Falmouth's Ships and Castles Leisure Centre will close at the end of March

  • Watch Kathy Wardle's report

The closure of a leisure centre with a swimming pool in Cornwall has been described as an "absolute crisis" by a former Olympian.

Ships and Castles Leisure Centre in Falmouth was one of four Cornwall swimming pools initially earmarked for closure and its fate was sealed at a meeting of Cornwall Council's cabinet today (March 4).

Two other centres - in Saltash and Launceston - have been saved and more time has been granted for bidders hoping to prevent a fourth, Wadebridge Leisure Centre, from having to shut.

The future of the pools was thrown into doubt after operator GLL told Cornwall Council it could no longer run them due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.

The council in turn said it is not in a financial position to be able to subsidise running the leisure centres.

After the cabinet meeting at County Hall in Truro, campaigners described the closure of Ships and Castles Leisure Centre as a huge blow for the community.

Jenna (left, in swimsuit) campaigned against the centre's closure outside County Hall

Jenna Lane protested outside County Hall in her swimsuit. She told ITV News: "I’m disappointed, it was very emotional.

"I think what came through was the sense of community and strength in Falmouth and Penryn and yes really it feels like loss.

"It was something that was an important part of the community and for health and wellbeing."

Olympic medallist Sharron Davies, from Plymouth, also voiced her concerns about the closure of the leisure centre - describing it as an "absolute crisis".

  • Watch Sharron Davies' interview here

The swimmer said: "Not only is it important to have these facilities to keep fit when we’re all having sedentary lifestyles, and every year obesity rates, diabetes, and heart conditions go up, we’ve got a backlog now where kids have not been taught how to swim.

"We’ve lost 250 pools so far since the beginning of Covid and Swim England is predicting we’re going to lose about 1,000 by the end of the decade.

"It’s a very sad state of affairs because obviously swimming is a sport for everyone from the cradle to the grave. It’s a life skill, it’s something you can do when you’re pregnant or old so it’s incredibly important.

"There are solutions and what we need to do is think outside the box because we can’t just keep closing swimming pools and not replacing them with anything."

Councillor Richard Pears said the bids put forward to operate the leisure centre in Falmouth were not financially viable.

He told councillors at the cabinet meeting Ships and Castles has had three different operators since it opened in the early-1990s but has never even broken even.

"It was a very tough decision," he said.

"I didn't come into politics to close things, that's not why we’re here. But we started with four pools on the chopping block as it were and we've now reduced that down to two.

"I very much hope that with our negotiations over the next week that will be down to just one, but unfortunately the outcome for Falmouth is the pool was just not viable."

Community interest company Pendennis Leisure submitted one of the bids to take over Ships and Castles.

The leisure centre is being closed because the council says it cannot afford to run it Credit: ITV West Country

Some of its members walked out of the meeting, saying they were not satisfied with the answers being given to questions from the public.

Tom Hicks, from Pendennis Leisure Community Interest Company, said: “There's going to be a large part of the community that's shocked and saddened and potentially devastated by the news.

"It’s going to have an impact potentially on where local children learn to swim, and in a coastal community that's hugely important.

"Also there's older people that use the centre and have used the centre since it opened, there's access to the centre for disabled people as well."

Cornwall Council says it will now support operator GLL to decommission the leisure centre in Falmouth and provide support for the affected staff.

Wadebridge Leisure Centre will remain open while work continues to progress a potentially viable bid to run it longer term.