Use of leisure centres across Cheshire East has reached record levels – at the same time as Cheshire East Council is trying to hive some off to the private sector to save money.
Writing in the annual report of Everybody Health and Leisure, chief executive Thomas Barton said that in its ninth year as a registered charity it was “fantastic” that Everybody, which manages leisure centres and provides other health services, had seen demand grow and reach new record levels of usage.
He said: “More and more people are recognising the importance of their own health and ensuring they utilise their leisure time in many different active ways.
“It is our job to identify and encourage all people to take part in sport or whatever activity may be best suited to them that helps them to improve their physical and / or mental health.”
Mr Barton thanked Cheshire East for its “continued commitment to invest in local residents’ health and leisure provision, especially at a challenging financial time for local government” and said the charity would continue to “work hard to ensure maximum social and financial value for residents and all local communities in the borough”.
On 1st November Cheshire East Council announced its intention to hold a public consultation on proposals to make savings in the leisure sector. The consultation ran until Sunday, with the aim of agreeing measures to save at least £479,000 on commissioned leisure services.
The council is responsible for paying the building maintenance and utilities costs (including gas, electricity, and water) of the leisure centres and subsidises leisure services through the payment of an annual management fee.
The council has said that because of the types of services they offer, leisure centres are some of the most expensive facilities to run and maintain, and costs continue to “rise drastically”.
The council is proposing removing funding for Holmes Chapel, Knutsford, Middlewich and Poynton leisure centres, leaving the sites either operated on a commercial basis, financed by alternative funding or being shut down. The council has said the sites have low membership and visitor numbers.
In its report, Everybody said its trustees had considered the potential financial impact of the change, a decision on which is not expected before February, and said they felt “very confident” about the future and had “full confidence” in the charity remaining as a going concern.
The company operates 17 locations throughout Cheshire East, as well as The Madeley Centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
By the end of March, Everybody usage had recovered to above pre-pandemic levels with its fitness membership levels breaking the 20,000 barrier for the first time and its Learn to Swim Scheme “bigger than ever” with almost 10,000 children actively learning to swim at any given time.
The annual report showed that Everybody had a net operating surplus of £110,469, although it owed HMRC £116,000 as it discovered “a higher liability in respect of VAT than previously disclosed”.
Its overall income was just under £21m, which included just over £4m in respect of donations for the use of the leisure centres that remained under the ownership of Cheshire East and Holmes Chapel Parish Council.
In addition, £3.5m was received in grants and contracts, of which £2.7m was income received from Cheshire East. In addition, £247,021 was received to deliver Bikeability cycle training to 7,883 children and £152,785 was received from health partners to deliver a variety of programmes targeted at improving the lives of those with long-term health conditions.
Income of just over £12m was received during the year from customers using leisure centres, with £803,396 in trading income from social areas. Investment income in year was £42,587.
The company spent just over £21m, leaving it with a net unrestricted expenditure of £347,658. This included a notional pension service cost, which when removed left the £110,469 surplus.
In its consultation, Cheshire East said the costs to the council of Everybody was £2.88m in 2019/20 rising to £3.72m for 2022/23. In the current financial year these costs were forecast to grow to £4.23m.
The annual report said that over the past 12 months, 2,120 referrals had been received by the Everybody Healthy Service, a 119% increase from the previous year, with 15,442 people attending a health exercise class.
Said the report: “Partnership working remains central to the success of our work. We have worked with healthcare colleagues in utilising our facilities with the co-location of NHS services, integrating people into the centres as both patients and users.
“We have successfully co-located pulmonary rehabilitation and phase III cardiac rehabilitation services into some of our facilities.
“Bringing patients into our facilities has created a joined-up approach between healthcare services and physical activity, leading to improved access, provision, and wellbeing.”
Everybody has developed and launched its own musculoskeletal exercise rehabilitation service, working collaboratively with Central Cheshire Integrated Care Partnership physiotherapy service.
It offers accessible and affordable personalised exercise and education, consisting of land-based and water rehabilitation therapy helping to maintain mobility, physical function and reduce pain.
It also delivers a long covid exercise rehabilitation programme.
Over the past 12 months it has received 102 referrals to its rehab exercise programme, with 97% going from inactive to active, and 47% achieving 150 minutes of exercise weekly, as well as a 77% reduction in fatigue levels and 71% improvement in quality of life.
Everybody also offers services including Everybody Learn to Swim; Everybody Healthy, a range of health and wellbeing programmes; Sport for Everybody, which includes a talented athlete support scheme, a volunteer programme and Bikeability; Everybody Academy, which offers specialist leisure training including volunteering, apprenticeships and work placements, and the Everybody Foundation, a charity that raises funds to support individuals and groups to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.
Investment included the £10m refurbishment of Congleton Leisure Centre, with two new swimming pools, a thermal suite, new gym with state-of-the art fitness equipment. Taste for Life cafe area and a soft play area.
In October 2022, a redecoration and upgrade to the fitness suite at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre was completed, while a full gym refurbishment was completed in Holmes Chapel Community Centre, which benefited from an upgraded fitness suite, which includes enhanced cardio, resistance, free-weights and functional areas with new additions to the gym such as stair climbers and adductor resistance machines.
Sites including Sandbach received “extensive” functional equipment, ranging from the “ever-popular” tyres to kettlebells, sandbags and Bulgarian bags.
Other headline data included:
• Bikeability: 7,883 children completed a Bikeability course during the year, which included 507 children with special education needs;
• High attendance numbers for both walking football and walking netball sessions with a combined total of 5,616;
• The Everybody Foundation donated more than £2,700 of toys to small local charities that work with vulnerable families across Cheshire East as part of a Christmas toy appeal.
The report also mentioned the “devastating news” that star HR apprentice and model employee Mia Jennings died aged just 19 in January 2023.
Said the report: “This shook our charity to its core, leaving many staff and hundreds of customers (many of whom she had taught to swim in Macclesfield) heartbroken.
“Mia herself had been a finalist in two different business awards as an outstanding apprentice in 2022, having made an immeasurable contribution for us. The tributes to this amazing young lady poured in and we have committed to work with her wonderful family to ensure a lasting legacy, starting with a commitment to CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) creating greater awareness and ensuring screenings for young local people aged 14-35.
Some £24,000 has been allocated to assess staff and educate them about CRY.
The trust paid out £9.5m in salaries and employs 733 people, 599 in leisure facilities, 52 catering and 82 in support services.