Waterfront leisure centre in Woolwich
GLL operates the Waterfront leisure centre in Woolwich

Greenwich Council’s leisure centre and library contractor could make 40 staff redundant after asking for another £1.1m loan to support it through the coronavirus crisis.

GLL, which trades as Better, received £810,000 from the council in July after its facilities were forced to close by the first lockdown in March. Four months and another lockdown later, it is asking for money as it seeks to restructure its business.

Spun out of the council in 1993, GLL operates centres for 40 councils across the UK and recently took on Lewisham’s leisure facilities. Its business has been ravaged by the pandemic and has been striking deals with councils around the country; other operators have been doing the same. It signed a 15-year contract to run Greenwich’s leisure centres and libraries in 2012, with that deal extended to 2031 when the first loan was agreed in July.

Its gym memberships have fallen by a quarter while leisure centre visits are down by about half, with income levels down by 70 per cent, according to a report to councillors.

Greenwich Council’s ruling cabinet will be asked to agree to a further £1.1 million loan next Wednesday, while a restructuring could see 27 full-time and 13 part-time jobs go, some at its headquarters in Woolwich. Councillors will be presented with two options, with a second option featuring a £955,000 loan and reduced opening hours at Thamesmere and Coldharbour leisure centres, with indoor facilities mothballed at Coldharbour. Officers are recommending the £1.1 million loan, which would only see GLL withdraw from facilities at Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke.

“Financial support is the best means to ensure that the GLL partnership can keep all facilities open and build the customer base,” the report says, adding that the loan could be reduced if GLL gets central government funding.

“The leisure sector is suffering in a similar way to all hospitality businesses and is having to respond with a revised business model,” the report adds.

“To do this it is inevitable that the roles and posts in leisure centres will have to change. GLL are already consulting their staff over a reorganisation proposal to reflect the move to a more technology led, Covid safe customer experience, including improved online bookings, cashless payments, concierge services and virtual and live streaming classes and activities.

“These changes are reflected across GLL where all the senior team have taken a voluntary reduction in salary and it is proposed that there will be a number of redundancies from head office and the regional teams within the organisation.”

Perhaps optimistically given the possibility of London moving into Tier 3 restrictions next week, GLL is also undertaking marketing including discounted memberships and free swimming vouchers for children. It also plans to offer online exercise classes that members can follow from home.

GLL’s centres in Greenwich borough include leisure centres in Greenwich, Woolwich, Eltham and Thamesmead; it also includes 12 libraries and ten children’s centres. It has had better luck outside its contract with its private management of Charlton Lido, which has seen user numbers grow as swimmers seek a fresh-air dip. The heated pool is currently continuing to open all day through the winter for the first time since GLL took it over.

There has also been better news for GLL in Lewisham, where it reopened the Glass Mill Leisure Centre last week after the previous operator, Fusion, pulled out during the pandemic. Better users with UK membership will be able to use Glass Mill. GLL says it hopes to open the Wavelengths centre in Deptford and Forest Hill Pools next month.

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