3 months

Well it’s 3 months and 5 days since we last stepped on to the athletics track in Salisbury to train.

From the club’s perspective life continues to be difficult, with the young, the vulnerable and those with disabilities the most adversely affected.

But with every dark cloud comes a silver lining and we have realised (putting a certain school aside) what a wonderful community we live in.

Take for example Salisbury fire station: not only did they allow us to coach our young quad kids and under 13’s in their station yard during some evenings before Christmas but now they have also stepped forward to rescue the Salisbury 10mile road race scheduled for 8th April.

Traditionally this hugely popular race starts and finishes on the athletics track but obviously the lock-out since November 9th put a threat against our planning for the 2018 event. So the fire station has come to the rescue and the race, manned by 100 volunteers and friends from the running community, will now avoid any use of the track and instead will start and finish by the fire station.

It is really important that this race goes ahead as planned – part of the Hampshire League fixture list, it’s already sold out with 950 entries from all over the south, but it also raises money for great local charities. So a massive thank you from the club to the fire station for enabling this to happen despite our little local difficulty.

We also wish to thank Salisbury football club for loaning us their venue for our recent very well-attended EGM. The huge support we’ve received from other sports clubs in Salisbury is a further, real boost and we stand alongside those of them that normally use the track and now share our pain – Salisbury Tri Club, IIF, Sarum Sisters, Stonehenge Tri, Salisbury beginner runners and the fantastic parkrunners.

The messages of support from the hundreds of other England Athletics affiliated running clubs up and down the country is overwhelming and we really appreciate the support from EA.

Some 3 months after the lock-out was imposed, the club is still being messaged and encouraged from across our local community whether it is members of the local scout group, other schools, Salisbury City and Wiltshire Councillors, neighbours to the track in Stratford Road, club alumni, ex school governors and disability groups.

Let’s see if we can make the track available for every child and adult in the community again soon!

Club Response Statement 17/12/2017

Due to the disappointment over the school’s approach to the mediation process and their subsequent biased statement, I feel it is important to issue much more detail in our response than is customary as I feel you deserve to know the full extent of our current position.

The mediation process was triggered, as I am sure you will all recall, by the school’s take it or leave it demand on the contract. They issued a new document, after we had come to an agreement, which we couldn’t possibly sign. We were told we would have to sign it or pay the equivalent of £24,000 per year for the use of the track. Neither option was possible and so we were locked out.

We approached the mediation process in good faith. The term is a little over‐used, but it is important in this case. We knew there were difficulties between the two parties and we had already, before mediation, put forward a possible solution that should have worked for everyone. After three elapsed weeks, and over 15 hours of legal wrangling, we are exactly where we were before it started. The school has not changed its stance in the slightest. The details of the proposal, because it is not subject to the confidentiality of the mediation process because it was already in circulation beforehand, will be published on our Save Cosarc Website.

The proposal didn’t change the basic facts however. The school would receive a new track without any financial contribution, they would contribute nothing to its upkeep and they would contribute nothing to its replacement at the end of its life. All that expenditure fell to the club. This has been the same throughout and has been accepted by the club throughout.

To take the school’s points in turn:
With respect to the clubhouse, the club built it with its own money. We own it. This is the subject of legal debate but we obviously believe we are right. However, there are some things in the school letter that are frankly untrue. The original agreement was that the school and other schools could use the clubhouse – with the permission of the club. This is important. The club hasn’t reneged on that agreement. We have allowed schools and other clubs to use our club house many times. I’m not aware that we have ever refused anyone.

No other community users are suffering, except that now no‐one has access to the clubhouse and the majority of users have no access to the track. You only have to look on any evening to see how many other community users are making use of the track in the club’s absence. It may well be the case that the community feel that the advertised £50 an hour is too large an increase from the £4 paid in October.
The club has been locked out of the track. The safeguarding issue that is raised by the school is ridiculous. We actually have higher safeguarding responsibilities than the school because our age groups are younger. We also have no access to the track in school hours and never have, nor do we wish to. We did have access to the track outside of school hours on club nights and now we don’t. The track is locked to us. This is because the school issued a new legal agreement that we couldn’t sign and so we are locked out. It is that simple.

It is interesting that the school raises its commitment to sharing the track. The schools’ area sports and the schools’ county championships are often officiated by club members and use the clubhouse by our permission. The county sports is on a weekend, which is in club time, not school time.

There is some truth that the club changed (not withdrew) its business plan. However, this was prompted by a significant change by the school. In a now familiar tone (where the school makes the first move and then complains when there is a reasonable response – see their complaints about us talking to the media when they made the first statement) the school reneged on the original agreement that the club would manage the track outside of school hours. This removed our ability to deliver our original business plan, so it had to change. We submitted numerous versions of this plan, without response form the school to try and keep this moving forward. The school has ignored these. It is churlish to now ask for a final business plan. They have that, they had it before mediation, during and after and have ignored it. We will be publishing it shortly so that they can no longer make false statements.

