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New Forest District Council to discuss paying Freedom Leisure £348,000 bailout as it continues to be hit by rising energy bills





The operator of New Forest leisure centres is set to be handed £348,000 in council cash – its second lot of bailout funds.

Freedom Leisure took control of the sites at Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood, Totton and Applemore in 2021 in a controversial decision made by New Forest District Council.

Last year the council stumped up £270,000 to the firm as it struggled to keep afloat due to a slower-than-anticipated post-Covid recovery, as well as spiralling energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis.

Totton Health and Leisure Centre has had a revamp in the gym
Totton Health and Leisure Centre has had a revamp in the gym

This was in addition to a management fee of £1.23m.

The announcement of the most recent bailout comes as Freedom Leisure announced a £500,000 revamp of the gyms at three of the five sites.

NFDC is set to debate the latest round of financial help, which it is obliged to do under the terms of its contract with the operator, at a meeting next Wednesday. The money would be covered by existing budgets.

Commenting on the proposal, Cllr Dan Poole, cabinet member for community, safety and wellbeing, said: “The extraordinary increase in utility costs nationally, which could not have been foreseen, has had a particular adverse effect on the leisure industry.

“By agreeing to help with a share of the additional costs, we can ensure the continuing provision of leisure facilities for our residents.”

He added: “It is important to note that if we had not started our partnership with Freedom Leisure, the council would be facing 100% of the burden of these unforeseen additional costs.

“Freedom Leisure has already made changes to address the cost of energy they are facing, including the reduction of pool temperatures, the temporary closure of sauna and steam facilities, and fees and charges adjustments.

“Despite these mitigations, and a successful grant from Sport England to support the utility overspend, there remains a gap between the budgeted position and the actual spend.”

Speaking against the idea was Lib Dem district councillor Jack Davies, who said: “The proposal to provide another wheelbarrow of taxpayers’ cash to Freedom Leisure is a slap in the face of local people.”

Meanwhile, Freedom Leisure has announced the opening of refurbished gym facilities at Applemore, New Milton and Totton.

Representatives of Freedom Leisure and New Forest District Council, including Cllr Dan Poole (fourth from left) at the opening of the new gym at Applemore
Representatives of Freedom Leisure and New Forest District Council, including Cllr Dan Poole (fourth from left) at the opening of the new gym at Applemore

The £500,000 investment includes the introduction of a hammer strength box at Applemore, which is thought to be the first in the UK.

The hammer strength box brings together premium training equipment and will be used to host small group training classes in the gym, as well as an opportunity for personal training.

Some of the new equipment at Applemore
Some of the new equipment at Applemore

The gym makeovers follow other recent improvements across the centres, including the addition of a new café and soft-play facility at Applemore.

At Ringwood leisure centre the existing soft-play has also been improved.

On the gym improvements, area manager Peter Cheeseman, said: “This project has been funded by Freedom Leisure, which is another example of us reinvesting in the facilities and providing the products and services our customers deserve.

“It also demonstrates our joint vision with New Forest District Council to improve the lives of the people of New Forest through leisure.

“The changes will be a huge improvement to the customer experience and brings the gyms right up-to-date, not just from an equipment perspective, but also through tailored classes offered in the gym.”

Freedom Leisure says it has also increased the number of gym instructors.

The organisation recently announced its plans to stop allowing local swimming clubs to hold lessons at its Applemore, Totton and Lymington pools, but later made a U-turn following a public backlash.

As reported in the A&T, Applemore and Waterside Swimming Club, Lymington Swimming Club, and Romsey and Totton Swimming Club were given three months’ notice in September to leave their respective centres after Freedom Leisure said the lessons they ran were competition for its swim academies.

The U-turn was too late for Lymington Swimming Club, which will fold in December after being run for more than 130 years.

However, after discussions with Freedom Leisure, Applemore and Waterside Swimming Club confirmed it will face no changes.

The A&T has approached Romsey and Totton Swimming Club for comment.



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