Gateshead leisure centres handed to community organisations ahead of reopening

Gateshead Lesiure Centre, Saltwell.
-Credit: (Image: Gateshead Council)

Two Gateshead leisure centres closed in council budget cuts are now in the hands of two community groups.

Gateshead Leisure Centre in Saltwell and Birtley Swimming Centre today have been officially transferred to community organisations Gateshead Active and Birtley Aquatics respectively. The moves come before the reopening of the centres with the Saltwell site scheduled to reopen on June 14 and the pool later in September, pending new equipment and repairs.

In a written statement, Gateshead Council stated the transfer is the largest of its kind in the history of the local authority.

Gateshead Council leader Coun Martin Gannon said: “It’s fantastic news that these much-loved facilities are reopening. Of course, it remains regrettable that the closures were necessary in the first place, but after months of hard work from both the community groups and council teams, today marks a very positive milestone in our journey towards providing accessible and sustainable leisure facilities for the people of Gateshead.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the community groups make their plans a reality and we will continue to support them however we can.”

Birtley Swimming Centre
Birtley Swimming Centre -Credit:Gateshead Council

The decision to close the centres by Gateshead Council last year sparked public outrage and fury. The move prompted protests outside the civic centre alongside calls from MPs, campaign groups and ChronicleLive to preserve them for future generations.

The council at the time said the centres had to be closed as they were no longer financially viable in the midst of recent budget cuts. However, the saga is believed to have generated political consequences for the council's ruling Labour administration.

The opposition Liberal Democrats ousted a Labour councillor, Robert Waugh, in Saltwell in last year's local elections. Labour's Denise Robson was returned to the civic centre as a Saltwell councillor this May with 1,131 votes, around 52% of the total ballots cast.

Coun Robson is also a director at Gateshead Active, the community organisation restoring Gateshead Leisure Centre into public use. The Lib Dems fought hard again in Birtley and secured another seat in the ward with a paper-thin majority of five votes.

Gateshead Active Board members said: “The Board of Trustees and employees of Gateshead Active have worked tirelessly to ensure that Gateshead Leisure Centre can re-open and once again serve its diverse community. There have been a huge number of people involved in this asset transfer, and Gateshead Active want to thank every single person – from campaigners and volunteers to team members – who have gone above and beyond over the last 12 months.”

Work continues to find partners to manage Blaydon, Dunston and Heworth leisure centres, alongside a new operator for Gateshead International Stadium. The stadium and Gateshead Council found themselves in the centre of a row following the English Football League’s decision to bar Gateshead FC from the national playoffs in April.

The decision was blasted by council leader Martin Gannon who said there was “no reasonable reason” The Heed should not have been accepted by the EFL.