Gateshead Leisure Centre's new manager is on a personal mission after closure 'travesty'

Gateshead Leisure Centre's new manager, Anthony Kennedy.
Gateshead Leisure Centre's new manager, Anthony Kennedy. -Credit:ChronicleLive

The reopening of Gateshead Leisure Centre is a personal mission for the man tasked with guiding the revival of the shuttered facility.

In just a few weeks’ time, the beloved leisure centre should be back open for the first time in almost a year – having been closed down under council budget cuts last summer. New community organisation Gateshead Active is due to be handed the keys to the Prince Consort Road site, having agreed an asset transfer with the local authority that will allow it to be brought back to life.

Ahead of a grand reopening planned for Friday, June 14, new centre manager Anthony Kennedy spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) on Friday and outlined his ambition to turn it into a “safe haven” for a community left devastated by the closure. As a local lad who lives within walking distance of the facility and who learned to swim there, having moved to Gateshead from North Shields at the age of two, Mr Kennedy credits Gateshead Leisure Centre with putting him on a career path that has ultimately led him back to where it all began.

Telling the LDRS that he had done “just about every job” in a leisure centre since starting work at 16, including cleaning the toilets, he said: “If I had not learned to swim here then my career would not have gone the way it has. Most of my life has been spent as a swim teacher or a lifeguard. So it is very personal for me to come back here, to get this place up and running and make it a success.”

The 52-year-old described the loss of the leisure centre as a “travesty” and insists that, while the building is in need of some roof repairs, it is in a “fantastic” condition for the new operator to hit the ground running.

The centre’s gym, pool, soft play and climbing wall are all due to be open for June 14, while there are plans for it to host a football fanzone for matches during Euro 2024 this summer. The Corporation Club is also expected to relocate from its nearby base into a section of the leisure centre around a month after its opening.

Mr Kennedy added: “We want this to be a community hub and to be accessible for all. In my view, a leisure centre should be a safe haven for all of its users and staff. That is what it needs to be here – not just for sport and recreation, but for people who just want to come in for a cuppa and chat because they don’t have anywhere else to go. We know there are a lot of people around here who just cannot afford to heat their homes at the moment, so this needs to be a safe and warm space for them.”

Gateshead Leisure Centre's new manager, Anthony Kennedy.
Anthony Kennedy learned to swim at the centre he will soon manage -Credit:ChronicleLive

Gateshead Active recently launched swimming and gym membership packages for the centre, starting at £24.99 a month or £29.99 for a deal that includes both full pool and gym access, and the venue is expected to open with a staff of around 30 people. The centre manager said: “We have tried to price the memberships in a way that is accessible to the majority of people. We know that most people here cannot afford to pay £45 or £50 a month.”

Confidently predicting that he is “99% certain” of the leisure centre becoming a financial success, after the council deemed it too costly to run, Mr Kennedy added: “I am committed to making this a success and keeping it open for the public here. Any profit we make will go straight back into the facility to make it what this community needs and wants.

“We have got plans for the future and this is not just a short-term thing. I want people to work here who want to grow with the centre and for us to become a successful project that serves our community. Gateshead Leisure Centre is for the community – that is our promise.”

The reopening of the leisure centre will mark the culmination of 18 months of behind the scenes work to save the site, with a recent £150,000 boost from social investment organisation Keyfund having been critical to ensuring the proposals can go ahead this summer.

Former councillor and now Gateshead Active director Robert Waugh said: “It is really exciting. To have seen the building go from its mothballed state to one that can be fully functioning again is fantastic after all this time. We cannot wait to welcome people back in.”