Gillingham Town Council has voted to defer a decision on giving £9,000 to help bail out RiversMeet leisure centre which has only just reopened after being forced to close for four months because of the coronavirus epidemic.
The move came despite a grim warning from one councillor, Mike Gould, that the leisure centre – which has asked the council for £22,290 to help pay utility bills – could be forced to close without swift financial support.
Councillor Gould told the town’s Full Council on Monday 27 July: ‘The challenge that this leisure centre has got is that without support it’s going to die. We have a decision to make as to whether we’re going to support it or not.’
The council was debating a recommendation to give the leisure centre £9,000 of the council’s money to help meet some of the leisure centre’s costs.
But councillor Gould said he wanted to go further and proposed that a further £14,000 – currently earmarked for the church path at St Mary’s church – should also be given to the leisure centre.
‘It is the only charity-run leisure centre in the country. It’s an incredibly valuable asset to the town,’ said Councillor Gould in the online meeting.
‘We are in a crisis position. It does concern me that if this leisure centre were to fold it would not be replaced and that building would become a white elephant.’
Councillor Val Pothecary said she agreed with Councillor Gould’s views on the value of the centre ‘and how important is to the town’.
But she also said she was very disappointed that in their request for help the leisure centre had not mentioned that the town council had supported it from the start, including a grant for the first five years as well as the regular contributions it now makes. ‘I was pretty upset about that, frankly,’ she said.
Councillor Pothecary said that she wanted to know more details about the financial situation, a view supported by other members.
Councillor Sharon Cullingford, who is chair of the finance committee, suggested that a decision was postponed pending a workshop to go through all the figures and financial implications.
‘I’d like the workshop to be organised ASAP on this, so that we can make an expedited decision,’ she said.
The move to defer the decision on paying RiversMeet £9,000 was agreed by 10 votes to 3.
*The council also heard that the Bones Youth Club in the town is to be renamed the Gillingham Youth Club.
And Councillor Cullingford also reported on the Town Meadow group, pointing out that the presence of Hidden Pizza selling teas and coffees on the open space during the epidemic had helped the group meet its costs this year. But she also noted that a bench dedicated to the late Mrs Jackie Kemp had been vandalised perhaps ‘beyond repair’. The group hopes that CCTV will identify the culprits and the matter is being reported to the police.