Sport cash raised but start date is lacking

Lewis Sports Centre
Lewis Sports Centre

A trial Sunday opening of the Lewis Sports Centre appears unlikely despite the success of a lobby group in raising the estimated £11,400 cost to run the trial for a year.

Families into Sport for Health (FiSH) have campaigned for Sunday openings of the Lewis Sports Centre and swimming pool and are adamant the Comhairle must implement a trial opening period. FiSH had raised 85 per cent of the sum required with less than a day of the crowdfunding bid to run. But the National Secular Society stepped in and subsequently made a sizeable donation to ensure the sum would surpass the required amount.

But the Comhairle have made it clear in a press statement that their decision to vote against a trial Sunday opening was not purely a financial issue.

Speaking to the Gazette this week Pauline Matterson of the group said the Comhairle had set a precedent for such a trial period in the past and she feels this case is no different.

“We have done it, achieved our goal and we are just all thrilled,” she said.

“There is precedent with the early morning hours trial where they did receive funds form the local swimming club for a trial period so we are hoping for the same consideration.

“We will announce our achievement to the council next and then we plan to hold an event to present them with the money in the new year.”

But a spokesperson for the Comhairle commented: “The Comhairle considered this matter in October of this year and agreed not to proceed with a trial Sunday opening. This is a democratic decision by the local authority based on an objective assessment of the likely costs and the employment and operational issues involved – not just purely financial issues.

“It is a local matter which should be determined locally by elected councillors who are best placed to assess the issues and the local demand for a service. It should be noted that the Lewis Sports Centre already has generous opening hours – amongst the longest in the north of Scotland.

“The Secular Society is incorrect in its assumption and assertion that the Sports Centre is not open on a Sunday for Sabbatarian reasons.”

In early October councillors voted 19-9 against a proposal for the Sports Centre to open for three hours every Sunday on a one year trial basis.

Councillors were told that the trial period could cost the Comhairle around £11,000 (the trial is expected to cost £17.1K with an anticipated income of £5.7K which leaves a cost of around £11.4k) and also that a consultation of sports centre staff indicated few were willing to work on Sundays.

One Councillor though has claimed the real reason for the objections were on religious grounds.

Councillor Neil Beaton said: “It was apparent from the e-mails and letters I received that preserving the Sabbath was the main objection” to Sunday opening, not the financial objections that were made.”

Alistair McBay, the National Secular Society’s spokesperson for Scotland and vice president said: “We are delighted to be able to support these families in the Western Isles and their health initiative. As secularists, we have no objection to Sabbatarians staying indoors on Sunday and observing the Sabbath according to their custom but they need to understand that not all islanders share their religious beliefs.

“The local council now has no option but to open the leisure facility for the trial year.”

The Lewis Sports Centre, which is based in Stornoway, is presently open for some 84-hours per week, more than other island sports centre facilities, but those in South Uist and Barra do enjoy Sunday openings.

“We have plans in place with Councillor Beaton to talk and discuss how they opened and operated the sports centres in Barra and Uist on Sundays,” continued Pauline Matterson of FiSH.

“They have overcome staffing and operation issues so we don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible here in Lewis.

“We fully understand the council will have to go through consultation with their staff over contracts and working hours which may take some time and that’s fine. We just hope the council will, now the financial hurdle has been overcome, will look to implement their processes and procedures in order to make the trial happen.”