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GLL gets new rent support deal from Islington council

Managers of Sobell Centre call for government rescue package

21 September, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

LEISURE centre operators have warned of “changes to staffing requirements” as another financial support package is set to be agreed with the Town Hall.

The council rubber-stamped further measures to help Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) which runs all of the council’s gyms and sports facilities – including the Sobell Centre and the Cally Pool – to survive the coronavirus crisis at a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday.

Documents from the meeting note that the number of people returning to centres has been “somewhat slower than anticipated”. Officials believe the summer holidays and “very good weather” is to blame, as former users are choosing parks and other outdoor spaces to exercise instead.

The document added: “The whole leisure and hospitality sector, with the forthcoming end of the furlough scheme and the restrictions remaining in place limiting capacity, faces some difficult decisions going forwards.

“It is likely that there will be staffing restructures going forwards to re-balance the business to ensure sustainability with the reduced operating capacity.”

The council agreed “urgent” measures in May which deferred £1.2million of rent owed by GLL, also known to customers as Better, to the Town Hall. The new proposals will see rent postponement extended until March 2021.

A GLL spokesman said: “Throughout lockdown GLL – a not-for-profit social enterprise – has done everything possible to support our colleagues. But significantly reduced incomes and the end of the furlough scheme present financial challenges for public leisure services across the country going forward.

“If there are changes to staffing requirements in Islington these will stem from the need to keep the operation viable while observing customer capacity restrictions mandated by government.”

He added: “We continue to lobby government for a £1bn rescue package for the UK leisure sector similar to that afforded to the arts and hospitality sectors.” The council has nine years left on its 15-year deal with GLL. The contract directs GLL to manage and deliver services from the borough’s seven leisure Centres and the Market Road pitches and to deliver “sports development”.

Gyms and leisure centres were given the green-light to reopen on July 25 by the government.

Five of the centres in Islignton re-opened that day but with limited facilities.

Council leader Labour councillor Richard Watts said: “Along with every other council in the country, we have stepped in to support our leisure provider. If they went under it would be years before we could have services back to what we are used to.”

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