Praise for outgoing leisure provider in Northumberland after centres in Morpeth and Ponteland were ranked best in the country

Northumberland County Council’s outgoing leisure partners have been praised for their successes after two of the county’s leisure centres were ranked as the best in the country.
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Ponteland Leisure Centre, which opened in 2020, was ranked as the best in the country by Sport England’s Quest Assessment in November. However, its triumph was somewhat shortlived as around 24 hours later, the new Morpeth Sports and Leisure Centre took the top spot.

It marked a huge success for Active Northumberland, despite the company losing the contract to provide leisure services in the county after nine years. In April, Places for People Leisure Management will take over the running of the county’s sites.

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Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s communities and place scrutiny committee, Active Northumberland CEO Mark Warnes said that there had been a significant rise in members since the Covid-19 pandemic. As of January 29, there were 20,737 members across the county, compared with just 16,703 at the end of the 2022/23 financial year.

The official opening of Morpeth Sports and Leisure Centre last year. Picture by Helen Smith.The official opening of Morpeth Sports and Leisure Centre last year. Picture by Helen Smith.
The official opening of Morpeth Sports and Leisure Centre last year. Picture by Helen Smith.

Much of this was put down to the new leisure centres in Morpeth, Ponteland and Berwick, as well as the work of Active’s staff.

Mr Warnes said: “When you build a fantastic new centre, people will come. Morpeth has been a fantastic success to the point where it has actually become competition for the existing portfolio.

“We have two centres rated as the top two in the country. We’re really proud of the team’s achievements, it’s a real indictment of how the team have been running the sites over the last few years.

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“It isn’t about the buildings, because Quest is around the way we operate the buildings themselves.”

Coun Eileen Cartie questioned why the company were moving on.

She said: “I don’t know why it has changed, whether it is to do with money or whether it is more cost effective. It is such a shame that you have done so well and the contract has gone elsewhere.”

The council has said there will be no changes for members of Active Northumberland and all permanent staff will be transferred over to the new operator, retaining their terms and conditions. However, when asked in December whether prices would change under Places for People, the council was unable to give a firm answer.