Penwortham Gala 2009

This is a guest post from Paul Holmes. He is an IT manager and part-time IT teacher. Find him on Twitter @psholmes. If you’d like to write a guest post for Preston Blog check out how you can get involved.

Penwortham Gala featured street processions

Penwortham Gala featured street processions. Image credit to vintage vix.

Penwortham Gala 13 June 2009 part 1 The Afternoon.

I have lived in Penwortham for most of my life, and when I was a kid in the 80’s one of the highlights for me was being on the back of a lorry parading through Penwortham and then spending the day on the park trying to win a prize or eating far too much candy floss.

During the 90’s I outgrew the gala but when I moved back to Penwortham 5 years ago from Leyland I was amazed at the sense of community this event brings, and never more so than this year’s gala event. The weather was perfect and all morning Penwortham had a buzz about it, and by noon side roads were swarming with families making their way to Cop Lane for the lunch time parade.

My wife and I meet up with all our family then joined some friends in their front garden across from Hurst Grange Park. Standing outside their house I was amazed at the good feeling on the streets, and how everyone knew everyone else. I saw people id not seen for years, but on a day like Saturday you instantly pick up from where you left off. Kids were excited, parents laughing and then the parade started.

Watch a video of Penwortham Gala 2009 from Viva TV

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I was impressed with the pipers and the marching bands – also the floats were excellent (the Star Wars one my favourite), but we did feel that the parade was a little short – could this be the credit crunch, is it difficult to get a trucker to work Saturdays with the price of fuel?

After the parade went past people began to make their way to the park. The park was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. The rides and stalls were really attracting the crowds, and my young niece loved the rides and I suppose that’s who they are aimed at. Also with the incredible weather ice cream sellers must have made small fortune. Next year I’m going to have a stall selling spray on hair colour as every kid on the park was buying the stuff and walking round with bright green hair.

After an hour we decided to retire to the Fleece for a few drinks – again very busy but I was a bit put out that they had run out of Pear Cider and didn’t have enough staff behind the bar, but again the sense of community in the beer garden was brilliant, and everyone had one aim to return to the park at night.

Penwortham Gala 13 June 2009 part 2 The Evening

By 6.30 walking to Hurst Grange Park, you could smell barbeques and see people gearing up for a night of entertainment on the park. We took a cool box and picnic chairs and got a good spot in front of the stage. Again I couldn’t believe how many people had turned out, families had bbq going on the park (wish I thought of that) and numerous groups of people carrying chairs and picnic rugs.

First on stage was the Blues Brother Tribute band who really got the night going, singing not just Blues Brothers songs but other soul numbers. As the park got busier I wished the stage had been bigger, but as it was donated I suppose it did the job.

By 8.30 the park was again heaving, noticed the usual groups of teenagers with bags of cheep booze, tattooed blokes with their tops off, groups of giddy girls and families sprawled out across the fields, but not once did I see any trouble or bad feeling. Noticeable Police presence, but everyone was soaking up the last rays of sun before evening set in. Sat around the park with good friends and cold wine is a great way of spending a Saturday night.

The Robbie Williams Tribute was ok – if the crowd had thought he was Robbie Williams as much as the performer did the atmosphere would have been brilliant, saying that towards the end of his set, people did get up and sing along, however if I had got up on stage and sang Angels – people would have sang along too. Did think the Blues Brothers would have been better going on second as they could have really got the place going.

However don’t get me wrong – the entertainment did the job and it was free, a good job Penwortham Town Council. In this day and age it could have been easy to have organised nothing at all, as Preston City Council would have done. Maybe next year the Gala could show case some local talent and even have a theme where everyone could dress up, but in a year of constant doom and gloom, the Gala lifted my spirits and was a shining example of what a community event should be like. It made be proud to be British and more proud to be from Penwortham.

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Priory College leaflet from Penwortham Leisure Centre public meeting

A leaflet written by the Priory Sports and Technology College was available to all those who attended the meeting. I’ve snapped a shot of the front and back, it helps give you their side of the story. Click either of the images to view a larger version.

Front of the leaflet given out by Priory Sport & Technology College

Front of the leaflet given out by Priory Sport & Technology College

Back of leaflet given out by Priory Sports and Technology College

Back of leaflet given out by Priory Sports and Technology College

Views of people at the Penwortham Leisure Centre public meeting

Over 500 people packed into the hall at Penwortham Girls School to hear the debate

Over 500 people packed into the hall at Penwortham Girls School to hear the debate

Below are an assortment of views that the people of Penwortham, and the surrounding area, expressed at the public meeting about the potential closure of Penwortham Leisure Centre.

A man who worked for the company that look after the leisure centre said:

The security of the general public at the centre is taken very seriously. I look upon the site more as a leisure centre and community centre than as part of the school.

