Another big milestone for SpArC
The Council dropped a bombshell at a packed-out public meeting in Bishop’s Castle on Thursday 12 June. Mark Barrow, Executive Director of Place for Shropshire Council along with other senior council officers outlined the Council’s plans for the future of the SpArC centre:
- The current operator has been served notice as from 31 March 2020.
- The Centre will revert to being operated by Shropshire Council which already directly operates leisure centres at Much Wenlock, Idsall and Roman Road in Shrewsbury.
- The jobs of all the staff at SpArC are guaranteed
- The Council see SpArC as having the potential for significant development as a vibrant Centre supporting communities across SW Shropshire.
There were no further details, especially no financial plan, so much is still unknown. It is hoped that the business plan created by the SpArC charity will be of use in the undoubtedly complex process which will follow. However there was a most positive vibe throughout the meeting which bodes well for the future and the involvement of the local community in developing the centre.
The audience had the opportunity to ask questions of both Shropshire Council and the SpArC Trustees and did so with enthusiasm.
There was overwhelming support for the Theatre and the positive impact it has on the community with much praise for the accessible film screening held monthly.
We (the Council and the Charity) would really like to hear your views on how the Centre could develop in the future. A short questionnaire is available in the library, Town Hall and Enterprise House for returning by 24.6.19.
Please will you do this and share with any other clubs or groups that you know.
The Save the SpArC campaign began in 2016 in response to fears that our precious Leisure Centre might close, after the Council announced it would withdraw funding for leisure services across the county. Following a furious outcry, Bishops Castle and district residents persuaded them to change their mind and designate SpArC as one of only two ‘Rural Hubs’ in the whole county to escape the axe.
It took almost a year to form a registered charity – Sport and Arts in the Community (SpArC) South West Shropshire (Reg.no. 1170997), which, if not the snappiest name in the world, is now up and running and has raised £150,000 to date, with the enthusiastic efforts of trustees, volunteers and residents from the whole district. (for details of trustees, fundraisers etc, see Who’s Who page)
Discussions continue with Shropshire Council as to how SpArC may operate in the future. In the meantime, it has confirmed its £80k annual subsidy up to 2020 – a major triumph for all of us, although the future is by no means certain.
In 2018 Shropshire Council allocated £100,000 for urgently needed repairs to the changing rooms and other parts of the pool building. A new pool dehumidifier has already been installed, which is working well. All remaining works happened after Christmas.
SpArC CAMPAIGN OVERVIEW – February 2019
- What have we done? Our Communities have come a very long way since April 2015 when Shropshire Council (SC) announced that all subsidies to the Leisure Sector would be withdrawn by April 2017:
- The SpArC Charity was established in January 2017.
- It has raised a total of £150k including donations from business and private donors, local councils, community funds and fund-raising activities.
- Trustees drew up a sustainable Business Plan for the Centre based on opportunities identified in the report which we and SC commissioned from Energize, a local Sport & Leisure consultancy
- SpArC was awarded Tier 1 Leisure Hub status by SC in July 2017
- A soft market test in March 2018 confirmed sufficient interest from contractors to justify a full tender process for the management of SpArC.
- Work commenced on the full tender in July 2018 with three trustees working closely with SC. It was halted in September.
- What do we want?
We want to put in place a strategy to maintain and develop SpArC – in five areas – for the benefit of all members of the communities it serves, in a cost-effective manner.
- How far have we got?
Activity has been inevitably curtailed by delay, but progress includes:
- Leisure and Sport SpArC staff themselves have maximized access to classes, insofar as this was within their power. We persuaded Teme to hire modern spinning bikes, and SC to install a new pool dehumidifier and refurbish the changing rooms.
- Theatre and Arts We have a very successful Theatre & Arts facility. Our current wish is to support its financing by promoting Theatre Friends.
- Health and welfare SpArC staff have substantially increased GP referrals. This has led to a need for more gym space, equipment and low-impact classes – which is currently blocked.
- Education 60 young people have gained qualifications which made possible school holiday activities in both leisure and arts. They have also prevented pool closures through lack of staff. The pool currently provides swimming sessions to some 950 local school pupils.
- Community Liaison Although current operators have distanced themselves from the community, sufficient other providers are interested in tendering to run the Centre in partnership on a “not-for-profit” basis.
- What happens next?
Sparc is a gem which we have managed to save from closure; we must now develop its full potential for the benefit of our community.
- We have at last been informed of a plan to allow the tender process to re-commence.
We need to replace income from fund-raising with more regular committed sources of income, which include:
- a local council funding initiative
- the launch of a 500-membership monthly lottery
- an appeal to targeted private donors
These will help to fill the gap left by subsidy reductions which are likely to be phased in over the first five years of the new contract.
Finally, we will invest in match-funding grants to finance cost saving initiatives including renewable energy.