FAMILIES in a seaside town could see their under-used leisure centre given a new lease of life if it is taken over by governors of a £48m school, it is claimed.
Efforts will be made to give Newbiggin-by-the-Sea’s sports centre a more sustainable future – and place it firmly at the heart of community life – if it is transferred to the Northumberland Church of England Academy.
The Journal revealed yesterday how talks are taking place on the possibility of handing over the management and operation of the town’s county council-owned sports and community centre to the Ashington-based all-age academy.
If the move goes ahead, the centre will be run independently of the council, and operated as a social enterprise by an academy trust.
The 500 students based at the academy’s new Grace Darling primary campus in Newbiggin would use it on a daily basis for sport and PE.
The academy is sponsored by the Church of England and the Duke of Northumberland and operates from a number of sites in Ashington, Newbiggin and Lynemouth.
Yesterday Stephen Manion, who represents the Duke on the academy’s board of governors, said the transfer proposal stemmed from the Grace Darling campus’s need for additional facilities for its students.
He said: “We are very keen to develop facilities for our youngsters, and provide them with sports development and fitness, and also want to improve things for the local community in Newbiggin.
“The sports and community centre is under-used at present and needs some tender loving care. We would like to be able to assist in that, and make it a facility out students can use as well.
“We want to develop it for the community because there is a function room which could be used for theatre shows or by a local drama club. We realise there may be fears about public access to the centre but that is not what we are aiming at.
“We want it to be a genuine shared facility. It will not be exclusive and we want local people and families to come in and enjoy it.
“We want to give the building a sense of purpose and ownership, like we did with the old Hirst High School in Ashington.
“We would like to improve the centre because we don’t see any prospect of the council being able to invest in it. We would do that if we had some kind of management of it.
“I visited the centre recently and there were three people using it in the middle of the day, so we want to change that. It is a bit drab and we want to encourage more day-time use through better facilities and things like dance classes, music sessions and special offers.
“We are still in the early stages of talks with the council and we need an agreement to proceed.”
Alan Thompson, a member of the Liberal Democrat executive who represents Newbiggin on the county council, says he believes the transfer would be good news for the town and local students.