A male resident with a child at Priory College said:

The council has a child safety officer, has the child safety officer seen any evidence that the leisure centre poses a risk to children? I also believe the school encourages pupils to make use of the facilities when members of the public are known to be in there, isn’t this contradictory? Why haven’t the council and school agreed to do something more than three years ago if the agreement dates from 1993? As a parent, I have not received any communication about this from the college until now, why?

A female resident, who spoke on behalf of her whole family that use the leisure centre, said:

I’m upset and apalled that you think we all need CRB checks for any of us to use the leisure centre while children are there.

A male representative from the local branch of the English Squash and Racquet Club said:

This decision doesn’t make sense. Look at the growth we’re starting to see in people taking up sport and exercise and we’ve got £1 million of funding to do it. We need to utilise facilities in these leisure centres more rather than have them closed during the day.

A female resident said:

I am very concerned even if the centre closes during the day. I take my child to the swimming group during the day, what provision will there be for mums and toddlers swimming lessons if the centre does close its doors to the public? The closure would be a severe disavantage to the local community and also could alienate the school from the local community.

William Hague, a resident from Longton who has been using the centre for 15 years, said:

What sort of figure is the school expecting the local authority to find to fund the proposed work needed? I’ve heard a figure of around £2 million. Also, Fulwood High School has a leisure centre attached and yet their agreement seems to work well, why can this not happen at Penwortham?

The headteacher replied that the school was only looking for an investment of around £250,00 – a figure quoted by the County Council – for investment in a multi-use sports area such as astroturf pitches.

David Burrows, the MP for South Ribble, said:

I have been involved in this issue for some time and I chaired a meeting in February 2008 to try and get a resolution. All we want to see if our children safe and the facilities available to the public during the day. If this dispute is about child protection what physical issues are there that need to be solved to set the child protection issues right? I met Ed Balls, education minister, earlier today and he said that if we needed a senior officer with expertise in dual use agreements, then we could have one visit us and try and help us seek an agreement. The three parties have got to sort this out for the sake of the people of Penwortham.

A local resident said:

I find it very interested what the headteacher had to say. I think there is an underlying agenda here, does the school want sole use of the leisure centre so that it can let it out and derive income? Also, as I recall, £80,000 was collected, of public money, to build that leisure centre in the first place so it is the people’s leisure centre.

A local resident, who is also a mother, said:

We’ve talked a lot about safeguarding children, and it is about prevention. It is not about ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, it’s about making sure the right prevention methods are in place to protect our children. I know how manipulative councillors can be, but the safety of children must be put first.

Ruth Sharpe, a local resident and who works at the University of Central Lancashire, said:

Clearly the needs of the community need to be met. Just look around this room, we have an ageing population and a facility like this is needed to take the strain off the NHS. All of you across the board need to sort this out.

A female local resident, said:

If you do get an agreement by August, will it be a permanent agreement or will we just be back here again having this debate further down the line?

A female resident presented 690 letters of objection from local residents, a lot of them young people, about the proposed closure. There was also mention of the Facebook group that local residents had set up to save the leisure centre. She said:

I hope I can give these to you and you read them. A lot of people have taken the time to write these and I hope it shows you how people feel.

Stuart Cohen, a pupil at Priory College, said:

While there hasn’t been an issue yet at the college, anyone can still wander around and as pupils who knows what could happen. Our safety is surely the most important thing.

This is just a selection of the views that were aired throughout the meeting, that lasted nearly 2 hours.

Penwortham Leisure Centre public meeting

The panel at the Penwortham Leisure Centre debate, the borough council on the left and the college on the right

The panel at the Penwortham Leisure Centre debate, the borough council on the left and the college on the right

The spirit of St George was alive and well as 500 residents packed out Penwortham Girl’s School hall to be part of a public meeting about the potential closure of Penwortham Leisure Centre.

Representatives from South Ribble Borough Council, Lancashire County Council and Priory Sports and Technology College were on the panel as residents were able to have their say over the proposals.

The meeting was called by South Ribble Borough Council after the college gave notice to terminate a dual usage agreement, dating back to 1993, that governs the use of the leisure centre.

In a fiery public meeting, chaired admirably by independent Russell Atkinson (who had just stepped off a ferry from France that afternoon), the council and the college gave their view and then the debate was passed over to the floor. There were some full and frank questions and statements from local residents, with a wide range of ages and occupations having their say about what could be done.

The general consensus was that there needed to be usage available of the leisure centre to local people, that child protection was very important but should not conflict with the needs for the local community to have somewhere to exercise. The three parties involved, the county council, the borough council and the college will now go back to the negotiation table – potentially with some assistance from national government – to try and reach a settlement otherwise the leisure centre will close in early August 2009.

Rob Pratten, 38, a local resident with two children who lives in Penwortham said the meeting helped him make up his mind.

It’s been great to see the passion from the local community, uniting to try and find a solution. It’s been quiet refreshing to see. Tonight has reinforced my views that I do not want the centre to close.

