to turnaround the fortunes of the facility.

Type=image;ImageID=3684;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=Councillor Elias Mattu celebrating alongside happy campaigners;TitleClass=strong;

Type=image;ImageID=3685;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=Lesley Hill, Ian Silvera, Cllr Elias Mattu with campaigners;TitleClass=strong;

Type=image;ImageID=3686;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=Megan Bond, Matthew Holland, Carol Bailey celebrating;TitleClass=strong;

Type=image;ImageID=3687;ImageClass=left;ImageTitle=Malkit Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Cllr Elias Mattu;TitleClass=strong;

The Cabinet agreed that running Central Baths and the council's 2 other leisure centres with a more commercial focus was 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 he was delighted that closure was no longer being considered after previously pledging to campaigners that he would leave "no stone unturned" to try and find a way to keep the popular facility open.

He added: "The baths are here to stay. Closure was the last thing anyone wanted. I made a pledge that I would do everything in my power to find a solution and I'm absolutely thrilled that the baths will remain open.

"We have a new management team in place running our leisure centres and we've worked 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.

"We will run our leisure centres commercially -  putting the customer first and giving them a product that they want at the right price."

Carol Bailey, a Central Baths regular who has led the campaign to save the facility from closure, said today: "This is marvelous news, I'm delighted that the council has listened to petitioners' concerns. If they continue to listen in this way, the city's sports provision will go from strength to strength. There is so much enthusiasm, talent and expertise among Central Baths customers, leisure staff and the council's amazing delivery team - and across our city as a whole."

Lesley Hill, Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) divisional business manager for the Central Region said: "The ASA is delighted with the announcement to keep Central Baths open. We are pleased to see the combined effort and partnership work to develop this new commercial approach in running Central Baths has led to this positive outcome and a bright future for the leisure centre.

"We will continue to work with and support the city council and leisure management teams to get more people of all ages participating in swimming on a regular basis."

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 agreed 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
  • released: Thursday 26 March, 2014