Leisure a matter of trust

Having attended the public meeting in the Victoria Halls earlier this month to discuss the possible closure of leisure facilities in Selkirk, I now feel compelled not only to thank all those involved in organising the event, but also to share my views on the matter.

First of all I would like to express my anger and dismay that we are once again facing potential closure of our local swimming/leisure facility here in Selkirk. Swimming is, or certainly should be, considered a vital part of a child’s development, not only from the lifelong health/fitness/fun aspect, but also as a potential lifesaver.

I am already very concerned that since swimming lessons were dropped from the school curriculum, we are now witnessing kids of ages 10-13 turning up expecting to participate in canoe club sessions who are either incapable of, or struggling to meet, the minimum swimming requirements. This is obviously in part due to some parents who, for whatever reason, do not actively encourage their kids to swim – a situation which is only likely to be exacerbated by the fact that they may in future be expected to travel to access a suitable facility.

Prior to the public meeting my thoughts were that it was simply a case of government cuts and Scottish Borders Council not being prepared to spend money on maintaining buildings which it, as landlord, deems to be non-viable. This may or may not be the case – now I’m not so sure.

At a well-attended meeting, George Burt, of Jedburgh Leisure Facilities Trust, delivered a brief overview of the situation in Jedburgh, where the decision was taken in 2003 to set up the trust and to take over management responsibilities for the swimming and fitness facilities from SBC. He informed us of the new biomass heating system it has endeavoured to install with the aid of grants available and also the fact that the trust is now working towards extending the facility.

In JLFT, Jedburgh now has an organisation which would appear to be run efficiently and enthusiastically, and has been successful in turning around the situation and general attitude within the town towards the use of the facilities simply by means of some joined-up management and marketing strategies. Indeed, it has shown what can be achieved, and more.

Having since added tennis courts to its portfolio, the trust has also stated that it is more than willing to consider anything else that SBC would be/is prepared to off-load. Just imagine, should it include such things as parks and roads then JLFT could potentially evolve into something more akin to a town council – strange how these things work in cycles.

For pretty much the rest of the Borders we have Borders Sport and Leisure Trust, responsible for the running of multiple facilities in the region, including the one in Selkirk where, as we are all aware, there has been some investment, albeit mainly on cosmetics and equipment, with little or no obvious consideration or commitment to the plant as a whole. It is a fact that, with responsibility for such a range of facilities in such a diverse area, such investments will be prioritised – somehow and by someone.

It is also a fact that BSLT was given, and willingly accepted, those responsibilities on the good faith of the communities and for that reason must be seen to be acting on behalf of all of those communities in at least retaining, if not improving and possibly expanding on, those facilities.

So yet again there is a community under threat of suffering, due not only to cutbacks, but the usual political wrangling between local government and the agencies which were set up initially to relieve it of some of the financial and management pressures it was no longer willing or able to take responsibility for.

I think I am not alone in my opinion that a swimming facility must be as accessible as is possible to as many as possible.

Iain Bouglas

Ettrickhaugh Road