The school is going against the progress that’s been made in community values. We want to have a healthy society and while I appreciate the child protection issues I think it’s important we have this community facility.

A part of me really does wonder if there’s a hidden agenda from the school, do they want to have the leisure centre to make money from it?

Chair of governers at Priory Sport and Technology College, Geoff Cherwood, said:

This was a unique opportunity to hear the views of the local community and it has been a very useful meeting. We were happy to come to this and we’ve listened very carefully to what people have to say, and some of that has stung us, the strength of feeling is very strong. I hope that people have had the chance to hear what we’ve had to say and I hope we’ve managed to redress the balance of opinion.

We will now have further discussions with the borough council and county council. There would need to be substantial alterations made to the leisure centre as it currently exists to meet the needs of both the school and the local community, but that requires capital investment and in this economic climate it’s not going to be easy.

It was important we were here and we hope the community have appreciated us being here.

Leader of South Ribble Borough Council, Councillor Margaret Smith, said:

There’s a lot of people here and the sheer strength of feeling from these people’s views has been astonishing. There are a lot of people who use the leisure centre and it’s important their voices are heard in this debate.

Tonight has shown there is a very strong public opinion about the closure of the leisure centre and a really strong community spirit. We will now try and come to an agreement with the school and make sure that local residents have the opportunity to use the facilities.

However, we need to make sure that we get a long-term agreement as we cannot invest in a site that we may lose in 12 months time if there is a contract break. There are three parties in this agreement, ourselves, the school and Lancashire County Council, it’s important that the agreement satisfies these three parties in particular the county council as they could hold a lot of sway over future investment in the leisure centre.

I think tonight was as successful as these things can be and it was important that local people had the opportunity to give their thoughts and feelings. That is what we have to do as a council.

Public meeting called over under threat Penwortham Leisure Centre

The Leisure Centre in Penwortham could be set to close after a dual-use agreement between a local school and the local authority could be withdrawn.

The headteacher and governers of Priory Sports and Technology College no longer feel it is safe for pupils.

South Ribble Borough Council has been trying to reach an agreement with the College or seek an alternative but has so far been unsuccessful.

The Council has called a public meeting on the matter for 7 PM on Thursday 23rd April 2009 at St Mary’s Church Hall, Cop Lane, Penwortham. At the meeting will beCouncillor David Suthers, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure and culture will be there along with Councillor Stephen Robinson, chairman of the Penwortham Area Committee, and other Penwortham ward councillors.

The council has also invited representatives of South Ribble Community Leisure, which runs the council’s leisure centres; and the head teacher and school governors from Priory Sports and Technology College.

Residents can also have their say on a discussion forum on the Council website and there has been dismay from residents about the proposals with 18 residents already voicing their opinion.

One resident, Jayne Yates, said:

We also wonder how many incidents of possible danger to pupils have occured in the last 35 years? We should be encouraging people to use these facilities and get fit and healthy for life, encourage our children to take part in all the activities offered and keep them occupied, safe and away from dangerous situations created by boredom. We do not live locally to Penwortham Leisure Centre, yet travel around 8 miles each way at least twice per week to use the centre the reason for this is that we have found this centre offers the best activities and swimming lessons for our children, the friendliest staff who are always happy to help and advise. As a family we have used the facilities for over 15 years we have 4 children 18, 17, 6 and 7 months, the eldest 2 learnt to swim securely and confidently here prompting us to enroll our nervous 6 year old into swimming lessons, who now swims confidentally after the fantastic nurturing he was given by his instructor, Sarah, if the centre stays open i will be joining water babies and hopefully we will have 4 strong swimmers.

Another Neil Jones said:

Exactly what are these ‘perceived risks to the pupils’? This appears to be a result of an over-zealous risk-assessment that is desperately trying to cover every possible angle. The school will have succeeded in their blinkered approach by shutting off the leisure centre. However, if this line of crazy over-the-top thinking is extended, surely the school will have to ban all interactions between pupils and staff (in case of inappropriate relationships), ban travelling to and from school (in case of accidents), ban any eating at school (in case of choking), etc, etc. It is not possible to eliminate ALL risks and the school must maintain a BALANCED approach to risk assessing. The huge damage caused by the closure of such an excellent community facility far outweighs any potential negligible benefits to pupil safety.

Priory Sports and Technology College have released a statement on their website explaining why they want to end the dual use agreement and giving more background information in support of their decision.

It states:

Discussions have been ongoing with South Ribble Borough Council and the Local Authority for over 3 years to update the last officially recognised Dual Use Agreement (DUA), which dates from 1993.

That agreement does not reflect the present situation on the site nor is it appropriate in the present social climate surrounding children. The issue of Safeguarding of Children on a Dual Use site has always been the primary concern of the School and Governors.

It’s all set to be a rather stormy public meeting, and Preston Blog will be down there to cover what happens and all the reaction from residents, the council and the school.

Map of St Mary’s Church Hall, Penwortham: