THE managers of Better’s leisure centres in South East Cornwall have reassured local people that normal service is being resumed as soon as possible – and as soon as demand increases.
The Cornish Times went to Liskeard Leisure Centre early last week: as restrictions were being lifted, so too were the one-way systems taped out in yellow in the foyer. We spoke briefly to Brett Price, manager of the Liskeard centre, and to Ben Wilkinson, manager in Saltash. Both were clear that an increase in visitors is needed, to ensure that services can be expanded.
“COVID has obviously given us a massive blow, and today’s the start of getting back to normal,” said Brett.
“The gym equipment is going back to its pre-COVID home, and the sports hall will be freed up for traditional indoor sports and for hire, which people have been calling for.
“Today’s the next stage of reopening and I’d like to encourage people that haven’t been back yet to please do so.”
Local people have been worried about the availability of public swimming. Liskeard resident Naomi Taylor said: “The pool has now reopened to the public but it is only for 50 minutes daily due to block school bookings. If you aren’t free during the period 12-12.50 then tough! This is a really difficult limitation to place on people.”
But Saltash manager Ben Wilkinson said that now that the Better swim school was running on just one day, it had freed up other
after-school times for public swimming sessions.
And he was proud to say that, over the past 10 weeks, hundreds of pupils from eight local schools had taken part in swimming lessons during school time, catching up on the curriculum requirement.
The centre was currently opening until 3.30pm at weekends, he said, but the flexibility was there, thanks to the app, to extend opening hours at short notice should there, for example, be a big demand for the pool.
He said that the flexibility was also there amongst staff to do this and that “everyone was on the same page – we all want leisure back in our lives”.
“The app means that managers can see at a glance what bookings there are and it also means that we can communicate changes rapidly with our customers, so it’s not like having the printed paper timetable that you used to pin to your fridge,” he said.
Summer is traditionally a time when demand for the pool falls, but the learner pool was already opening more, he added, and come September “we will adjust our programmes further”.
People without smartphones or access to the internet could “absolutely” come into the centre to make bookings, said Ben, and staff were helping customers, particularly the more senior, to book their next visit while in the centre.
Turning to worries about the ‘tired state’ of the changing facilities and the café being shut, he said that the changing rooms had been built in 1996, and that the arrival of the pandemic had scuppered plans that had been in the pipeline to upgrade.
Managers at the centres could make a business case to GLL senior management for improvements, he said: in the meantime, Saltash staff had themselves repainted in the changing area, and the lighting in the toilets was being changed to give things a lift.
“We had to concentrate on our core operation, which is the gym and class memberships,” he said, “these are our biggest source of income.
“To do that we had to move some of the gym equipment into the café space. I can’t give you a time – all aspects of the business have to be operationally and financially viable, but as things return to normal, we’ll be looking to open it again, even if it is a reduced service.”
Ben stressed that returning customers have said they feel safe at the centre.
“We’ll hopefully keep extending back to where we were before March 2020 if bookings stay strong,” he said.