This month I had the great pleasure of attending the opening of the Whitehill & Bordon Leisure Centre.
For the people of the town and surrounding villages this a chance to keep fit and stay healthy in a fantastic new £10 million facility.
For me it marked the culmination of a plan to completely revamp the sports and leisure provision in East Hampshire with £30 million of investment at no cost to the taxpayer.
No doubt, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges - both nationally and for us at East Hampshire District Council - and the challenges keep on coming.
As a Leader you must scrutinise your own performance. That's how you learn the skills you need to take on the next challenge, and the one after that. It’s so important to acknowledge when things have gone wrong, because these are the sharpest lessons. We will always take that seriously at EHDC.
But it is important to remember to make the time to celebrate your successes. And I can’t deny that it was a moment of great personal satisfaction for me as a councillor to see that wonderful new facility unveiled in Whitehill & Bordon.
In 2017 the council struck a unique deal with Everyone Active, an award-winning operator that manages more than 140 centres across the country.
That deal would see a total overhaul of leisure facilities in the district that would see the council’s investment of £30 million paid back over the life of the 20-year contract.
At the time our sports and leisure facilities were in dire need of an overhaul. The three centres did not meet the needs of the communities they served and they were a drain on the taxpayers’ purse. Alton Sports Centre, the biggest in the district, was more than 40 years old and at the end of its useful life.
Whitehill & Bordon’s Mill Chase Leisure Centre need to be upgraded and moved to the new, growing town centre. The Taro Leisure Centre in Petersfield was tired and ill-equipped to meet modern needs.
Three years later we can stand alongside a refurbished Taro Leisure Centre in Petersfield, a new £20 million sports centre in Alton, and now, the final piece in the jigsaw, the new leisure centre in Whitehill & Bordon.
This has been done against a back-drop of falling financial support for councils from the government and, for much of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic.
This council has made the welfare of its residents a high priority. Providing them with the means to live healthy, active lives is a key part of that philosophy.
And during the coronavirus crisis we have been reminded of the link between good physical and mental health.
But encouraging words are not enough. It is EHDC’s job to give people the means of staying active.
As of last week we can proudly point to a service that gives people state-of-the-art facilities and the opportunity to swim, play sport, hit the gym and do whatever they need to do stay fit and healthy.
Times are tough for the leisure industry at the moment and there is more work ahead.
As a council Leader there will always be more challenges around the corner. But when I see a big idea like this become a bricks and mortar reality and when I see people using these brilliant, fresh and modern facilities, it reminds me why I signed up for public service in the first place.