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Proposed changes to the provision of Leisure Services in Gateshead

Why change
Our strategy
What we are consulting on
Our proposal in detail
About Gateshead's leisure centres
Who will be impacted by these proposals
How the consultation will work
Give us your views
What happens next

- Frequently asked questions about the Leisure Services consultation


Our Leisure Services own and operate seven leisure centres across the borough. The exception to this is Birtley Leisure Centre where the gym is operated by a private company.

Our leisure centres provide a wide range of sport and leisure facilities and activities including swimming pools, gyms, fitness classes, football pitches, squash courts, sports halls, soft play, sauna, steam rooms and athletics tracks.

You may know our Leisure Services as the GO Gateshead brand.

We do not have a statutory responsibility to provide leisure centres. However, we do recognise the importance of having these centres and what they mean to our communities.

Why change

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the leisure sector across the UK. The cost-of-living crisis, and the unprecedented rises in energy prices and cost of supplies, is also greatly impacting the industry.

Gateshead's leisure centres face the same difficult challenges as the rest of the country.

Due to their size, condition and age, some of our leisure centre buildings are not energy efficient and require major investment to undertake essential maintenance in the medium term.

The use of our leisure centres and the income they make, has unfortunately never returned to the levels we saw before the pandemic. After the first waves of the pandemic, we made the decision not to open our leisure centres as quickly as other leisure operators. This was due to high infection rates in the North East and the continuing need for our Covid response involving Gateshead leisure sites for essential testing and vaccinations. The sites were also used as our community hubs and support networks.

Leisure Services staff were vitally important in supporting the pandemic response and delivered support from several leisure sites. When we began to re-open leisure centres, we re-opened them on a phased basis so as not to negatively impact Gateshead's COVID-19 response.

Since re-opening, Leisure Services have been badly affected by COVID-19 related staff shortages due to sickness and self-isolation and national shortages in the recruitment of staff such as lifeguards and swimming teachers.

Over summer 2022, we took the difficult and necessary decision to close Heworth Leisure Centre for eight weeks due to staffing pressures across Leisure Services, using the time to undertake essential maintenance.

The service continues to be under extreme pressure.

Our aim over the past few years has been for Leisure Services to become self-funding and, despite its best efforts, this has not been possible due to major barriers.

We have, over the course of the pandemic and in the wake of it, undertaken an extensive review of the Leisure Services we provide. In February 2022 an initial consultation exercise helped us understand the public use of our leisure centres and the impact of COVID- 19 on that use. A detailed review of the condition of our leisure sites, the forthcoming significant building maintenance costs and their performance data was undertaken. In the context of that and spiralling running costs for Leisure Services, including an overspend of more than £2m in the current financial year, and sustained budgetary cuts to the Council over the last 12 years (totalling £179m, with a further £55m to identify over the next three years), we have found that the number of leisure centres we own and operate is no longer sustainable. There is no longer the budget available to continue to run our leisure centres as we are.

The pandemic and tough economic situation has led to a widening gap between the amount of income generated by Leisure Services and the cost of running services. As we cannot afford for this to continue, we need to make tough decisions.

In October 2022, it was agreed to begin a comprehensive consultation to understand the impact that some leisure centre closures would have. This information will inform decisions on which leisure centres should close and which should remain open.

While no one can dispute the importance of sport and leisure in improving health, social and economic outcomes, we have to consider this within the context of funding other competing priorities. Our first duty is to provide the statutory front-line services we are legally obliged to provide for our residents, within a balanced budget.

Our strategy

We want to make Gateshead a place where everyone thrives.

Since 2010, cuts in Government funding means we can no longer do everything we did in the past. However, that does not mean we've lost our ambition - we care more than ever.

Poverty and health inequalities are placing an increasing demand on our services, so we need to focus our work and the money we have to spend on what matters most. Our Health and Wellbeing Strategy (PDF) [3MB] (opens new window) is key to achieving this.

We need to increase levels of physical activity across Gateshead because:

  • there is overwhelming evidence that regular physical activity is good for your physical and mental health as well as bringing a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits
  • preventable, yet life-changing conditions, like obesity and diabetes are increasing

We recently agreed a new Physical Activity Strategy which supports the Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

This sets out our mission:

To work with our communities and partners, to get Gateshead moving, to improve health and wellbeing, and to be a borough where every resident has access to a range of appropriate and affordable opportunities for physical activity that becomes part of their everyday lives and improve health and wellbeing.

Physical activity is not limited to activity that takes place in sport and leisure centres. Most physical activity takes place in informal settings like green and open spaces. It includes walking, running and cycling and other outdoor activities. Currently, most of the Council funding for Leisure Services is spent on the Council operated centres that only a minority of Gateshead's residents use.

