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Swimming club Edenbridge Piranhas left without a pool after sudden Edenbridge leisure centre closure

A swimming club has been left in limbo following the sudden closure of a leisure centre.

Leisure centres in Sevenoaks and Edenbridge were forced to shut, as well as Lullingstone Park Golf Course, after the firm which runs them went into liquidation.

Staff received notice operators Sencio Community Leisure called in an insolvency firm and ceased trading last week.

It has left swimming group Edenbridge Piranhas – who used the leisure centre in Edenbridge for nearly 30 years – without access to a pool.

Club chairman Melinda Dunster labelled the sudden closure "an absolute disaster".

"From a mental health and fitness point of view, all our swimmers are bereathed," she said. "All parents are desperately trying to find us pool time.

"We have had some great communication from other clubs, pools and even private pools in houses who are offering us time which is great."

The club has around 100 members who train at the pool. Picture: Edenbridge Piranhas Website
The club has around 100 members who train at the pool. Picture: Edenbridge Piranhas Website

But she says the club needs a long-term plan.

She added: "We need to know the leisure centre will be opening sometime soon and if they want to improve it like has been suggested then that is absolutely brilliant.

"We just need a pool. We need a home pool. It means everything to the kids and a lot also for the parents."

The Piranhas has around 100 members, many between the ages of nine and 11, who uses the pool in the Stangrove Park centre at different times across the week.

Ms Dunster explained it is vital that the swimmers have regular access to facilities especially when they are training for regional competitions like five members are.

She explained: "We are completely at a loss. We do not know what we are planning for. We are focused on finding a pool a little closer to us.

Chairman of Edenbridge Piranhas Melinda Dunster says the closure is a disaster
Chairman of Edenbridge Piranhas Melinda Dunster says the closure is a disaster

"We have had no communication from Sencio directly [about the closure] or confirmation of any future timescale. We are waiting really if it is a short or long term plan.

"We are not surprised by the lack of communication any more, we are quite saddened but we need to move on and focus on the future.

"What is gone is gone. Let's move on and deal with, hopefully, the new concerned party. We are stronger than that, we are bigger than that.

"Best case scenario it will be closed for a month, we just want to know what the future holds. We are resilient at the club that we can cope with it but only if we know what we are coping with."

The club say they only found out about the closure through parents who held a membership with the leisure centre.

It is believed the decision to close the three sites was taken at an emergency board meeting on Wednesday, March 8.

Edenbridge Leisure Centre is temporarily closed
Edenbridge Leisure Centre is temporarily closed

It puts the jobs of 180 full-time staff and 30 self-employed trainers and instructors at risk – although many may be taken on by a new operator if one can be found.

Troubled leisure operator Sencio was adversely affected by the impact of the Covid lockdowns and received a £300,000 bailout from Sevenoaks council to tide it over, as well as £235,000 from Sport England.

But the local authority took the decision in July 2021 to decline further requests for help.

Instead it said it would take on management of the centres when the firm's current contract expired.

Last week, the board of Sevenoaks Leisure Limited, the parent company of Sencio, 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 has not been kind to golf revenues, and increased competition, all of which have conspired against us."

"We are just sorry and desperately sad we could not weather yet another storm."

It had welcomed the announcement in last week's budget of a £63 million cash injection into leisure centres and pools after "campaigning for many months"

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.

But the firm said it did not unfortunately solve the "immediate issues" it is facing.

It added: "We have 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 would like to thank our staff for all they have 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 could not weather yet another storm."

Meanwhile Piranhas are now looking offers they have been given to try and work out a plan for members.

A spokesman for Sencio said: "The centres closed on March 16 and the parties involved are looking at the options and attempting to contact those who have been affected.

"Those who are thought to be owed money by Sencio will be contacted by Evelyn Partners with information about how to submit their claims in the liquidation and further announcements relating to the future of the sites will also be made in due course."

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