THERE are fears for the future of a town’s swimming pool which will close if council funding is withdrawn.

Members of the Bridport and West Dorset Sports Trust, who own and operate Bridport Leisure Centre, are increasingly concerned that annual deficit funding of £170,000 for the pool, could be cut by Dorset Council in April 2020.

Prospective councillors nominated in the upcoming local elections, were invited to hear more about the funding issues at the centre.

William Thrower, manager of Bridport Leisure Centre, said: “From April 2020, there is growing uncertainty regarding our continued deficit funding from local government. For the swimming pool, it currently amounts to £170,000 a year. This dates back to an agreement which has been in place since 1992 and that agreement has been in place and running ever since.

“If the funding is withdrawn, then the reality is simple – the swimming pool will close and the future of the leisure centre as it currently operates will be at a significant risk.

“The centre now, certainly the wet side, is approaching 25-years-old and it requires a lot of maintenance. In the past six months alone, we have had to do quite a lot of maintenance because it is just ageing.

“The fitness suite, sports hall, the squash courts, pitches, pavilion and our exercise studios do not generate additional income to meet the deficit that is incurred by the swimming pool year on year.

“We have 1,800 adult members paying a membership each month, that is roughly one in 10 of the population of Bridport that use our centre. When you use that figure, it really does hit home how important this centre is to the community, and 134 of those memberships are directly linked to the swimming pool."

According to Mr Thrower, the centre recorded 293,000 visits for 2018/19, with 104,500 - around 36 per cent - solely attributed to the swimming pool.

It was asked if the centre could operate without the pool, but the closure could result in many members leaving and using other facilities.

A member of the Bridport and West Dorset Sports Trust said: “The leisure centre doesn’t have any money in the bank because it has been funded historically by West Dorset District Council (WDDC). If it made a surplus, then the funding would have been reduced to take account of this.

“We sense that after discussions with WDDC over the past two or three years that our funding is under threat."

According to a member of the trust, the turnover of the leisure centre - before expenditure - is around £1.3 million.

"So you can see how important that £170,000 is," added the trust member.

“This leisure centre needs to build up a bit of reserve because every time there is an issue, we just consume time trying to find resources to deal with that issue because we’ve got no reserves.

“The trust will do whatever it can to keep this leisure centre open, but we are so dependent on that deficit funding to keep this place going and more importantly to keep it local.”

Bridport Leisure Centre is home to numerous groups and provides a number of services. As well as offering more than 100 classes a week, it also hosts outreach services for the NHS, such as blood donation, pulmonary rehabilitation and also diabetes education sessions, exercise referral programmes, rehabilitation classes and sessions, meeting rooms for various groups

It also provides apprenticeships, volunteering and training programmes for young people.

Councillors suggested a range of options to help generate additional income, such as approaching as Dorset CCG and NHS to help with the provision of rehab classes, making the centre more energy efficient, searching out funding and grants, looking again at the necessity of heating certain parts of the centre, inviting outside groups to provide different activities, such as a climbing wall, from the centre, having a synchronised swimming team and charging for parking.

Dorset Council has said funding won’t stop in 2020, but it is not known if the funding will be reviewed and cut in subsequent years.

Nick Thornley, Dorset Council head of economy, leisure and tourism, said: “Current funding arrangements at Bridport Leisure Centre are continuing under Dorset Council with no plans to stop the funding in 2020.

“We have a close working relationship with the Bridport and West Dorset Sports Trust, who have been managing the centre excellently since 1994.”