Norwich sports centre closed by Norfolk County Council thriving again - thanks to people power
- Credit: Archant © 2010
Campaigners who battled to stop a much-loved Norwich sports hall from being demolished say the fact it is now a profitable venture after a two-year transformation shows their fight was justified.
Wensum Lodge Sports Hall, in King Street, was closed in December 2010 after Norfolk County Council claimed maintenance costs were too expensive to keep it open.
A consultation into plans to sell off the sports hall and its car park was then started, but a group of people who used the centre – The Friends of Wensum Lodge – took action to save it.
They ran a petition and used the Freedom of Information Act to challenge figures quoted to justify the closure and the group successfully negotiated a lease with the county council to run the centre and the car park next door.
The revamped centre, now known as the Wensum Sports Centre, opened in December 2012 and to mark that anniversary, the doors will be thrown open tomorrow to showcase the work which has been done.
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Architect Roger Mason, from the Wensum Sports Centre Charitable Association, was one of the campaigners who were so determined not to let the sports centre be lost.
He said: 'The Friends of Wensum Lodge campaigned long and hard to keep the sports hall open and accepted the council's eventual offer to take over the place ourselves and run it as a charitable trust.
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'Without having received any grants or funding it is now a profitable venture – proving there is a great need for a community sports facility like this.' Mr Mason said the centre was now making a profit, with the money being ploughed back into the building. He said: 'We have been able to refurbish the reception and provide three new community rooms, which have transformed a former storage area.
'They will be available at very reasonable hire rates for community and local small businesses to use for meetings and include facilities such as an overhead projector.
'We've also got some amazing wall murals in the corridor, painted by the urban artist David Nash. We're holding our celebratory open event so that people can see what's new, or visit for the first time to see what's available. We hope to see lots of new and familiar faces.'
The free event, which runs from 11am until 4pm, will include the chance to watch demonstrations or try out activities including badminton, squash, basketball, football, short mat bowls, table tennis, ergo bikes and canoes.
Galvanised by the threat of closure
Things had looked bleak for what was then Wensum Lodge Sports Hall, when more than 110 groups and individuals received letters from Norfolk County Council back in October 2010.
Those letters informed them that the sports hall would become one of the first casualties of County Hall's £155m worth of cuts.
The council said the sports hall, built in the 1960s, was showing its age. The roof, the council, said was leaking and 'numerous repairs and upgrades' would be needed.
That, the council said, would cost an estimated £500,000 – money which could not be justified when cuts were being made. It later emerged the county council wanted the site to be earmarked for housing.
However, the threat of closure mobilised the groups who used the centre. The Friends of Wensum Lodge battled to retain it.
Using the Freedom Of Information Act, they forced the council to admit it had got its sums wrong on how much it would cost to fix the centre. Local councillors also joined the fight, with Caroline Lucas, (pictured), leader of the Green Party nationally, joining one protest against its closure.
Despite the campaign, the sports hall did close in 2010, but those who did not want the city to lose such a key sports facility did not give up.
They tried to persuade the county council to give them a lease on the building. They were handed a boost when proposals to allocate the site for housing were left out of a blueprint for development drawn up by Norwich City Council.
And in 2012, the centre's users, having forged a business plan, did take out a lease on the hall, pledging to run it for the community.
• Are you part of a group battling to save a community asset? Tell us about it by calling Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email email@example.com