Meopham Leisure Center near Gravesend is set to suffer more than £20,000 in losses over the next six months

Losses at a community recreation center set to close permanently are expected to number in the tens of thousands.

The lease at Meopham Leisure Center near Gravesend comes to an end on Friday July 29 and managers have warned its extension is unlikely.

School children joined the protests and held up placards and posters at the Meopham Leisure Centre. Photo: Anna Roberts

It will close permanently on this date in the absence of a “last minute solution”, they warn.

Until the last minute, supporters were trying to raise £30,000 to keep the center open for another six months to give those involved a break and a chance to strike a deal that works for all parties.

A donation page was set up and Serco Leisure facility operators donated fundraisers until Friday to collect the full sum, but the goal was not met in time.

The facility is based at Meopham Secondary School and operated by The Swale Academies Trust (SAT) with day-to-day management handled by the Meopham Sport and Leisure Association (MSLA).

Yesterday the administrators issued an update to confirm the planned closure later this month and said they were “humbled” by the support.

Meopham Leisure Center could close by the end of the month if an agreement cannot be reached.  Photo: Anna Roberts
Meopham Leisure Center could close by the end of the month if an agreement cannot be reached. Photo: Anna Roberts

He added that he hoped key parts of the community would “step up” to protect the center as a joint-use facility between the school and the community, but said he was unable to. himself guarantee the financial viability of the center in the future. .

In another update today, he provided further insight into the centre’s difficult financial situation.

A statement read: “Last year Serco Leisure, our operators indicated their intention not to extend the contract given the financial losses the business had suffered since the lockdown – essentially the business is operating at a loss in due to member cancellation during Covid.

“While the business has recovered well, it is still not break even and estimated losses are between £20-30,000 over the next six months.”

MSLA had another operator lined up, but says the uncertainty surrounding the lease put an end to that opportunity.

It is understood that the government advises the Trust to charge the full commercial rate rather than the current pepper rate.

But the MSLA concluded that the risk of commercial rent being applied meant that even in the “best financial climate” it would have been impossible to break even.

Meopham Leisure Centre.  Image: Matthew Reading
Meopham Leisure Centre. Image: Matthew Reading

“Although community use and membership subscription largely subsidize the company’s costs, it cannot sustain an increase of about 434% in rental fees,” he added.

“This is what the Trust hoped to pursue further with SAT, but with such tight margins any kind of impact would be nearly impossible to sustain in a sustainable business model.”

As a result and given the loss of the new operator, Serco was prepared to continue operations provided that business losses were covered, he added.

He continued: “The idea was to give the Trust more time to negotiate the details of a longer term lease.

“Neither MSLA nor Serco wanted to see the center close or lay off staff.

“For Serco to continue with the operation, it is necessary for the local authority to act as a guarantor, even if the funds come from elsewhere, as this negates the risk of any unforeseen eventualities.”

But the association says the support has “unfortunately not been received”.

He concluded there was “simply too much uncertainty”, but administrators cling to some hope that there might be a last minute solution which he says he will continue to explore.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the leisure center last week to protest its closure.

Gym-goers and mental health campaigners say its closure would deprive the local community of a vital asset and negatively impact residents’ well-being.

The SAT says it is engaged in “extended discussions” but its priority is the education of children and not the subsidization of third-party organisations.

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