Freedom Leisure wants to collaborate with swimming clubs at Applemore, Lymington and Totton leisure centres after initially telling them they had to leave sites
The operator of New Forest leisure centres which was set to kick community swimming clubs from its sites has said it now wants to collaborate with them.
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 to leave their respective centres after Freedom Leisure said the lessons were competition for its swim academies.
However, Freedom Leisure has said in a statement it had taken time “to reflect on our initial decision” and as a result, planned to “further engage” with the clubs.
It continued: “We will be reaching out directly again to the clubs and inviting them to meet with us at a time to suit them.
“The original implementation date of 1st January 2024 will no longer be in place while those discussions take place.”
It added: “As an organisation that has an award-winning track record of operating a learn to swim programme across England and Wales to adults, children and those with special educational needs, we have heard the swimming clubs’ concerns, and those of the wider public, and we feel that there is now a requirement for further discussions and to move this forward in a collaborative manner.”
But representatives from two of the swimming clubs involved said they were cautious of the offer.
Graham Clements, chair of Applemore and Waterside Swimming Club, which has been teaching youngsters at Applemore Leisure Centre for 40 years, said: “We welcome this [decision] from Freedom Leisure but with reservations.
“I would like to thank all of our supporters and parents, [but] I am very disappointed with the lack of response from New Forest District Council’s senior management – it’s clear they don’t care about the community they serve.”
He added: “We look forward to sitting down with Freedom Leisure, but I note they still are looking at ways to move our swimmers to the academy.
“Our campaign will continue until we can secure a permanent fixture in our respective homes.”
Romsey and Totton Swimming Club (RATS), which has been running for 33 years, teaches more than 60 children from stages one to seven at the Totton centre.
Head coach Steve Harrison, a former professional swimmer and Commonwealth Games medallist, said: “Whilst we cautiously welcome the fact that Freedom Leisure are reconsidering their position, it is only a very small step to resolution.
“We hope that Freedom Leisure are serious about a negotiated settlement and that is not just a ploy used to deflect the heat of public opinion.
“We wish to maintain our current learn to swim programme as it stands – this time slot has always been honoured by NFDC, until the takeover by Freedom Leisure.”
He also raised concerns over “an implied threat of contract termination”, issued by Freedom Leisure's area manager Peter Cheeseman in an email to the club.
He added: “This email stated that Freedom Leisure could cancel any and all bookings with 30 days’ notice.
“All we are asking is that we be permitted to continue with our learn to swim programme [after 31st December], with a guarantee that we can maintain all of our future bookings.”
Also affected by the changes is Lymington Swimming Club, which meets at the town’s health and leisure centre on Saturday evenings.
Run by volunteers, the group was founded in 1891 after a child drowned in Lymington River. It offers low cost lessons and bursaries to those who cannot afford to pay.
The A&T understands the group is in discussions with Freedom Leisure and did not want to comment when approached.