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Sevenoaks and Edenbridge Leisure Centres and Lullingstone Park Golf Course close as Sencio goes into liquidation

Two leisure centres and a golf course have closed temporarily after the company that runs them went into liquidation.

Both the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre and the Edenbridge Leisure Centre, as well as the Lullingstone Park Golf Course are affected.

Sevenoaks Leisure Centre is to close
Sevenoaks Leisure Centre is to close

Staff received notice yesterday that Sevenoaks Leisure Limited, the parent company of the firm that manages the facilities, Sencio, was expected to go into liquidation in the next few weeks, with workers promised they would receive further information on their situation within a fortnight.

It is believed that the decision was taken at an emergency board meeting on Wednesday, March 8.

The decision puts at risk the jobs of 180 full-time staff and 30 self-employed trainers and instructors, although there is a good chance that many of the staff will be taken on by a new operator if one can be found.

The writing has been on the wall for Sencio for several years. The company was greatly adversely affected by the Covid lockdown.

It received an extra £300,000 bailout from Sevenoaks District Council at the time to tide it over and another £235,000 from Sport England, but the council took the decision in July 2021 to decline further requests for help.

Edenbridge Leisure Centre is closed today
Edenbridge Leisure Centre is closed today

Instead it said it would take the management of the centres back in-house when the firm's current contract expired.

Since then, the not-for-profit organisation has been hit again with soaring bills due to the cost of living crisis, particularly energy bills which are very high for all leisure centres.

It has been assisted by the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme which has helped the company to survive the winter, but that is set to cease by the end of March.

The grant had been worth £17,700 a month.

Jane Parish is the chief executive of Sencio Community Leisure. She had previously said that in the past year the price which the firm paid for gas to heat its its pools had risen from 2p per kilowatt to 19p.

Lullingstone Park Golf Course has also closed
Lullingstone Park Golf Course has also closed

Today, the board of Sevenoaks Leisure Limited issued a statement saying: "Over the past few days, it has become clear to us that the financial challenges we face are now insurmountable.

"This is a combination of the fall-out from COVID, soaring energy prices, a winter that hasn’t been kind to golf revenues, and increased competition, all of which have conspired against us.

"The leisure industry has been campaigning for many months for central government to recognise it as a vulnerable sector and despite the announcement in this week’s budget of £63m being earmarked for leisure centres and swimming pools, the majority of the funding is for more energy efficiency equipment to be installed in leisure centres which will help long-term with energy bills.

"This, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the immediate issues we are facing.

"We’ve strived repeatedly to try and put the business back on a secure financial footing. This, we are sorry to say, has not been possible.

'We are desperately sad'

"We would like to thank our staff for all they’ve done over the past few extremely challenges years and we are committed to offering them every possible assistance in the coming days and weeks.

"We are just sorry and desperately sad we couldn’t weather yet another storm."

The Sevenoaks centre was built in 1985 and the Edenbridge Centre in 1990.

All three facilities are owned by the district council.

Sevenoaks District Council also owns a third centre - the White Oak Leisure Centre at Swanley.

The new White Oak Leisure Centre in Swanley
The new White Oak Leisure Centre in Swanley

That centre is managed by a different company - Everyone Active - and is not affected.

It has just celebrated its first year in a new building, which has seen 400,000 customers pass through the doors in the past 12 months.

The White Oak Centre, which cost £24m to build, is more energy efficient, having replaced a previous facility built in the 1960s.

Sevenoaks council said: "Sencio Community Leisure has called in an insolvency firm and has ceased trading, closing the facilities with immediate effect.

"The decision happened suddenly as Sencio realised it could no longer meet its financial liabilities for March.

Cabinet member Cllr Lesley Dyball
Cabinet member Cllr Lesley Dyball

"Sencio set itself up as a leisure trust, operating its business for nearly 20 years in the Sevenoaks District. The company has appointed Evelyn Partners to assist with the insolvency process.

"Sencio will be communicating with its staff, customers and suppliers and has set up a dedicated email to answer any enquiries at sencio@evelyn.com."

Cllr Lesley Dyball, the cabinet member for people and places, said: “This sad news came as a terrible shock.

"However, I want to stress, we are 100% committed to the future of Edenbridge and Sevenoaks Leisure Centres and Lullingstone Park Golf Course.

“We appreciate this must be an anxious time for Sencio staff, customers and suppliers.

'Our priority will be to re-open as soon as possible'

“It is disappointing that Sencio finds itself in this position, despite receiving close to £1.4 million of public money to help them through the lockdowns and to support business recovery.

"While we have done everything possible to support Sencio over nearly two decades, the recent economic challenges, including increased energy costs, were overwhelming for the trust.

"While their decision to cease trading is out of our control, our top priority will be to work with the insolvency practitioner so that once permitted, we are ready to re-open the leisure centres and golf course as soon as possible.”

Laura Trott, the MP for Sevenoaks, said: "I am hugely disappointed.

"But I want to reassure everyone that the centres will reopen as Sevenoaks District Council already has plans in place to bring in a new operator.

Laura Trott MP
Laura Trott MP

"While the timescale for re-opening will rest with Sencio’s insolvency partner, rather than the council, the council is doing all it can to make sure the centres re-open as quickly as possible.

"I know today will be a hugely distressing time for staff and members. The centres play a huge role in our community and I am particularly worried about the loss of the swimming pool for our young club members.

"There are of course serious questions to ask about how this has happened, but that will follow in the coming days."

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