Was trampoline park a ‘done deal’ before BetterGLL started running the Sobell?

Indoor courts at Sobell Leisure Centre. BetterGLL's will take half of this vast space

BetterGLL’s own news story on the 1 April 2014 start of the Islington leisure management contract announced plans for ‘extreme activity’ area at the Sobell centre. We’re mobilising to stop work on the trampoline park until this is investigated. Sobell users are sick of BetterGLL treating us like fools. As with much of BetterGLL’s dealings in Islington, there’s a serious lack of transparency.

Sobell members and users have a lot of concerns about the way Better/GLL is running our leisure centre. But, most pressing right now is trying to stop the start of work to build a trampoline park in the indoor courts.

What consultation? When? And who with?

BetterGLL did next to nothing to consult on this with Sobell members, users or the local community – if they consulted at all.

The consultation is supposed to have taken place in 2014, the year BetterGLL took over at the Sobell. However, the majority of Sobell members and users did not see or hear about any consultation on a trampoline park in 2014, despite attending the centre regularly, often more than once a week. The first we heard was late April/early May from instructors telling us our classes might be disrupted.

According to Islington Gazette, Sport England was approached by Islington Council and GLL but had yet to respond – and hadn’t decided whether it supported the plans or not.

In a letter in the Islington Tribune, Sobell customer representative, Barry Hill said: ‘Early in 2017, without any prior public consultation, GLL put a proposal concerning such a project to the Islington Council executive, who approved its implementation. Both the council and GLL have been asked by customers and residents to provide the Islington-based evidence of need that supports such a project. No such information has been forthcoming.’

His letter also said that customers and residents he had spoken with didn’t consider the Sobell ‘an inappropriate venue’ for a trampoline park. ‘Had they been consulted, they would have expressed this point of view very clearly.’

An article in the Evening Standard says more than 400 people, including members of fitness groups and football groups, have written to Islington Council asking them to review the plan.

Majority of courts users ‘disenfranchised’ by trampoline park

The trampoline park, which is unlikely to be used by adult or even most teenage Sobell members and users, will occupy as much as 50% of the indoor courts space – a space currently used by hundreds people of all ages and abilities every week for a variety of sports and activities, including the London Association of Volleyball England, which uses the courts for competition. They have also raised concerns.

Given GLL’s own announcement on the award of the Islington leisure management contract, which appears to date from before they started running the Sobell, which states: ‘Funding has already been earmarked for a number of initiatives which include(s) … creating an extreme adventure activity area at Sobell Leisure Centre,’ it does appears the trampoline park was a ‘done deal’ before BetterGLL took over running of the Sobell on 1 April 2014.

A significant number of Sobell members and users are concerned about this, and are in the process of organising a petition to stop work starting on the trampoline park until there has been an investigation into the matter – with a view to stopping the trampoline park being built at all.

Keep an eye out for the petition in this website and on Twitter and Facebook. Please sign it.

Monstrous carbuncle

As if BetterGLL’s management of the Sobell isn’t monstrous enough already, the construction of a trampoline park really would blemish the character of this much-loved, ‘old friend’ for the community that uses it.

Historic and iconic, the Sobell Centre is only sports facility known to have been designed by Richard Seifert, the architect behind Centre Point.

Part funded by a charitable contribution from the Sobell Foundation, the leisure centre was officially opened in 1973 by the Duke of Edinburgh. Sir Michael Sobell, a local businessman and philanthropist, gifted the leisure centre to the community.

Many Sobell users have been members for decades, some for generations in the 40+ years of its existence, as they bring their own children and grandchildren to take part in sports and activities.

Islington Council lacks transparency, too

The installation of the artificial turf, floodlit football pitches, the kids’ gymnastics equipment, the fitness gym extension and new equipment; the new boxing gym; the junior gym improvements; the redesign and rebuild of the men’s, women’s and group changing rooms were the result of a £1.4 million investment by Islington Council.

That’s right; the council made those improvements, not BetterGLL.

That said, however, local press accounts of Islington Council’s responses to requests for information on the trampoline park consultation show the council to lack as much transparency on the issue as BetterGLL.

News links about the trampoline park

Sports force out to make way for Sobell Centre trampoline park — Islington Tribune

Islington council blasted for turning Olympics training venue into ‘novelty’ trampoline park — Evening Standard

Axed footballers denied ‘proper consultation’ over trampoline park at Sobell Leisure Centre — Islington Gazette

Sobell Leisure Centre gives five-a-side football league the boot to make way for trampoline park — Islington Gazette

General Election delays installation of trampoline park at Sobell Leisure Centre — Islington Gazette

 

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We don’t want a trampoline park

Badminton on Sobell indoor courts

Around the end of April (2017) instructors began to tell Sobell users that their classes were going to be disrupted because Better/GLL is building a trampoline park. For most Sobell users, this was the first time we heard about the trampoline park, and all of us were pretty unhappy about it.

We are unhappy because we weren’t consulted. We didn’t ask for a trampoline park, and no one thinks we need one. If we had been consulted, people would have said, no.

Why? Because nearly 50% of the indoor courts space will be lost to the community of people who have used it week after week, year after year — the 100s of badminton players, footballers, netballers, basketballers, volleyballers, as well as, wheelchair users and other users with specials needs, not to mention the young gymnasts.

They still want to use this space, and other Sobell members and users still want them to use it, too. What will happen to all of this activity and these people when half of the court space has gone?

The indoor courts are a precious, well-loved and well-used resource in a local leisure centre that whose purpose was to provide such a resource to ordinary people in the local community.

We weren’t asked

We don’t want that space to be given over to a trampoline park that so few of the current users will want or even be able to use.

Better/GLL may say they did consult on this. However, it was so minimal as to be imperceptible. The majority of Sobell members and users didn’t know anything about it until our instructors told us.

Better/GLL may say there were consultation materials at the front desk/reception area. However, given that Sobell users end up queuing out of the main doors at peak times because they are forced to get class tickets from reception because ‘non-attendance’ fines prevent them using the kiosks and there are only ever two Better/GLL staff at reception who prioritise answering the telephone rather than serving customers in front of them, perhaps they didn’t see them.

Better/GLL may say there were consultation materials on the noticeboards outside the studios. However, because the time it takes to get class tickets means Sobell users end up being late for their classes, perhaps they didn’t have time to look.

Better stop

If you don’t want the trampoline park, complain to Better/GLL, make your views known to customer representatives, write to Islington Council, write to your local councillors, write to Islington’s MPs – Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, write the to local press – Islington Gazette, Islington Tribune, Camden New Journal.

The trampoline park is Better/GLL’s latest act vandalism. This isn’t better. The Sobell and its members will be worse off. Less space will mean fewer activities and fewer users. We’ve got to stop this before Better/GLL further diminishes our beloved local sports facility. We can’t let them do this.

News links about the trampoline park

Sports force out to make way for Sobell Centre trampoline park — Islington Tribune

Olympics training venue into ‘novelty’ trampoline park — Evening Standard

Axed footballers denied ‘proper consultation’ over trampoline park at Sobell Leisure Centre — Islington Gazette

Sobell Leisure Centre gives five-a-side football league the boot to make way for trampoline park — Islington Gazette

General Election delays installation of trampoline park at Sobell Leisure Centre — Islington Gazette