Rossendale Free Press
Trust launches rescue bid for debt-hit gym
Bailiffs moved in to take equipment
ABID has been launched to rescue Bacup’s Pioneer Community Health Studio, after its doors closed suddenly last month.
Rossendale Leisure Trust is seeking to take over the gym, which saw bailiffs called in to seize equipment in the week before Christmas.
The trust, appointed as managing agent in 2019, announced it had ended its partnership with the Park Road gym’s owners on December 15, after a creditor brought legal action to recover a historic debt.
Bosses said their team had reached an agreement to purchase the assets of the business and secure the long-term future of the gym, only for the owners to opt not to progress with the sale.
However, chief executive Ken Masser told the Free Press they are looking to revive that deal, provided the equipment can be returned from bailiffs and the building lease can be transferred to them.
THE borough’s leisure chief believes a “holistic” approach is aiding pandemic resilience, after revealing their Covid losses could be less than a third of those first feared.
Rossendale Leisure Trust (RLT) chief executive Ken Masser has outlined his vision of helping to build happier and healthier communities across all Valley towns, while seeking opportunities to take the Trust’s portfolio into “the next generation”.
Last March, it was reported that RLT’s Covid losses were likely to reach about £1 million, however the two-year estimate has now been drastically revised down to a maximum of £310,000.
It follows a gradual restructuring of the organisation over recent months, including key portfolio additions in Rawtenstall and Whitworth.
In March’s leisure shakeup, Rossendale council allocated £100,000 in revenue funding plus a twoyear lease payment holiday to the Trust, which in turn took on CLAW (Community Leisure Association Whitworth) leases on Whitworth Pool and The Ashcroft (formerly Riverside). RLT also merged with the Community Interest Company running the Whitaker museum.
Mr Masser said a £60,000 loss for 2020/1 would be followed by a loss for this financial year of up to an
estimated £250,000, aided by “incredibly” good results for Ski Rossendale - The Hill, which he attributes to operational improvements and better marketing.
“We feel like the performance is going really well,” he said. “Membership sales have been really strong, slightly ahead of most Januarys. Given all the years of difficulty of the ski slope I think we have done a really good job there. I think it will make a profit for the first time since it reopened [after being shut and put out for tender] ten years ago. Our Saturday morning ‘Kids Club’ had 60 to 70 kids preCovid; and there are now 120 to 130 attending, so we’ve doubled the footfall.
“There’s a possibility that
without the leisure trust’s support Whitworth Pool would have closed during the pandemic. We are 100 per cent committed to making that site work and reinvesting in the site. We are investing in both the pool and the fitness side to put it on an equal standing to Marl Pits and the Adrenaline Centre.”
Mr Masser said closer collaboration was put on the table as a route to ensure long-term survival in the face of lockdowns and restrictions, adding that the new additions had broadened the Trust’s reach further away from the archetypal sports centre model.
“There were five or six years that we have had no financial subsidy or grant funding from the council,” he said. “We took zero taxpayers’ money pre-Covid and were actually paying a rental fee to the council. The council had a rental revenue coming to them which across the north of England, is pretty unique.
“When Covid hit, all organisations had difficult challenges in different ways. CLAW, the Whitaker and the ski slope all approached us asking would we be open to a closer working relationship.
“We agreed to form a corporate group. On paper it’s three organisations in a single group, but in practice we are operating as a team.
“Traditionally it would be sports and exercise, but with the addition of the
Whitaker and Ashcroft there’s very much a focus on cultural and mental health, and trying to build an offer that can cater to everyone. A holistic approach.”
The chief executive also highlighted “pretty extensive” community projects the Trust has led on over the past year, including free holiday activities and food for youngers, GP referral and health support. The Rossendale Connected partnership has also resulted in fitness initiatives such as Together We Move and the Big Winter Walk, while Mr Masser was bullish over the arrival of new competition through Rawtenstall’s new gym Thrive, due to open this week,
“We are not seeing a big impact of Thrive, and we recognise it will be a new space,” he said. “We are really confident in our offer to local people. It’s a really broad offer in terms of multiple sites, with the addition of swimming being free with all memberships. We think we have a really good offer and there’s something for everyone. If they’re fit and active and doing that at Thrive that’s a good thing for Rossendale.
“We hope a lot of people utilise leisure trust facilities because by doing so, there’s a large social value in terms of what we provide to communities and schools, and those groups less fortunate within the community.”
Last month, councillors approved a new health and wellbeing partnership - Our Health, Our Wellbeing, Our Place. Four priority themes have been identified - Mental Wellbeing, Physical Activity and Healthy Weight, Developing Facilities to Support Health and Wellbeing, and Rossendale Shaping Local Services.
A recent report informing the plan found that Rossendale has the third highest obesity rate among Lancashire districts, with ideas mooted including restrictions on takeaways.
The report also highlighted the Valley’s “aging” 50-year-old built facilities, adding that early consultations suggest that “better utilisation of smaller community settings” may be the favoured model for maximising health and wellbeing rather than “traditional large leisure centres”.
“Rossendale has by no means got the worst health profile across Lancashire, but it’s certainly not the best either,” said Mr Masser. “We recognise we have got a really important role to play in trying to support communities to be healthy. We want to see that improve. Our commitment goes well beyond our facilities.
“We are working with the council to assess our leisure facilities here in Rossendale and to scope out where further investment would be good to take the facilities into the next generation.”