Following strong rumours just after Christmas, we recently received an email from Lichfield District Council Leisure Services confirming that a decision had been taken to remove the £1 per court discount that they have been offering to Lichfield Squash Club members since our coming into being, with effect from 1st April 2014.

We therefore called a Committee meeting to discuss the potential impact of this and concluded that it would not only be detrimental to the Club in terms of its future development, but it could ultimately undermine the progress we have made to date as a club. Whilst the court discount is not the only attraction of the Club, it has to be acknowledged that it it has been integral to attracting and indeed retaining members. We also feel that the removal of the discount will actually lead to a decline in court bookings, and therefore revenue to the council, rather than their anticipated increase in revenue.

We have drawn up and submitted to the council a full and comprehensive response to this decision, which sets out the evidence and arguments against it, and which we hope will lead to them reconsidering and reversing it. You will also note that we have suggested what we feel is a reasonable and sensible alternative course of action that would meet the needs of all parties. The response is reproduced in full below.

If you are in agreement with our response, then we urge you to make your support known to the Council by emailing or writing to the Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks and Play, Councillor Andrew Smith (email andrew.smith@lichfielddc.gov.uk) and the Strategic Director for Leisure, Parks and Play, Mr Neil turner (email neil.turner@lichfielddc.gov.uk). If you prefer to write a traditional letter, please post it to Lichfield District Council, District Council House, Frog Lane, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 6YY. Anyone with an interest in the development of the sport of squash, whether LSC member or not, is urged to respond.

As soon as we receive a response to this communication, or any other significant news on this matter, we will keep you informed.

Dear Councillor Smith and Mr Turner

I am writing to you both as the Chairman of Lichfield Squash Club on behalf of our members and supporters of the sport of squash in general.

It was with great disappointment that we learnt of your recent decision to remove the entitlement of Lichfield Squash Club members to a £1 discount per court booking with effect from 1st April 2014. We have taken some time to consider the implications of this, both for our club and our sport in general, which we feel will be considerable, detrimental and will ultimately negatively impact on court bookings, LDC’s income and participation in the sport in general.

Now that we have taken this time to consider the impact of this decision, we feel it appropriate to make you aware of our thoughts, with a view to you hopefully then being able to reconsider the decision in the light of the evidence and considerations that we are about to present to you. Please also note that we have considered this in collaboration with our friends and colleagues at Burntwood Squash Club, who are of course similarly impacted. Burntwood, through their Team Captain Jon Churchley, have informed us that their views concur with ours and that they are happy to endorse this communication on the matter.

When we set up the club coming up for 2 years ago, I am sure you will recall that participation in the sport was on a downward spiral in the city. The only organised squash was the league at the Friary, which you used to administer as the council, but players were drifting away at a rate of knots and the league was in danger of actually folding. There was no active promotion of the sport, no additional events or activities and player enthusiasm was at an all time low and still declining. Something had to be done and so a group of keen players got together and the rest as they say is history. With the welcome encouragement of LDC, we made rapid progress and soon had the club up and running.

As you know, since its launch the club soon developed, successfully attracting members, which currently stand at around 65. LDC encouraged the club’s development from day 1, with the main manifestation of this being the court discount of £1, which it has to be said remains one of the main attractions of club membership, making it an integral part of our success. We have therefore always been grateful for the discount, as it has allowed us to attract members, who then go on to become active club members, joining the leagues, teams and attending our events. We have thereby attracted players from outside of the ‘regular group’ of players, of all abilities and levels. We have even attracted members from outside of the city, with players now coming from places like Burton, Tamworth, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham and parts of the Black Country, who have then gone on to become active club members.

As a result of all this club development, we now have a thriving online league, 2 teams competing in local organised team squash competitions and a regular set of innovative events and activities. This has all undoubtedly contributed significantly to the level of court bookings across both leisure centres. All this has been possible through the attraction of members to our club, both existing players and new players.

In addition, through developing membership, we have been able to raise income through a modest membership fee, which has provided us with a fund to help with club development, such as through holding events and club/court and player affiliation to England Squash and Racketball. This income is also earmarked to allow us to move towards the next phase of club development, such as through members acquiring coaching qualifications, provision of professional coaching, as well as opening the club up to junior membership and coaching which will be the lifeblood of future squash participation.

Just to give you an idea of the contribution that the club now makes to squash locally and LDC’s income, we have done some basic calculations and conservatively reckon that our league alone, with its 7 active divisions, leads to around £7,000 of court bookings per annum. This does not take account of friendly matches that we know result from the additional contact that members have with other squash players through playing league squash.