Our long-term ambitions are to expand our focus to support people to be more active where they live, in the space around them. We particularly want to target areas where health inequalities are the greatest.

In the future, we see the Council as delivering fewer sport and leisure services directly and working with other operators to support and influence the wider offer of sport and leisure facilities in the borough.

Some facts about leisure services in Gateshead

  • we are the only provider of public swimming pools in Gateshead
  • we will need to continue to make significant investment to maintain current levels of swimming provision across the borough
  • competition for health and fitness members continues to increase - there are many private gyms in Gateshead
  • the operation of swimming pools depends upon the income from health and fitness membership

What we are consulting on

We need to make immediate savings to help balance the budget. The only way of making the size and speed of savings required is to close some leisure centres. To inform this decision, we need to understand more about how you and other customers use sport and leisure facilities.

Gateshead International Stadium

We are not asking about use of Gateshead International Stadium leisure facilities as part of this consultation.

Whilst the Stadium is managed by Gateshead Council Leisure Services, it supports professional sport and a significant education offer in addition to leisure centre fitness provision. The future direction of Gateshead International Stadium will therefore be considered under a separate review.

Our proposal in detail

Over the last 18 months, we have explored different ways of delivering leisure activities to find a new approach which is affordable. The long-term model we have chosen is to procure a partner organisation to manage our remaining leisure facilities, with the Council retaining ownership of the buildings.

Partnering with a specialist leisure services provider will provide wider expertise and experience, enable access to better resources such as established customer management and IT systems, and offer opportunities for economies of scale (cost advantages). This will allow us to reduce leisure services funding over time.

Other councils have already put in place long-term contracts with partner organisations to operate leisure centres on their behalf. They have told us that they have seen many benefits including a large reduction in council funding, improved participation in sport and leisure activities at their leisure centres and support to generate external funding to re-invest in leisure facilities.

It will take several years to put in place the new management arrangements and get to a point where our funding of leisure services can be reduced significantly. The only way of making the size of savings required now is to close some leisure centres before the new management arrangements are put in place. This will help to provide and protect remaining leisure centres in the longer term.

To make an informed decision about which leisure centres should remain open, for each leisure centre we are undertaking an evaluation of a range of strategic, financial, usage and performance measures so that we can identify the leisure centres which should be proposed for closure.

Another important part of the evaluation is to find out more about how our customers use leisure services, and any difficulties they might face in switching to alternative facilities.

No recommendation will be made about which sites should remain open and which sites should close permanently until the impact of closure is understood through the consultation.

Based on the work that we have done on the evaluation so far, the sites that appear at this time to be least sustainable are Gateshead Leisure Centre, Dunston Leisure Centre and the Sports Hall at Birtley Leisure Centre.

About Gateshead's leisure centres

Below you will see some information about each leisure centre. This includes information about subsidy and lifecycle costs.

What we mean by subsidy

  • the difference between total income forecast for 2022/23 and total expenditure forecast for 2022/23, which the Council will have to fund (based on projections made in July 2022)

What we mean by lifecycle costs

  • the amount of funding which has been estimated to keep the building in its current condition excluding cosmetic refurbishment and updating.

Birtley Leisure Centre

This centre provides a gym, fitness classes, sports hall, sauna, room hire and car charging points.

Key information

  • built in 1950, extended in 1994
  • sports hall in poor condition
  • gym operated by private operator until 2027
  • level of projected Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £366,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years): £832,000
  • total number of visits per year: 12,952
  • nearest public leisure centre: Chester-le-Street (2.4 miles). Washington Leisure Centre (3.6 miles.)

Birtley Swimming Centre

This centre providers three swimming pools, a water slide, aquafit, learn to swim lessons, Changing Places toilet and room hire.

Key information

  • built in 1972
  • level of projected Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £593,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years): £953,000
  • total number of visits per year: 50,770
  • nearest public leisure centre: Chester-le-Street (2.4 miles). Washington Leisure Centre (3.6 miles)

Blaydon Leisure Centre

This centre provides two swimming pools, aquafit, learn to swim lessons, a gym, fitness classes, athletics track, 3G sports pitch, 2 grass pitches, Changing Places toilets, car charging points and room hire.

Key information

  • built in 2010.
  • combined Leisure and Health Centre
  • level of projected Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £541,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years) :£100,000
  • total number of visits per year: 215,115.
  • nearest public leisure centre: Dunston (2.3 miles)

Dunston Leisure Centre

This centre provides two swimming pools (including one deep pool), aquafit, learn to swim lessons, sauna and steam room, squash courts (currently not in use), gym, fitness classes, Changing Places toilets, car charging points and room hire.