On another point, the school may well have spent £115,000 over the years, since 1991 perhaps, so 26 years. If you do the calculation, that’s a lot less than they want the club to spend over the next few years. In reality, the school has spent nothing for many years.

During the last few years it has become clear that neither the school nor the council really knew what the money was being spent on or whether the work was carried out. I will leave you to judge whether you think the track has benefited from the expenditure.

With the two points above in mind, and the actions of the school in October, the club has changed its stance. The original proposal from the school was that although the club is paying for everything, the expenditure would be controlled by the school. Also, any income from the track would be generated by the school who managed it throughout. The club does not believe that the school is motivated to bring in more bookings to generate income, nor to negotiate the best value for maintenance. Why should it? It has no stake. It is spending our money and the income generated would support our expenditure. The current over pricing of the track (£50 an hour) is a good example of this. There’s no skin off the school’s nose and the historical management of those contracts don’t fill us with any confidence. We take the expenditure of the club member’s money very seriously.

Although the school is keen to state they allowed use of the publicly funded track by six other schools, they should be reminded that until 9 November, the club’s UKA qualified coaches, coached children from 40 different primary schools and 11 secondary schools.

Finally, a few people have raised the question of why a cash‐strapped school is spending so much money on lawyers, when they already have a proposal that costs them nothing and is managed by an independent trust that they are part of? Some people have a very ready answer to that, which involves disposal of the land. That is conjecture and we have no way of knowing. It is a situation that can only resolve itself in time.

However, we all need to project ourselves forward 10 or 15 years and ask ourselves what we want to look back at. A thriving club, run by volunteers, providing a community of adults and children with a low‐cost, engaging sport open to all. Or some more buildings.

I want to say I did everything I could to protect the club’s survival. How about you?

Lee Ness
Chairman
City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club

Letter From John Glen MP and Our Response

Below is a letter from John Glen MP in response to an earlier email enquiry from us.  Read our response underneath

Thank you for your email about this concerning situation, which I first heard about last week and have since received a number of emails from individual club members and supporters.

I am well aware of the strength of the club both in terms of the extraordinarily high standards it achieves and the success of its community outreach. It is a superb ambassador for Salisbury and I certainly do not want to see it put at risk.

As SWGS is an academy, directly funded by government and with complete control of its own budgets, it strikes me that the only reason the local authority would want to gift such an important and valuable asset to it would be in order to also hand over the cost and responsibility of running and maintaining it.

However, I would hope this could be done in a reasonable way that takes into account the special value of the A&RC to Salisbury and its inability to pay rent at a commercial rate.

Asa requested by the sender of the initial email, I made contact with the head teacher as a matter of urgency within an hour of receiving it and asked that club training sessions be allowed to continue as normal while the parties thrash out an agreement that allows both Salisbury institutions to continue to thrive. She responded that it was impossible to let children into the track as they are uninsured to use it until such time as an agreement is reached and documentation signed by the club.

I now appreciate that it is not just a matter of the level at which access charges are set but also the acceptance of rights over assets which the club has built and maintained over many years.

Although I have no direct power to overrule them, I am already urging the school to make as many concessions as it can afford because, the sooner the club is offered terms it feels able to sign up to, the sooner training can recommence as normal with the necessary levels of insurance in place.

I do think that the publicity around the situation has gone a long way to ensuring that it is as much in the school’s interests to keep talking as it is in the club’s interest.

I know that councillors and cabinet members are already involved and, if negotiations either do not recommence or don’t produce significant concessions soon, then I will be further pressing Wiltshire Council to clarify the basis on which they transferred the asset and the obligations to other interested parties that should have been written into that contract – in case they are liable in that regard.

I would be very happy to meet. I am afraid that, like all MPs, I am committed to be in London from Monday-Thursday and my Friday surgery is already full but I could offer you 45-50 minutes at 4pm on Friday 24th.

Since I have already made representations on the club’s behalf, I will leave it to you to reflect on whether there are other specific points you would like me to put to the school or the council or whether the session may be best used for me to chair a round table with all the parties. If so, I would be happy to extend invitations?

Very best regards

John

Response To John Glen MP

Dear John,

Thank you for your full and prompt reply. This has been made into such a difficult situation without good reason. You may be aware that this afternoon the Head sent out an “update” letter to the parents of pupils at SWGS. In it she says :

“Please be assured that we are endeavouring to communicate with the relevant bodies to try to resolve this matter as soon as possible.”

I would point out that at no point since the first lockout has the Club received any communication from the SWGS. The obvious conclusion is that the COSARC is not considered to be a “relevant body “ That has been the case throughout and there has been no meaningful consultation or involvement because they have not been considered to be relevant either by SWGS and, it seems, Wilts Council. Finding sufficient goodwill and trust to reach a mutually beneficial partnership is challenging to say the least under such circumstances.

The point the school makes about insurance is interesting. The Club has full 3rd party liability insurance to cover all its activities. If insurance is a problem for the school then I would conclude that they have been at risk ever since 2009 when they received freehold of the land on the granting of Foundation status. If it is a matter of signing an agreement then they could have presented us with the hire agreement and we would have signed at the previously negotiated price of £200 per month. This is clearly intended to be a distraction from the main point which is that they are trying to force the Club into signing an agreement which would override their rights acquired over 26 years or to so stress them financially as to make the future untenable.

