Problems peak for leisure centre users

Sue Smith, who coaches Badminton for young people

Sue Smith, who coaches Badminton for young people

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LEISURE centre users are bracing themselves for a price hike as off-peak charges disappear.

The impending changes have angered some, including Sue Smith.

The 54-year-old believes higher fees will stop some Sunderland families from getting vital exercise.

Mrs Smith, her son Ryan, 23, and 10 of his friends have been enjoying weekly badminton sessions at Crowtree Leisure Centre.

She hoped that teaching the group how to play the energetic sport would get them off the settee and away from the pub.

However, they were dealt a blow when, as part of budget cuts, Sunderland Council announced it was ditching casual bookings at the leisure centre.

Crowtree will, therefore, only accept club and sports hall block bookings.

Now the group – some of whom are unemployed or on minimum wage – face a hike in fees before they can pick up a racquet.

The changes mean they will no longer be able to take advantage of off-peak sessions at the centre, and will see the cost for an hour on court rise from £3.90 to £7.30.

Mrs Smith, from Seaburn, feels the council should be keeping prices low to encourage young people to get healthy.

“I live right on the seafront and I see all these kids walking about eating chips,” she said.

“The council is building a massive divide between people who have and people who have not.

“They are taking away from families who want to do some exercise.

“I am encouraging young people to do active sport.

“For me, the focus on the whole city is not on the people who pay the rates.

“They are not encouraging kids to come in off the street and make a booking when they feel like it.”

Alison O’Neill, assistant head of sport and leisure at the council, said: “From the beginning of October, Crowtree is moving to a block-booking system to help give customers guaranteed access to courts.

“This is part of the wider re-organisation of city council leisure facilities and brings Crowtree into line with Seaburn Leisure Centre where the system has operated successfully for the last five years.

“Block booking is charged at the full price of £7.30 per hour per court, and guarantees your court for a maximum of one year or minimum of 10 weeks.

“Payments can be made in advance or for each booked session.”

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