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Leisure centres threat as trust tightens belt

The swimming pool at the West Mainland Leisure Centre in Aith - will this and other rural centres close to schools survive the latest savings drive? Photo SRTLeisure centre facilities have been closed since last month.

SHETLAND Recreational Trust (SRT) has not ruled out closing some of its facilities as it struggles to find more than £750,000 savings.

On Thursday the trust announced its main funder Shetland Charitable Trust was demanding a 21 per cent cut in spending over the next four years.

This means the sport and leisure charity must find ways to save an extra £110,000 every year until 2020. These savings come on top of the £300,000 it has already cut from its maintenance budget.

Shetland Charitable Trust’s new policy of building up its reserves to allow for a sustainable funding programme starting in the next decade has seen several organisations lose all their income.

As the largest recipient of charitable trust funding, the SRT receives £2.5 million a year to run eight leisure centres around the isles.

Shetland Recreational Trust chairman Bryan Leask is putting a brave face on the impending cuts.

Chairman Bryan Leask pointed out the centres have 640,000 visitors a year, a remarkable figure for an island community with just 23,000 residents.

Now, he says, the trust faces the challenge of trying to maintain that level of service with four fifths of the money it currently receives.

Where the axe will fall will not be known until August when trustees will hold a special meeting to decide on a set of proposals currently being worked up by staff.

Talking up the changes, Leask said it was “good news” the charitable trust was introducing the cuts over four years with a promise to continue funding into the future, giving them time to adapt to the new funding regime.

New SRT trustee Liam Summers

“That said, the picture is mixed and we face a challenge in ensuring our centres are maintained to the standards our users have come to expect and in continuing to offer the services and facilities we currently provide,” he added.

Leask said they would also be looking at new ways to raise money, especially with the new Anderson High School and indoor training facility planned at Clickimin.

He also pointed out that any changes to the leisure centres could have important ramifications for the islands’ junior high schools which are all adjacent to rural leisure centres.

“We are ruling nothing out,” he said, when asked if leisure centres might close.

New SRT trustee David Thomson

“Come August we will decide the best way forward to ensure the business itself is viable to go forward, and then we will have to start consulting with the communities that might be affected.

“This might also have implications for the education department and some of the schools.”

Meanwhile an SRT survey showed that local people were very satisfied with the leisure centres they used, recording satisfaction levels of 97 per cent and above.

A further survey of non-users may help the trust identify how to attract more people through their doors.

This week the trust also announced it had appointed Viking Energy project manager David Thomson and Islesburgh Community centre steward Liam Summers to its board of trustees.

Both are keen sportsmen with Thomson coaching and helping to run local clubs, including Spurs FC and Lerwick Amateur Swimming Club, while Summers is secretary of the Up Helly Aa committee and worked for the recreational trust for 12 years at Clickimin and Scalloway pool.