In addition, with 2 teams competing in both winter and summer team squash competitions, these will contribute a further £1,300 of court bookings for home matches. In addition, these team matches expose the facilities to a new audience of squash players, some of whom we know go on to play further matches at our courts. We also organise various and innovative events over the year, adding further to court bookings. In short, our club must account for a significant, if not the lion’s, share of your squash court revenue. This we feel makes a strong and ‘deserving’ case on its own for retention of the court discount. Most businesses, and lets face it, council services are having to be run on more business-like grounds, would ‘reward’ their best customer with the ‘best price’. In addition, if you press ahead with the removal of the court discount, this will represent a price increase for our members, those who contribute the most to squash revenue, whereas the ‘occasional’ non member player will enjoy a further period of no price increase – where is the fairness in that?

As you can now appreciate, the club has come a long way since its inception 2 years ago, reinvigorating the sport locally. Whilst the court discount is not the only reason for this success, it has to be acknowledged that it has played a major role in attracting and retaining members. Our biggest fear is that by removing it, new
members will not be attracted and existing members will ebb away, undermining all the progress that the club has made. If we do not develop and/or retain members, our league will go into decline, we will not be able to pay for the likes of club/court and player ESR affiliation and we will be less likely to hold successful future events. We would also have to increase subs for those wishing to participate in the teams, making it more difficult to attract players to those teams, plus would have to withdraw from certain team competitions in any case due to the need for the courts and players to be ESR affiliated. The plans we have outlined for further club development would certainly not come to fruition due to dwindling funds, as well as willing volunteers from within what would become a dwindling membership base with much reduced morale.

All this would result in one thing for sure – reduced court bookings, which far from leading to the hoped-for increased revenue from court bookings for the council, would actually reduce it, as well as overall participation levels in the sport. This surely runs counter to the council’s overall objectives of promoting sports participation and the resultant positive impacts on healthy lifestyles for the citizens of Lichfield District.

We appreciate the financial predicament faced by all councils at present and the consequent need to look at both savings and ways to raise additional income. However, as already pointed out, this measure we feel will actually fail to meet the objective that you obviously are seeking, that of raising income. It will inevitably have the exact opposite effect through discouraging participation and club development.

We have also researched pricing levels at other council run squash facilities, and if you instigate a price increase to £7 for LAP/club members, this will place LDC’s cost on the high side of what is charged locally. For instance, at Stafford, the cost of a peak court is £6.60, at South Staffs, it is £6.30, Chase is £6.20 and at Burton just £4.15. Some of these facilities also offer the ‘Leisure Pass’ (or equivalent) either free of charge or for just a very nominal amount (e.g. £1.50). With LDC charging £25 for the Leisure Pass and proposing to increase its court charges to £7, members may now seriously consider the option of joining private members clubs locally, as it may now become more economic to play at these clubs. Take someone who plays twice per week, say 100 games per annum. At LDC annual cost would be £25 LAP + LSC Membership at £10 (renewal rate) + £350 court costs = £385 p.a. At Four Oaks, annual membership is £220 plus court costs of £100 = £320 annual cost. If a player plays more than twice per week, the saving would be even higher. This is therefore now becoming a serious option from an economic standpoint for any regular squash player, meaning that court bookings could be impacted even more severely than imagined, should you instigate the price increase through removing the discount, leading to some players deserting LDC facilities for cheaper options elsewhere.

We have consulted with England Squash and Racketball and they also come to the same conclusions as us and have therefore provided us with a letter of support, which is attached for your information. I am sure Helen Browne would be willing to discuss her letter with you if you wanted to make contact.

We do hope that the compelling evidence provided in this communication will convince you that the right course of action would be to reconsider this decision. We would like to finish by making a constructive suggestion for an alternative course of action, one that will hopefully meet all of our objectives and at the same time allow us to continue to develop the club and overall participation locally in squash. As mentioned we do appreciate the financial imperatives at present for LDC, as well as the fact that court charges have not been increased over the past 3 years. We are also sure that most squash players appreciate these facts and could countenance a modest price increase, say of 30p-50p. Therefore, why do you not consider increasing the headline price to £7.30 – £7.50, whilst then keeping the LSC £1 discount? That way, you will be more likely to increase income from court bookings as you will not be undermining the club and choking off demand by removing one of the main incentives to join and maintain membership of the club, which is the main force for driving participation and therefore court bookings.

If there is any aspect of this communication that you would like to discuss further, please do not hesitate to either email back or give me a call. Alternatively, I and other members of our Club Committee would welcome the opportunity to come and meet with you for a more in depth conversation, should you feel this necessary. In the meantime, I thank you for considering this communication and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards

James Roberts
Chairman, Lichfield Squash Club

www.lichfieldsquash.co.uk
Email: james@lichfieldsquash.co.uk
Tel 07816 620504

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