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August 24, 2011

Taking its toll

Evidence of how the financial climate is starting to impact on local authority decision making is beginning to emerge. Last year the community in Alva were informed that their leisure and swimming complex was due for a multi-million pound refurbishment.  A few months ago, Clacks Council closed the facility and ordered the building to be demolished. The community have come up with a rescue plan but the Council have set an unforgiving timescale

Ochil Leisure Enterprises

The following is a press release by Ochil Leisure Enterprises (Formally known as Save Alva Pool Group) to inform interested members of the public that we have formally requested a six month extension to the two month period initially awarded, in which time we were to revise and resubmit a business proposal regarding Alva Pool Complex becoming a community led Social Enterprise.

There are a number of valid reasons outlined below as to why we believe our request for an extended time period is more than reasonable and why we are urging the council to take these into careful consideration before reaching a decision.

1. Why were we granted such a short, unrealistic deadline?

Alva Pool complex has been closed. For the first time since 1874 Alva has no swimming pool and a former community resource only last year earmarked for a multi-million pound refurbishment is now in line for demolition. Our question to the Council is –what is the hurry? The pool is closed, the staff redeployed and the cost of keeping the building safe and secure is surely negligible in comparison to the money previously spent on the facility? What real difference will it make to the Council to extend the deadline by another six months, yet this additional time could be incredibly significant for the community of Clackmannanshire and beyond.

2. Expertise

Our original Business Plan was rejected by the council and we do not want to risk a repeat occurrence of this through being under-prepared, ill-advised or unrealistic in our expectations around the potential of running the pool as a community led business. We do however wish to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study which may result in the Group reassessing the idea of taking over the pool or it may indicate that the Community running the Pool Complex is a viable option that will lead to the development of a robust Business Plan. We are currently liaising with a number of reputable organisations including Senscot, Community Enterprise and First Port who are willing to provide us with the expertise necessary to conduct a feasibility study and develop any subsequent Business Plan. This however does come at a cost and whilst the group have achieved some success through fundraising activities recently, the sum raised falls far short of what is needed to pay for the expert services required to develop a Business Plan.

We are keen to stress that all of the organisations listed above have indicated the unrealistic nature of the originally allocated timescale of two months, particularly given the comprehensive requirements that the Council have given the Group in terms of their expectations regarding the scope and content of the Business Plan.

3. The Funding Application Process

This week the Group will submit a funding application to the Big Lottery Investing in Ideas Fund. This fund is specifically geared towards funding ‘Ideas’ and any investigation around the idea that may be necessary before making any major decisions or taking risks without having thoroughly tested the idea first. The Big Lottery is keen to fund ‘new’ ideas; supports community led activities, and promotes healthier lifestyles and so on. Our idea fits all their criteria and we are confident that our application will be successful. It will however take six weeks from the date of submission to receive a response. We then must engage with the organisation of our choice to complete the feasibility study and business plan. Hence our reasonable request for additional time. We also wish to make it very clear that during this six week period we will not be sitting back, waiting for a response and doing nothing. Our Group will continue to meet every week and key Group members have been allocated numerous tasks and responsibilities including research that will go a considerable way towards helping with the feasibility study and business planning process. We are not putting ‘all our eggs in one basket’ regarding the Big Lottery and will also be submitting funding applications to other organisations who award financial assistance with feasibility and business plan development. These too will take time – much longer than the remaining 5 weeks that the Council have awarded us. It is important that the Council remember that they have asked us for a viable Business Plan and through affording us the necessary additional time; we will be in a much better position to provide this.

4. Formally Constituting the Group

Until this point the ‘Save Alva Pool Group’ has been a committed group of local people, not a formally constituted organisation. To ensure we are eligible for any external financial assistance to help with the feasibility study and business plan, the Group, now known as Ochil Leisure Enterprises must become formally constituted with at least three office bearers and our own bank account. This process also will take time – eating into the remaining and unrealistic timetable originally set out by the Council.

5. The Summer Holidays

Whilst it was appreciated when the Council awarded the Group two months to resubmit a viable business plan, this timeframe could not only be considered unrealistic but it also covered a time period when organisations and their employees traditionally tend to ‘wind down’ and take leave from work? The process that we are currently going through has certainly experienced a delay because of the time of year. We have for example initiated contact with people in the Council and Social Enterprise start-up organisations and have been faced with numerous ‘out of office’ replies, having to wait several weeks for a response. This, in addition to members of our own committed group going on pre-booked summer holidays has led to yet more valuable time being lost. In our case time is a commodity that Ochil Leisure Enterprises does not have at its disposal.

6. Site Visits and to other Community Led Leisure Facilities

As part of our feasibility and business planning research we plan to visit and research other successful community-led leisure complexes to ascertain the extent of their successes. It would also be an opportunity to identify the potential pitfalls and risks associated with such a venture. We would seek information around the different funding streams that these resources have available to them. We are currently liaising with ‘Senscot’ who also work with around ten other community-led sports organisations and we will need additional time to link in with these groups. We have been invited to a meeting of community-led sporting resources at Atlantis Leisure in Oban on 12th August and we believe that our attendance would significantly contribute to our business plan.

To recap, an extended time period will enable Ochil Leisure Enterprises to:

  • Liaise with current and potential users of the Pool Complex
  • Consult with the wider community to identify what local people want from the Pool Complex
  • Find potential business partners/Commercial Sponsors
  • Conduct research
  • Network with similar organisations
  • Identify and raise substantial funding
  • Link with experts to conduct a feasibility study and develop the business plan

In light of the above, Ochil Leisure Enterprises are formally requesting an extension of six months from the end of August 2011 to enable us to provide a professional, viable and robust business plan that is not only acceptable to the Council but represents something that the Group can be proud of – because we will then know that we will have given every effort possible to this important cause.

Given the existing rapidly diminishing timeframe, Ochil Leisure Enterprises are pressing the Council to make a substantive decision regarding this at the earliest possible opportunity.

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Ochil Leisure Enterprises