United against the city council

A demonstration outside Stocksbridge Leisure Centre against proposals to close it.
A demonstration outside Stocksbridge Leisure Centre against proposals to close it.
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The Blitz spirit is back in Stocksbridge, as the community unites to defend its leisure facilities, The Star’s Rachael Clegg reports.

YOU can have trampolining lessons, child support, a game of tennis or even seek the help you need to prevent being evicted - and all within a half-mile radius of Stocksbridge Town Hall.

But, sadly, perhaps not for much longer.

Council cuts to subsidies and a lack of funding from national organisations mean Stocksbridge Advice Centre, Stocksbridge Children’s Centre and Stocksbridge Leisure Centre are all under threat, bringing a massive blow to the town’s leisure facilities.

Fay Howard, a member of the charitable trust which has been set up to defend the leisure centre, says: “We feel very aggrieved by this. If the leisure centre goes then people in Stocksbridge will have to drive 11 miles into town to go to Ponds Forge, which is a huge disadvantage if you are having to use public transport.”

It’s not just Fay who feels the council’s decision to pull its £400,000 subsidy to Stocksbridge Leisure Centre is wrong.

More than 1,000 people from Stocksbridge turned up outside the leisure centre in protest when news of the possible closure was first announced in January.

“We also had a public meeting and there were more than 500 people at that too,” said Fay. “People couldn’t fit in the room.”

It was at these meetings that the focus group 4SLC was formed, of which Fay is a member.

“We’ve only been going six weeks and we have a business team, a legal team and a communications team,” she said. “We are well-organised and have set ourselves up as a registered trust so we can raise money legitimately.”

Stocksbridge Children’s Centre and Stocksbridge Advice Centre are also at risk.

Paul Wright, who has managed the Advice Centre since last year, said: “We feel we are an essential part of the Stocksbridge community because we help people feel they can cope with problems such as debt and benefit claims. Hopefully not many people will face these problems but that’s life, people can lose their jobs or become disabled.”

Many of the people the Advice Centre helps are elderly.

“We help a lot of elderly people and we are a first point of contact for them, particularly if they are a carer for an elderly spouse. We had a lady in recently whose husband had Alzheimer’s and we were able to help her,” said Paul.

For the younger people of Stocksbridge, it’s the cuts to leisure facilities that come with the biggest blow - a blow that preceded the announcement the council is also cutting its Don Valley subsidy.

Councillors approved the proposals to remove its subsidies of £700,000 a year to Don Valley Stadium, and £400,000 to Stocksbridge Leisure Centre, although an extension has been given until the end of April for the Stocksbridge community to progress any alternative proposals.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, said the council was facing the most challenging times.

“I believe this is the hardest budget this council has had to set in its history,” he said.

“We have aimed as far as possible to protect services for the most vulnerable and the work we do to help people get into jobs and support our economy and our city to move forward.

“However, we cannot stand still, the money is not there and people will see changes to council services, not just in Sheffield but across the country.

“We have had to make very difficult decisions and ones that we did not come into local politics to make, but the hard cold facts are that we have had to balance a budget and find ways of saving money that will mean less pain for as many people as possible.

“The council has had to look across everything we do and focus our reducing budgets on the things that make the biggest difference.”

But the Stocksbridge community are determined to fight for their facilities, as Fay explains.

“We are angry about this and it leaves you with a bitter taste but that makes us all the more determined.”

The focus group’s actions include writing to all 84 councillors at Sheffield Council, as well as to Sebastian Coe, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Milliband.

“We had a standard reply from Nick Clegg which was followed by an encouraging email, and a standard reply from Seb Coe,” said Fay. “Of the 84 councillors only seven replied. We’re angry at the apathy as much as anything.”

But even Fay, a Stocksbridge resident of 47 years, is touched by the community spirit.

“I’ve got to know every person on the committee and we are a really good and effective team,” she said.

“The council underestimates the variety of people that use our leisure centre. Bowlers come from all over Sheffield and Barnsley to use the facilities - the people who use it come from all walks of life.

“The threat of the leisure centre closing has actually given us back a community spirit we haven’t had in years - we are united against Sheffield Council.”