In the deep end: Leisure centres could be given away as council finances are squeezed
Plus: A magical performance of The Snowman, and an ode to Bongo’s Bingo
Dear readers — welcome to this final festive pre-Christmas Monday briefing. This time next week we’ll all be waking up, slipping into our reindeer onesies, and snatching at the stockings at the end of our beds, but something will be missing. This is your final briefing of 2023 (cue mass booing) so let’s make the most of it!
Fear not though, we’ve still got a schedule of articles dotted throughout the break, in case you get bored of drinking a full bottle of Bailey’s every day and want to mix things up with some glistening prose instead. So keep checking your inboxes over the next few weeks, you might just find the Christmas pressie of your dreams. Anyway, let’s crack on.
Today’s edition leads on plans to take leisure centres in Liverpool out of council control. Elsewhere, we’ve got a gorgeous house overlooking Wavertree Botanic Park, and arrests in the wake of two shootings in Everton. Oh, and we also bring you a weather forecast that may not be good but at least it is very consistent.
At the weekend Mollie (who longtime readers will know well) returned to Liverpool and delved into the surprisingly intense world of Christmas panto. “I enjoyed the article, Mollie — the Royal Court has tapped into a great theatre-loving audience who appreciate talent on the stage,” said one commenter. Here’s a snippet:
7pm, backstage at the Royal Court. Adam McCoy, a preternaturally warm and bubbly actor in his mid-30s, is feeling the nerves today. “This is the worst job,” he says, holding a coffee and leaning on one elbow against the stage. “I’ve never corpsed so much as I have doing this. It’s terrible. It’s terrible.”
🎄 Dreading a trip to Liverpool ONE this week? Why not buy your special friend a thoughtful, local, sustainable gift right now without facing the crowds? For a few more days, we’re offering 20% off gift subscriptions, so you can give the gift of quality local journalism for just £52. It will give someone a year of enjoyment with no planet-destroying plastic wrapping — and you can schedule the subscription to arrive in their inbox with a personal message on Christmas Day. Just click the link above before the offer runs out — and thanks for your support.
This week’s weather
Tuesday 🌧️ Light rain and a moderate breeze with highs of 9°C
Wednesday 🌧️ Gusty winds and rain with highs of 11°C
Thursday 🌧️ Strong winds and rain with highs of 11°C
Friday 🌧️Gusty winds and rain with highs of 9°C
Weekend 🌧️ Gusty winds and rain with highs of 9°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Has Liverpool given up on its leisure centres?
Top line: Liverpool City Council recently announced it could no longer afford to keep all of its leisure centres open, proposing to hand over its two worst performing Lifestyles buildings to community organisations to run instead, in a bid to tackle a £3.4m leisure budget overspend.
Context: The council says it’s no longer financially viable to run its Lifestyles Centres at Park Road in Toxteth and Everton Park, which are in “poor” condition. A 2014 council report recommended their closure, alongside Austin Rawlinson in Speke. However, a decision to shut them did not go ahead at the time, although budgets were slashed. Despite some additional funding to its eight leisure centres in 2018, this did not change the fortunes of Park Road and Everton Park, where footfall has dropped significantly, especially since the pandemic. Following a recent review, officers have recommended they be taken out of council control in a bid to cut its spiralling leisure services budget. Councillors are set to decide their next steps tomorrow.
The data: Footfall at Everton Park is down by 20% on pre-pandemic levels, with Toxteth trailing by 10%. While all Lifestyles centres are subsidised, Park Road and Everton Park don’t even come close to breaking even. The council spends over £11 million combined on the two centres and receives income of £2.4 million, leading those two to being significant outliers when it comes to average costs per visit relative to costs per user — at nearly £20 for Park Road and almost £16 for Everton Park, against an average of £8 across all Lifestyles Centres. The council needs to find savings of £900k as previously agreed in the budget.
The options: A report set to be discussed at cabinet tomorrow states a number of options available to the council aside from the potential asset transfer to a community organisation:
Do nothing — Not an option due to the need for budget savings
To consider the centre’s futures as part of a wider leisure centre transformation strategy
Close the centres or their swimming pools
Keeping them running under council management but reducing provision elsewhere to shore up the budget
Complications: One issue the council will need to address as it decides its next steps is the need to ensure access to Everton Park for local high school and college Notre Dame, which has an existing lease agreement for sports provision. This means whoever takes over will need to agree to keep the arrangement in place. There’s also the possibility the council may not find a provider willing to take on the challenge, in which case we might yet see the centres closing their doors for good. It’s also proving controversial among local residents, with a petition already launched against plans to transfer the Park Road centre out of council control by Granby Somali Women’s group, referring to the potential loss of single-sex swimming spaces and the centre’s “world-renowned gymnastics club” where Beth Tweddle trained in her youth.
Zoom out: Liverpool is not the only council grappling with the challenges of maintaining its non-essential services. Many councils are struggling to manage the basics — the statutory responsibilities they are required to carry out — in the midst of escalating budgetary pressures. Other local authorities have gone down their own routes in a bid to slash leisure service budgets. Neighbouring Knowsley Council, for example, set up an arm’s length company, Volair, in 2014, in a bid to save money (it’s still heavily subsidised to this day, however). Meanwhile, Wirral Council announced last month it would be knocking down one of its leisure centres at Woodchurch which had been previously closed amongst budget pressures there. It’s a challenge many local authorities are struggling to find the answer to, and there appears to be no easy solutions.
