Sheffield’s next sports and leisure operator must ‘bring in millions AND maintain services’

Sheffield City Trust chairman David Gray believes the current board, management and staff have done a ‘great’ job in difficult circumstances – protecting services despite major budget cuts and Covid closures.

But the organization is hampered by the legal inability to borrow money to invest.

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Mr. Snelling is proud of the work of the Social Benefit Trust.


He spoke as Sheffield City Council drafts a new contract that will dictate how it will operate for the next 30 years. It includes an ambition to invest £100m.

The Sheffield City Trust runs 13 health and leisure centres, including Ponds Forge and the English Institute of Sport, five golf clubs and two entertainment venues: City Hall and the Arena.

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Shock as the building is demolished during the refurbishment of the former Next store on Fargate in Sheffi…

Sheffield Town Hall is one of the trust’s two entertainment venues, along with the Arena.

For the past three decades it has been funded by the council, but is independently managed.

Mr Gray said that due to austerity, investment has fallen from £60m in the decade to 2012 to £9.5m in the decade to 2022.

Despite this, over the same period revenue from ticket sales and other activities has risen from £20m to £30m.

And the required annual grant fell from £6million to just £873,000 in the year before the pandemic.

Team Loughborough NC’s Adam Peaty during the Men’s Open 100m Breaststroke on day one of the British Swimming Championships at Ponds Forge April 5. (photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images).

Then, over a year of Covid lockdowns, the Trust only used £8m of the £16.5m set aside for the crisis, Mr Gray added.


Meanwhile, customer surveys and ‘benchmarking’ against other cities showed that Sheffield City Trust was well run.

The challenge for the new operator would be to maintain this performance while achieving a comeback, he added.

David Gray, left, chairman of the Sheffield City Trust and chief executive Andrew Snelling.

He said, “To continue, the missing component is finance. I have a lot of sympathy for Sheffield City Council, during austerity they had to choose between care homes, waste bins and gymnasiums. There are huge demands on its money and SCT must look elsewhere.

“You can profit from this business – just run it as a low-budget gym only for those who can afford it and shut down those things that are costing you money.”

The trust is governed by a board of directors made up of nine local volunteer members with a range of expertise. He has ruled himself out of the race to lead the organization after 2024.


One possibility could see a much larger organization, running dozens of sites nationwide, which could save money through economies of scale.

This could be a private company like contractors Capita, Veolia and Amey, although it is understood advisers would prefer a not-for-profit organisation. And he is unlikely to be based in Sheffield.

Mr. Gray believes the trust has been well managed in limited circumstances.

SCT chief executive Andrew Snelling said he was proud of its ‘benefits’, such as exercise programs for people with complex medical conditions and care home residents, and teaching from swimming to children. The gyms are award-winning and the sites offer a range of price concessions, he added.

it’s also “uniquely Sheffield” in the way elite athletes share facilities with the public, like Jess Ennis at the English Institute of Sport and diving at Ponds Forge.

The arena, which hosts groups and the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team, and the Hillsborough Sports Center are making a profit, most of the others are breaking even and only Ponds Forge and the town hall require a “cross-subsidy” from others to cover losses, he added.

The sites also provide a broader economic boost to the city by attracting visitors.

Last month, Mr Snelling said confidence was “soaring” after Covid. The 1,100-person organization currently has 48 vacancies.


At the time, Councilor Cate McDonald, Executive Member of Finance and Resources, confirmed that the trust had relied on the financial support of the council for many years.

She added: “The council agreed a 30-year leisure and entertainment strategy in November last year, with over £100million of investment committed to meet our leisure priorities. inclusive and of high quality.

“This is an exciting time for the city and the funding we will now provide to SCT will put us in the best possible position to realize our future projects. »


Mr Gray was stung by criticism, mainly from Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed, who described the money as ‘bailouts’. Mr Gray insists this is “core funding”.

He added: “If there had been a magic bullet, we would have fired it a long time ago. The council spent a lot of time in difficult circumstances keeping it all together. The Lib Dem attacks are unfair, unjust and misinformed.

“We have 1,000 people, all of whom are proud to work here. Try me – I’m a big boy – but I object to anyone trying to improve their electoral prospects by saying they’re all doing a bad job.

He adds: “I rate myself 9.5 out of 10 given the constraints, it’s a great organisation. We want the best outcome for the city and first-class facilities in the future that are accessible to everyone.

Councilor Mohammed said his job is to represent the interests of the people of Sheffield.

He added: “Sheffield City Trust had a lot of money. If you don’t like being challenged, maybe don’t ask.

“If the board is so fantastic, let’s see them bid for the new contract.”

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Elton John at the Sheffield Arena.