Our Leisure Centres are at risk of deteriorating. Is the price of a few pounds per hour, the London living wage, worth paying to save them?
Our new mayor and councillors’ take over at a very unsettled time for Newham leisure services, for example – Balaam leisure centre is currently closed and has been since early January. Atherton swimming pool closes for thirty minutes after every ninety-minute session. And there are significant issues with staff retention in all Newham leisure centres: Atherton requires six fulltime lifeguards, Balaam four and Prince Regent Lane eight. Currently all three have no contracted lifeguards. As a result, more adult-only swim sessions are offered as opposed to general family swim sessions, because only one lifeguard is required for adult sessions.
The stop-start swimming timetable at Atherton has resulted in a drop, in use: pool sheets show that only seven swimmers per thirty minutes use the pool. The last quarterly uptake of new membership was down by thirty percent. Quite often there are additional closures throughout the day as the centre is increasingly used for private hire, a funding source that is deemed necessary by activeNewham.
Staff retention is low, because lifeguards do not receive the London living wage. A young fulltime lifeguard – a single parent living in the area, who loved her job, couldn’t afford to stay because of the £7.85 per hour wage. Sadly, she left at the end of January. Other staff decline contracts because they want to keep their options open. Many move onto other leisure centres like ‘Better’ who do pay the LLW.
The LLW is currently set at £10.55 per hour. Hopefully this is something the new mayor, several excellent councillors or trade unions will address (unfortunately most staff are not in a union). If parks are the lungs of London, then leisure centres are its immune system. Their provision throughout history has provided countless examples of community building, well-being and enjoyment. And importantly, an investment that saves money in the long-term.