THERE has been a lot of talk about the ‘big society’ with the Government wanting communities to take on more responsibilities.
But in Daventry a community organisation has been at the helm of one of the town’s major public services for seven months now.
Daventry Active took over running Daventry Leisure Centre in June. Its board of five directors is formed of unpaid volunteers from the community and district council and runs the centre on a not-for-profit basis.
Their stated goal is to make the leisure centre into the first-choice venue for when the local community wants to organise events.
The board comprises of Jo Caddoo, Martin Barnwell, Rob Eddon, Roland Iacovides and Alan Hills who represents the district council.
Board members are drawn from the people who use the centre and also from the business community. Their business background allows them to combine corporate know-how with what customers actually want.
They took over running the centre after SOLL pulled out after facing financial problems.
Speaking on behalf of the board, Mr Iacovides said: “Daventry Active is a new company – we started from scratch, so the past six months have had their challenges for us.
“We are very proud that the board works on a consensus basis.
“The managing director does have a casting vote, but in all the time we’ve been here it’s not been used.”
Examples of what the centre has introduced to engage more with the community are its free tea for OAPs and soup and a roll for £1.
Mr Iacovides said: “We’re trying to do our best for the community. We want the leisure centre to become a community-based centre.
“We’ve also brought the cinema back to Daventry and we have a cash machine as well that people can use for free.
“And we want what we offer to develop more and more.”
The volunteer directors run the centre on a not-for-profit basis, meaning any money made after paying the staff and overheads can go back into improving the leisure centre.
Although Daventry Active is the third organisation to run the centre, it is the first that has been set up locally and reflects the leisure centre users and the wider community.
At the moment the centre has a mixture of different people using it; from individual gym members and swimmers, to sports groups and teams, and social or charity groups using the conference facilities.
As well as the Lodge Road leisure centre, Davenry Active is also responsible for the New Street tennis courts, Daventry Sports Park and various playing fields and pavilions around the town.
With the leisure centre now on track, the board is starting to turn its attention to the other facilities.
Mr Iacovides said: “At the sports park there are no tea, coffee or refreshment facilities.
“We’re looking at getting something in there offering sports drinks, hot drinks and chocolate.”
Mr Iacovides added: “We’ve had a lot of support from the district council and one of the things they agreed to was that any money the leisure centre makes goes back into the leisure centre.
“That could be in two ways – improving the facilities and services we have, or by reducing the price we charge for them.
“At the moment we’re working towards introducing a fairer pricing scheme for everyone who uses the centre.
“Some people might not be happy they are asked to pay more, but in the end if it is successful we could use the surplus money to reduce the costs.
“We don’t have any shareholders to pay out dividends to and the directors don’t get paid either.
“People often say to me ‘oh I wish I had your job’ and I say they’d be welcome to it.
“I think all of us directors are surprised at the amount of work and commitment it takes.
“But, it is definitely worth it, otherwise we wouldn’t stay – we’re not getting paid after all!”