Key information

  • built in 1963, extended in 1975 and refurbished in 2010
  • deep pool which can be used for synchronised swimming and scuba diving
  • squash courts out of use as need substantial repairs
  • level of projected Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £557,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years): £1,300,000
  • total number of visits per year: 210,182
  • nearest public leisure centre: Blaydon (2.3 miles)

Gateshead Leisure Centre

This centre provides three swimming pools, learn to swim lessons, aquafit, a gym, fitness classes, squash court, sports hall, sauna, steam room, clip 'n' climb (currently not in use), soft play, Changing Places toilets, car charging points and room/studio hire.

Key information

  • built in 1935, refurbished in 1975 and 2009
  • large leisure centre in a central location with good transport links.
  • level of projected Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £684,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years): £9,100,000
  • total number of visits per year: 285,020
  • nearest public leisure centre: Heworth (2.3 miles)

Heworth Leisure Centre

This centre provides two swimming pools, splash pool, aquafit, learn to swim lessons, FlowRider (currently not in use) a gym and fitness classes, grass pitch, room hire, car charging points (currently not in use) and Changing Places toilets.

Key information

  • built in 2010
  • FlowRider currently not in service - this is expensive to maintain and run
  • level of Council subsidy required in 2022/23: £643,000
  • lifecycle maintenance costs (10 years): £764,000
  • total number of visits per year: 84,852
  • nearest public leisure centre: Gateshead (2.3 miles)

To read more about the proposals for Leisure Services, and the work done so far on the Evaluation Template, view the Cabinet paper that was discussed on 25 October 2022 (PDF) [464KB] (opens new window) .

Information from the consultation will be added to the Evaluation Template before a final decision is made.

Who will be impacted by these proposals

We believe that our proposals are the best way of guaranteeing a more sustainable and viable network of leisure centres in Gateshead and using our reduced budget for our strategic priorities. We also believe that the proposals are the best way of ensuring that Gateshead residents, who want to use leisure facilities, have access to them for the longer term.

We appreciate that leisure centre closures could have a significant impact on individuals, families, schools, community groups and clubs who currently use them. We want to make sure that we fully understand the impact of any future leisure centre closures through this consultation.

As we are the only provider of public swimming pools in the Borough, if one or more leisure centres with swimming pools close, we will need to decide how we prioritise the use of remaining swimming pools. Given the high costs of operating swimming pools, it is unlikely that private companies would fill this gap.

Through the consultation we want to understand how you think activities should be prioritised in remaining pools. Current swimming pool use includes Gateshead school swimming lessons, private lessons, swimming club bookings, private hire and public swimming.

How the consultation will work

The consultation begins on Wednesday 2 November and ends at midnight on Tuesday 13 December 2022.

During the consultation, we will be holding user drop-in sessions.

These will be an opportunity to find out more about the proposals and to discuss them.

Birtley Leisure CentreFriday 11 November10.30am to 12.30pm
Birtley Swimming CentreSaturday 19 November9.30 to 11.30am
Blaydon Leisure CentreThursday 10 November7.15 to 9.15pm
Dunston Leisure CentreSaturday 19 November12.30 to 2.30pm
Gateshead Leisure CentreFriday 11 November5 to 7pm
Gateshead StadiumThursday 17 November5.30 to 7.30pm
Heworth Leisure CentreThursday 10 November12noon to 2pm

Please let us know if you require support to enable you to participate in these events.

Have your say

Please complete the questionnaire and make sure it reaches us by midnight on Tuesday 13 December 2022.         

Give us your views

Paper copies of the questionnaire are also available from any of our leisure centres and can be returned there too. They can also be completed and returned at Gateshead Civic Centre.

For postal returns, please send to Public Health and Wellbeing, Gateshead Civic Centre, Regent Street, Gateshead, NE8 1HH by Tuesday 13 December 2022.

For general enquiries or comments about this consultation or for support in responding to the consultation (including access to FREEPOST envelopes) please phone 0191 433 3000 or email

What happens next

Following the consultation, we will consider all the responses received and feed them into our evaluation of Gateshead leisure centres. A report will be taken to the Council's Cabinet in January 2023 setting out the results of the evaluation, including consultation findings, and recommendations about which leisure centres should remain open.

If, as a result of current pressures, temporary closure of one or more leisure centres is required during the consultation process, such closures will be temporary only and no decision will be made on permanent closures until we have obtained views from the public through this consultation.

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