The boss of a charity that runs leisure facilities across Stevenage says – with the right help – the business can survive the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis and be sustainable in the future.

Stevenage Leisure Limited manages 23 facilities across Hertfordshire, which in Stevenage includes the swimming centre, Gordon Craig Theatre and the arts and leisure centre.

As part of lockdown measures, the facilities were forced to close, severely depleting income.

Following a request for help from SLL, Stevenage Borough Council’s executive met in private last month and agreed emergency COVID-19 funding support for the charity, although the approved figure remains undisclosed to the public.

SLL’s chief executive, David Brame, is keen to stress this money is “a precaution, to provide funds if needed”.

He said: “The enforced closure of our facilities has obviously affected the business negatively in terms of income generation, customer disappointment and inconvenience, and staff morale. However, there are some positives. Some of our loyal members have continued to pay membership during the closure - a big thanks to them - and the furlough scheme has helped us weather the storm, with almost half our costs normally related to staffing.

“We have also been one of the few leisure trusts to secure a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan from the bank, which is massively helping cash flow, and we have applied for a substantial grant under the Culture, Arts and Heritage Scheme, which will help enormously if successful.

“Lastly, following the reopening of the golf course, attendance and revenue generation has broken all previous records.”

Many of SLL’s facilities reopened on July 25 and, while usage is lower than normal, David says it is steadily increasing.

He said: “The future of the leisure industry as a whole remains uncertain. SLL is working with the council to negate that uncertainty as best we can, to be prudent, and together lobby government for future help. With this help, public support and our combined effort, SLL believes its business will be sustainable.”

Councillor Richard Henry – SBC’s member for leisure – said: “We will lobby government for essential support to ensure these facilities survive and thrive.”