Sunday, March 3, 2024

Squash players fight Zumba takeover

Hard cheese: Cheddar Valley squash enthusiasts protest at the planned court closures

From the Cheddar Valley Gazette

Angry squash players have slammed the decision to shut their courts.

Kings Fitness and Leisure, owned by Kings of Wessex Academy, is closing the custom-built squash courts in Cheddar and turning them over to Zumba classes to make more money.

The board – Sedgemoor councillors Jeff Savage and Peter Downing, academy head Chris Richardson, Brian Kirkup, Peter Lythgoe (chairman of governors), Claire Bean (the only user member on the board), academy bursar Chris Brown, Richard Oliver (vice-chairman of governors) and centre manager Paul Whittaker – took the decision without public consultation, say the squash players.

The courts are to shut on Sunday, April 1 when scheduled building work will rip down glass panels and walls to convert them into gym studios by September.

Around 50 players are up in arms about what they have described as “sporting vandalism”, accusing the board of giving up on “community sports centre” ideals in favour of becoming a private adults only gym.

The players have put up posters around the village and a banner on Cheddar New Road and publicly demanded answers.

The centre and the academy have refused to comment. The squash announcement came last month, citing financial recommendations to maximise income. Although squash players have been told the centre doesn’t lose money over the sport, the space would increase revenue for gym and dance classes by accommodating more people.

There is a high demand for fitness and exercise classes while a falling demand for squash, the centre previously said. The option of building an extension for fitness fans was deemed too expensive.

However, these reasons were rounded on by squash enthusiast Bob Wainwright of Axbridge. He said he was in the construction industry and during an appeal for support for the players at Monday’s Axbridge Town Council meeting he accused the management of the centre of getting their sums wrong. They said an extension would cost £2 million. He claimed £250,000 would be enough.

He pointed out that if the squash courts were turned into a gym then the centre was in effect becoming an adults only private gym, barring students from the academy next door from an Olympic racket sport.

Phil Davies, Helen and Neil Penhall, Janice Thorne, Alan Flack and Ian Harris along with several others have backed the campaign to stop the closure and demand a breathing space.

England squash coach Alan Flack reminded the centre that the sport would gain Olympic status in 2020. He accused the centre of effectively manipulating pricing to force out players by replacing the squash membership with one for all sports that made squash less cost effective.

Despite this, the coach said there were two men’s teams playing in the Bristol league, a woman’s team was emerging and players from outside of the valley were being attracted. He reminded Kings that 70 youngsters were members at one stage but the centre had been unhelpful with pricing and coaching support causing numbers to dwindle.

He said: “At least they could delay it for six months to give us that option; as to date there has been no formal communication with members or the community.

“Surely we can and must save these squash courts for our children.”

Kings board members are holding an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon with squash players.


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