What next? The cabinet will confirm tomorrow whether it will take forward the plans to offer the centres out to community organisations with caveats in place that they don’t then get knocked down and redeveloped. The meeting is, however, expected to be little more than a formality with Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Member for Culture & Visitor Economy Harry Doyle already indicating this is where the council is heading, stating he anticipated no job losses as a result, with staff transferring to other Lifestyles sites. Of course, the plans won’t guarantee the centre’s futures — there might not even be any takers — and a public consultation would also have to be carried out as part of the process with Doyle saying: “we will do all we can to find other organisations to take on the running.”
Your Post briefing
Liverpool City Council is reviewing how it finds emergency housing for homeless people after revealing it spent nearly £13 million on hotel rooms last year. The news comes after a report by the council predicted the cost of homeless accommodation will rise to over £19 million in the next year. Housing specialists have since hit out at the council for using third party websites to book the hotel rooms — including one commercial booking site called Click Travel — which often boost prices around the festive period and other holidays.
Merseyside Police have arrested 33 people using new stop and search powers in the wake of two shootings in Everton. The Section 60 order was brought in after two men, aged 18 and 24, were shot in the legs last Wednesday. Since the order has been in place, the force say they have seized “drugs, dangerous weapons, and significant quantities of cash". Inspector David Grant said he recognised the need "to not only tackle those who continue to bring harm and misery to the Everton area, but to engage with those who suffer at their hands.” A police representative also confirmed the two men who were shot remain in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Liverpool FC said it “utterly condemns” damage caused to the Manchester United team bus after fans were seen throwing objects at it before yesterday’s match at Anfield. An investigation is currently underway to find those responsible after a video showing a person throwing a glass bottle at the bus went viral. "We are aware of footage of the incident circulating online and are working with Merseyside Police to fully investigate and identify those responsible,” LFC said. "Any individuals found guilty of this reprehensible behaviour will also face the full force of the club's sanction process."
And the first six ‘emergency bleed control cabinets’ have been installed across Liverpool, as part of an initiative by knife crime campaigners Knifesavers. The cabinets, which are located across the city centre, are accessible 24 hours a day using a code which is provided by calling 999 and speaking to the ambulance service. Each box contains a portable bleed kit, which can be used as a vital tool to prevent and reduce major blood loss before paramedics arrive. A further 20 cabinets are expected to be put up in locations across the region, identified through crime data and with input from outreach workers.
☃️ On Friday head over to Liverpool Cathedral for a magical double-bill performance of The Snowman and Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers with music from a live orchestra. There’s two performances, starting at 5pm and at 7.30pm with tickets available here.
🎨 Learn how to make tufted textiles on Wednesday with a guided workshop at 92 Degrees coffee shop on Myrtle Street. Tickets are £7 and include all materials. Find out more here.
⛵ The National Waterways Museum hosts a festive boat trip this Saturday, with a visit to Santa’s Grotto included. The event starts at 2pm at Ellesmere Port — buy a ticket here.
🍸 Take a gin tasting tour of Liverpool this Saturday, visiting bars and secret drinking dens with a gin expert to lead the way. The event is hosted by Gin Journey Liverpool and begins at Present Company on School Lane, from 2pm — find out more here.
Home of the week
This five bedroom home overlooking Wavertree Botanic Park is on the market for £240,000. It’s beautifully decorated, with ample opportunity to convert the basement into a further living space if desired. The property also has a good sized garden with a decking, currently home to a hot tub. Find out more here.
Our favourite reads
“From his first existential crisis, aged nine, under a bridge on the Burscough-to-Halsall stretch of the Leeds–Liverpool canal”, through an adolescence of self-harm and depression, up to a “late-in-life symbolist epiphany adrift in a kayak on a Scottish loch”, Paul Simpson’s life has hardly been smooth sailing. The Wild Swans frontman, a beloved figure from the indie scene of 1980s Liverpool, Simpson has remained more peripheral than the legendary figures he worked alongside, such as Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch. But now he’s ready to tell his own story. After all, “the best stories come from the peripheries,” he tells The Guardian.
An ode to one of Liverpool’s finest exports in The Sunday Times? And no, it’s not our sense of style nor our rich music lineage. Not unless you consider a man dressed as Tinkerbell parading around to the tunes of Abba, Flo Rida and Dolly Parton with a Henry vacuum cleaner held above his head as cutting edge style meets a rich music lineage. But Bongo’s Bingo, which began in Liverpool and now puts on 30 to 40 shows a week around the world, including in Australia, Dubai and soon New York, is fast making its own name. Confetti cannons, pyrotechnics, space hoppers n’all.
Letters from readers
Really enjoyed your article, Mollie, I’m quite jealous you’ve seen all three shows. I’m off to see Dick at the end of January. We always leave it until after Christmas so January has a boost. It seems such a long month. You just can’t go wrong with the Court, seen some of the funniest shows there that capture scouse humour perfectly. ‘How scousers fell for pantomime’, Carolyn Thornton
Nice festive article, Mollie. I'm going to the Everyman and Royal Court pantos this year. I might also be going to see The Woman in Black at the Playhouse, but I think that one is a bit thin on laughs! ‘How scousers fell for pantomime’, Stevo