An Open Letter from Andrew Snelling, Chief Executive, Sheffield City Trust

For 30 years, our goal has been to improve the health and wellbeing of Sheffield. And, like everyone, we're desperate for things to get back to 'normal'.

We are a city of sport, music, theatre and the arts; with many iconic facilities in our city. I'm proud that Sheffield City Trust operates a number of these spaces that have such significance not just for Sheffielders, but for people across the region.

It’s incredibly disappointing, for us, our customers and Sheffielders at large, to see these buildings remaining closed. The impact from the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting all industries and every one of us individually.

The Government announcement allowing leisure facilities to reopen was one which we welcomed with open arms. On Tuesday 25th August, with new safety measures in place we will once again be able to support the ongoing health and wellbeing of the people of Sheffield.

We are very excited to be opening many of our venues’ doors, but the impact from the required Government restrictions resulted in 21 weeks where our venues were closed to the public. During this time, we made little or no income. Like many organisations across the country, this has created a very challenging financial position and we have been forced into making some tough decisions.
Presently, the Government has announced no plans to resume mass gatherings. Until it is safe to do so, this is a decision I understand wholeheartedly and agree with. But I cannot deny that it affects us and how we operate. Several of our venues: the FlyDSA Arena, City Hall and Ponds Forge rely on these large-scale events taking place to be financially sustainable. Clearly, we’re looking forward to being able to resume these events and reopen these buildings as soon as legislation allows.

Of course, we understand the disappointment the ongoing closure of these buildings creates; this is something we share across our organisation, and we've done our best to minimise the disruption caused to our customers. Throughout the pandemic, we've worked with local and national organisations to ensure we can deliver the best service in the safest manner. It's been pleasing to see that through ukSport funding, GB Boxing and British Ice Skating have been back training in our venues.

However, some sports are affected more than others. Diving as a sport needs very specific facilities and Ponds Forge has the only diving pit in Sheffield. I really sympathise with those affected and acknowledge sentiments behind the campaign being run to reopen Ponds Forge.

We're incredibly proud of Ponds Forge's history and the success of all the aquatics clubs based there. We're working closely with all the aquatics clubs across diving, swimming and water-polo alongside British Swimming to do everything we can to minimise the disappointment of those affected by offering alternatives wherever we can. And, we're also very fortunate that some neighbouring cities do have facilities available to support their training, at least in the very short-term.

I'd also like to make it clear that any rumours of plans to permanently close Ponds Forge are wholly inaccurate. There are absolutely no plans, whatsoever, which consider a permanent closure of Ponds Forge.
The current closure of Ponds Forge is a temporary measure only whilst the usual events and mass gathering activities are unable to take place.
As many of you will understand the operating cost of a facility the size of Ponds Forge is enormous. Hosting large-scale events subsidises the operating expenses of the building, which far exceed the revenues from sports and memberships.

At Sheffield City Trust, we have an open to all approach to fitness and our reopening plan is designed to provide the highest coverage of physical activity possible at the most efficient cost to the tax-paying people of Sheffield.

The costs of reopening Ponds Forge combined with the current levels of activity able to take place would create a significant financial requirement on the City. Running costs of Ponds Forge's pools are 5x times more than any of our other venues’ pools. In fact, the operating costs of Concord Sports Centre, Heeley Pool and Hillsborough Leisure Centre combined costs significantly less than that of Ponds Forge alone.
Thanks to the welcome financial support from Sheffield City Council, our initial phase of reopening provides venues covering the north-west (Hillsborough, S6), north (Concord, S5), north-east (EISS/iceSheffield, S9) and south-east of the City (Springs, S2). These facilities provide a spread of leisure centres and pools across the City. With reprogrammed and reallocated activities across our venues, we are working hard to accommodate the 15,000 fitness members and 9,000 children and adults on a coached programme by opening access to our other venues.

In what is one of the most challenging periods in our organisation's history, the support from our customers and partners has been overwhelming. We're looking forward to our facilities reopening next week and continuing to do what we do best – improving the health and wellbeing of Sheffield.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you well and remind you that though things may look a little different, we’re still the same charity at heart. And, we remain as committed to the people of Sheffield as ever.

Andrew Snelling,
Sheffield City Trust Chief Executive.