Gateshead schools face travel bills totalling thousands of pounds due to leisure centre closures

Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre closed in July due to Gateshead Council budget cuts. Credit: Google

Schools in Gateshead could be hit with travel bills totalling thousands of pounds due to the closure of two leisure centres.

Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre closed in July due to Gateshead Council budget cuts.

School leaders have now warned they face huge costs to arrange coach travel for swimming lessons with alternative facilities in Dunston and Heworth, which are not within walking distance.

It is hoped the leisure centres will be able to reopen under community management but schools face making difficult "trade-offs" in the meantime to cover the cost of coach travel.

The closures could also impact teaching time with longer journey times expected.

Susan Coles, chair of governors at Brighton Grove Primary School in Bensham, said her school would have to pay £11,000 per year to send its pupils to Dunston Pool for swimming lessons, which all schools are required to provide as part of the curriculum.

“You can walk to Gateshead Leisure Centre from our school, so the teachers would walk the pupils over there for their swimming lesson," she said. "Without the leisure centre, we would have to go to Dunston. That would cost us £11,000 a year because we would need to hire a coach.”

The hea teacher of another Gateshead school told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the money spent on travel bills could quickly run into tens of thousands of pounds for each school in their area within a few years if the leisure centres cannot be saved.

The teacher, who asked not to be named, said: “It might be that some after-school clubs don’t happen or specialist coaches cannot come in, to reduce costs. There will have to be a trade-off for a lot of schools.

“It is also lost time in the curriculum. We are just across from the leisure centre and it takes about seven minutes to get our children there. But we will now lose curriculum time and that is more valuable than the money sometimes. Children will now be sat on a coach and it will probably be 30 minutes each way, so that is just as big a challenge for us.”

Birtley Swimming Pool was closed in July 2023 Credit: Google

Gateshead Council have said they are actively supporting the transfer of the leisure centres to become community assets.

The Gateshead Active group trying to complete a community asset transfer for Gateshead Leisure Centre hopes to have it reopened by the end of this year but school swimming lessons will continue to be affected in the meantime.

Labour councillor Angela Douglas, Gateshead Council’s cabinet member responsible for leisure centres, said:  “As our leisure services were £2.3m over budget, we knew that some schools would have to amend the way they travelled to swimming lessons. 

“As part of the review process, we ensured that all legal requirements were met in regard to schools accessing their nearest pool. Once Gateshead Active are in a position to take over Gateshead Leisure Centre, our schools will have the option to continue lessons at the pools they now attend or return to Gateshead Leisure Centre.

“During the review, we engaged with local schools to understand the impact of the closures on school swimming lessons.

"Schools across the borough are required to provide transport to pools for lessons and during the review it was identified a small number of schools that were in walking distance to a Gateshead Council pool would have to seek alternative mode of transport once the leisure centres closed.”

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