Concerns have been expressed by users of recreation centers as to when – or if – things will “get back to normal”.
GLL, the provider that runs the Better Centers in Cornwall, had to close facilities during coronavirus shutdowns and faced a huge financial shortfall when reopening. The centers have been reopened with restrictions and changes that GLL says are in line with government and industry guidelines.
In 2020, GLL and Cornwall Council both made requests for financial support from the central government; the local authority provided a Â£ 6million relief plan in the fall of 2020.
Cornwall service chief James Curry said staff costs across the county had to be cut by 35% to mitigate losses caused by long periods of forced shutdowns.
There had been “a few layoffs,” he said, and other staff had left and had not been replaced.
In Liskeard, Better member David Humphreys has been visiting for twenty years.
In addition to using the facilities in his leisure time, he also accompanies people with intellectual disabilities whom he supports in his work.
David described some of the frustrations he and other users have experienced, including: not being able to phone and talk to someone at the center but having to go through a general automated menu; issues in the app that customers must use to make reservations and the app is not accessible to everyone; some activities that cannot be booked through the app; and reduced opening hours and session availability.
Similar concerns have been expressed by customers of Saltash.
âIt amazes me that this is a recreation center and that it closes at 3 pm on a Saturday and Sunday,â David said.
“The inflatable equipment and the canal have been broken for ages, the health room is closed, and when will the cafe open?”
âI love all the people who work there, they’re great, and it’s not because of them. I think we have to fight for this.
Meanwhile, Caradon Swimming Club chairman Clive Shute said his club had struggled to cope with a sharp increase in the price of lane rentals at centers in Liskeard and Saltash, and had lost members. Consequently.
The Caradon Swimming Club has gone from five sessions a week at Liskeard and Saltash to just a few times a week at Lux Park.
On the other hand, the club have recruited a few new swimmers, he said, among those worried about a reduction in lessons offered by Better: the centers have gone from a range of ability levels. over several days at three broad levels taught on one day of the week.
While Clive acknowledged that “local managers were working under very difficult circumstances,” he said the facilities themselves needed investment.
Liskeard Mayor Simon Cassidy said: âWhile the pandemic has disrupted the leisure and fitness industry, it has also underscored the importance of our health and well-being.
âOur recreation center is a vital service and as we step out of the restrictions, I hope it can open as quickly and safely as possible to meet the needs of our community.â
GLL said the pandemic had hit the entertainment industry hard and as a non-profit social enterprise it “needed to slowly rebuild itself after a very difficult 18 months.”
In a statement to the Cornish Times, department head James Curry said none of the changes to services at the centers were due to staffing or layoffs, but were part of adapting to Covid restrictions.
âAll of the centre’s opening hours were adjusted when we reopened to reflect Covid’s safe modes of operation and likely customer demand. Attendance is constantly monitored and as the number of clients increases so does the number of ongoing programs, âhe said.
âThe new swimming school model assumes that we can provide the full range of swimming lessons at the same time on the same day every week. It turns out to be really effective and means clients don’t have to change the days and times as their child progresses through the levels. This is a huge improvement.
âAll activities can be booked through the app and paid for in advance. We understand that there are challenges for customers with disabilities and we are working hard to resolve them. ”
While the Liskeard Canal had been repaired, he said, the health department had to shut down due to the pandemic.
The cafes of the two centers “will open when it is financially viable to do so,” he added.
GLL says more staff will be recruited as business improves.
We will be posting more updates on this in the next edition of this week’s journal – as we will speak with more users of the Liskeard center, advisers from Cornwall representing the people who use the facilities and the center manager. Saltash, for their opinion on the situation.