Inner city residents miss the Olympic feel-good factor

Published Tuesday, 26 July 2011
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Campaigners in Leeds fighting to get their local leisure centre reopened fear their youngsters will miss out on any benefits from the London 2012 Olympics unless the facilities are in place to capitalise

The London 2012 Olympics will mean the eyes of millions of people across the globe will be firmly focussed on the achievements of the world's top athletes.

But campaigners in one of the most deprived areas of Leeds claim Olympic glory for their youngsters is a distant dream because of a lack of facilities.

Members of the Splashback campaign are fighting to get South Leeds Sports Centre in Beeston reopened. The facilities were closed by Leeds city council in November last year due to falling visitor numbers and high running costs.

Campaigner Sally Cieslik said the closure was ironic given the national focus on sports in light of next year's Olympics. She was speaking at a demonstration by local residents outside the boarded-up centre and told the Northerner:

"We're not feeling the Olympic effect here. I read recently that plans to get more youngsters inspired to play sports are not materialising - well, they're not going to be taking part in this area as we've lost our facilities. We should be encouraging our young people to take part in sport at a young age - we lost our opportunities when the centre closed last year."

Fellow campaigner Steve Johnston said that lots of local chldren had come down to the protest because they were angry that they had no swimming facilities at the start of their summer holidays. He said:

"We're just at the start of the six-week summer holidays and there's nowhere for our children to go. The nearest centre is a bus ride and a long walk away, people aren't ging to travel."

Seven-year-old Nathan Kirk plays rugby for local youth team The Beeston Broncos, which used South Leeds Sports Centre as changing facilities. Nathan said he now faces a 10-minute walk before and after matches to facilities in nearby Hunslet. He said: "It's good at Hunslet but it's not so good that we have to walk so far before and after games because there's nowhere to get changed where we live."

Another youngster, who attended the Friday Night Project at the centre - a group which provided a range of activities to young people between eight-16 years - said there wasn't much for him to do now that the facilities had closed.

Mum of five Tina Head said it was impossible to take all her family to the nearest swimming pool - up the road at the John Charles Centre - in one go. She said:

"It's disgusting that they can take away facilities like this from the little ones. It's important that they have access to sports facilities and there's just nothing for them here."

Beeston resident John Hodgson feels that Leeds is a 'divided' city - and that his community usually feels the brunt of any cutbacks. He said:

"I am here to support one of the poorest areas of the city that keeps having its facilities cut. If you look at the Leeds 11 area we've had OAP homes cut over the years, Holbeck Library's about to close, the last round of post office closures saw three close in LS11 - and you have to look at the number of local branches of banks that have closed in recent times.

"People talk about a north-south divide nationally, but it's always been my argument that we have one in Leeds - the affluent north and the poorer south."

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council pointed to falling visitor numbers against a backdrop of financial austerity as one of the reasons for closure, but said the council was open to other organisations taking over the running of the centre. She said:

"The decision to close South Leeds Sports Centre last November was taken because it was costing the council £25,000 per month to run due to low and falling visitor numbers over the last few years.

"We are exploring all available options for the site and are still keen to hear from anyone interested in taking over the running of the centre. We would encourage any interested parties to come forward as soon as possible."

Last year a bid by a local social enterprise to take over the building failed due to a lack of finance.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2011
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