Your insightful comment on the position of the Wilts Council in relation to acquired rights, suggests that you may have been in touch with the leaders of the Council which I would be pleased to hear. You will know they have received a letter from the Club lawyer. The Club, however, has received no contact from the Council and they can only conclude that they are what is referred to as the “relevant bodies” by the SWGS Head. I think it would be helpful if the senior Elected Members of the Council were to contact the Club for an early fact finding mission prior to the calling of negotiations to recommence. I say that because the SWGS said in their letter to parents today:
“It is regrettable that the school has been misrepresented on social media and in the press”

The Club is adamant that they have done no such thing. Indeed they have been open and honest throughout. When the facts become known then I am confident there will be red faces, none of which will be sported by Club. It would be helpful if you were to stress to Baroness Scott and John Thomson the value of a private meeting with the Club as one means of reassuring them that the Council perceive them to have value to the community that is Salisbury City and its surrounding areas.

This matter has attracted considerable publicity within the few days it has been running and has the potential to get very big indeed. The David v Goliath analogy always catches the public imagination and support. Athletes are known for their strength and stamina. I am certain that their fight for the future of the Club is going to display both qualities in great abundance. The Club would prefer to enter new talks with a clean sheet of paper as the means of resolving the issue. It is unfortunate that you are unable to find the time to meet this weekend but the Club appreciates the calls on your time. Please reserve a spot at your 24th Nov. surgery in case we all need it. Maybe the solution will be found before then. See you on the 24th !!!!

Regards

City of Salisbury Athletics & Running Club

Running club hits back at school claims

Statement to Valley News from

Lee Ness, chairman of City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club

18 Nov ‘17

City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club strongly refuted the claim by South Wilts Grammar that the school  is “working hard to maintain the valuable track agreement.” Or if it is, it certainly is no longer talking with the athletics club about it.

Even in a letter from the Head to all parents dated yesterday, 17th Nov, it was claimed that the school is “endeavouring to communicate with the relevant bodies to try to resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

Not so:  as the track’s main user, it is difficult to see how the running club does not have very real relevance to the issue. But the club has not received a single communication from the school since the breakdown of negotiations earlier this month.

And it’s not just about the money!  The school has suddenly laid claim to the clubhouse which was built and paid for by club members 20 years ago. It has been used week in, week out by the clubhouse ever since, until Nov 9th. On that date the school became the sole key-holder and has now locked the club out from both track and clubhouse.

As for the school’s claim to being clear and open, VN readers should know that the club has been excluded from talks between the school and the council, simply being informed afterwards of the outputs: that’s not the club’s understanding of a consultative process.

 

Ends

For further information please contact:

John Ruskin, City of Salisbury A and RC press officer
press@salisbury-arc.org

Salisbury athletics club locked out from its home track

Amidst the biggest boom in running and athletics the city of Salisbury has ever seen, the running club at the heart of it has been locked out from the running track where it has built its success for the past 25years.

The lock-out was instigated by South Wilts Grammar School for Girls, in response to a disagreement over the introduction of new fees it intends to charge City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club for use of the running track. Since 1st November, the school has become sole key-holder.

Around a hundred children, some as young as nine and some of them disabled, were affected by the school’s action. The club’s team of volunteer coaches promptly rearranged the planned training sessions and held them instead in the adjacent leisure centre’s car-park, within the confines of a safety cordon the club put in place to salvage something for all the young club members present.

“This was a hugely disappointing episode and we believe the school’s action to have been ill-judged,” said club chairman Lee Ness.

“As recently as a month ago, the school wanted to start charging the club £50 an hour given the amount of time we use the track. It’s an exorbitant rate that would have bankrupted the club, and it bears no relation to the value of the facility.

“This sum was reduced in a draft agreement a few days ago to a far more reasonable £200 per month which we were on the verge of accepting. But suddenly, in what was to be a final agreement, the school then laid claim to ownership of our clubhouse – which we built and paid for more than ten years ago!

“Now the school has changed its stance again and is demanding around £1,000 per month: that’s eight times higher than the club paid previously to Wiltshire Council to use the track. A voluntary organisation like ours simply cannot afford to pay that much, and the school knows that.”

The club has well over 400 members, aged 8-80, drawn from Salisbury and a wide radius beyond.

Ness points to the massive contribution the club makes to the community, young and old alike; that it is markedly successful in what it does; is held in high regard within the sport; has a strong team of wiling volunteers; fosters participation and inclusion among all parts of the community including the disabled; and has up and coming young champions in different disciplines of the sport and top performers among the senior ranks too.

“We want to continue to build on our success and further grow our benefit to the community: that has been our outlook for a quarter of a century and remains unchanged. But all of it is clearly in jeopardy if the interests of our club members are not recognised,” he concluded.

Ends
For further information please contact:
John Ruskin, City of Salisbury A and RC press officer
press@salisbury-arc.org
077177 18045