TV historian David Olusoga backs campaign to reopen Gateshead leisure centre

Historian David Olusoga meeting members of the Save Leisure Gateshead campaign outside Gateshead Leisure Centre.
Historian David Olusoga meeting members of the Save Leisure Gateshead campaign outside Gateshead Leisure Centre. Credit: LDRS

A TV historian has criticised what he calls the “deep political failure” that led to the closure of the North East leisure centre.

David Olusoga met campaigners trying to save Gateshead Leisure Centre on bank holiday Monday after it was closed down by the council last month due to budget cuts.

The A House Through Time presenter has been supportive of local efforts to reopen the facility, as it is one the tv star used whilst growing up.

He said the loss of the popular facility has become a “symbol of what austerity really means.”

Seeing the leisure boarded up, Mr Olusoga said: “I am genuinely shocked, I am really saddened for my hometown. This is a disgrace.

“This is one of the best facilities in the town of Gateshead, this is a place that transformed my life when I was growing up, it is somewhere that is enormously valuable to the people of this town and I cannot believe that we are in a position where this beautiful building is in the state that it is today.”

The 53-year-old attended the centre in the 1980s to participate in karate, judo and basketball sessions.

Gateshead Council say it could no longer afford to maintain all of the borough's leisure centres, and have also closed Birtley swimming pool.

It said that since 2010 is has already lost £179m from their annual spending power.

Council leader Martin Gannon said that talks with Gateshead Active had been “going very positively” and that he was now “absolutely” certain the centre will be brought back into use. 

He added that its temporary closure had been “essential” both because of the council’s dire financial situation and to allow Gateshead Active to carry out works within the centre before it can reopen, but warned that other council-run services could soon come under threat as the authority’s depleted resources have to be focused on rising demand for social care for the most vulnerable. 

A government spokesperson said: “Learning to swim is a vital life skill and we recognise the role our public pools play in supporting the health and fitness of the nation.

“Local Authorities are responsible for swimming pools and leisure centres, but the Government recognises the current challenges. Councils in England will benefit from almost £60 billion to deliver vital frontline services with an average funding increase of 9.4% over this financial year.

“The Government is also providing £60 million to support operating costs of leisure centres and swimming pools and help them improve energy efficiency.

“This is on top of the £100 million National Leisure Centre Recovery Fund which has secured the survival and reopening of more than 1,100 swimming pools since 2019, with over 100 new facilities also being opened.”

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