COUNCIL chiefs have confirmed Whitworth Leisure Centre’s ownership has been transferred and the venue will be operated locally by a new community company.

Whitworth Town Council is now leasing the leisure centre on John Street, which includes a swimming pool, and its leisure operations to a new organisation called Whitworth Leisure Community Interest Company (CIC).

Earlier this year, Rossendale Council announced plans to close the centre following a finance report by independent advisers Grant Thornton.

The report said immediate action was needed to address a budget deficit or both the borough council and Rossendale Leisure Trust could be at significant financial risk.

But the closure plan sparked protests and a campaign to find ways to keep it open. Campaigners said Whitworth’s pool was used by young and old, including for children’s swimming lessons, and vital for health and social reasons. They also spoke at a Rossendale Council meeting in the summer and grilled councillors about options.

Councillors from different groups also asked about the centre during their questions session. They included Labour’s Michelle Smith, Community First’s Dayne Powell and Alan Neal, and Conservative Anne Whitehead. Their debated council funding cuts, an alleged lack of public consultation at Whitworth and concerns about the apparent rapid expansion of Rossendale Leisure Trust in recent years.

Rossendale Council and Rossendale Leisure Trust said rising inflation and leisure centre operating costs forced them to act, to ensure both organisations could continue to operate

They said the cost-of-living crisis has seen councils across the UK face inflation pressures and rising demand on services.

As higher proportions of council budgets are absorbed by legally-required and front-line services, councils’ ability to maintain sport and leisure services has come under extra pressure, they said. Numerous leisure centres have closed across the country this year. Leisure services are not classed as ‘statutory’ – legally required,

In the past, Whitworth Leisure Centre was run by the Community Leisure Association of Whitworth (CLAW).

But Rossendale Leisure Trust took it over two years ago. The venue’s condition and maintenance needs were discussed at a number of council meetings.

Rossendale Council chief exec Rob Huntington said: “I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work in getting this transfer over the line. It has been a long and sometimes difficult process.

"But we hope this transfer will provide the local community with continued access to the facility while also enabling the centre to be managed locally with community involvement at its core.

“The closure of Whitworth Leisure Centre was one the council took with a heavy heart. Rossendale Council understands the importance of leisure activities and leisure provision but unfortunately, the demands on our budget and the provision of the statutory services meant we were just not able to continue to run it.

“On behalf of  the council, I wish Whitworth Town Council and Whitworth Leisure Centre CIC good luck with the venture.”

The borough council has been working with the town council and the newly established community interest company to assist with the transfer.

A town council spokesman said: “All of us here would like to thank Rossendale Council officers and councillors for their hard work regarding the transfer.

"The industrious volunteers of Whitworth Leisure Centre CIC are already making significant repairs to the leisure centre, and we’re looking forward to seeing it reopen in the new year.”

Mayor of Whitworth, Mike Royds, added: “We are delighted Father Christmas delivered an early present for us. The elves are now working hard on the reopening.”

Rossendale Leisure Trust is the arms-length organisation which runs borough council-owned facilities on the council’s behalf. Its other venues include Rawtenstall’s Marl Pits leisure centre and running tracks, Haslingden’s Adrenalin Centre, Bacup’s Pioneer gym, the Hill ski slope, also known as Ski Rossendale; the Whitaker museum and gallery in Rawtenstall and sports facilities at the Valley Leadership Academy school.