From Lee Ness, Chairman of City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club on behalf of the club committee.
As most of you will be aware, our club is now in a difficult situation with regards to the use of the track. This led to the situation on Thursday where the club was unable to gain access and some of our groups trained on the car park. While this was done safely with excellent supervision of coaches, club officers, helpers and parents, it is clearly not what any of us want.
Because of the fantastic response from the members and public, the School and Wiltshire Council have responded; by letters from the school to the parents, a statement on their website and in response to the Salisbury Journal. For our part, we are run by volunteers with full time jobs and so our response is naturally slower as we must bring the committee together before we can respond officially, so I hope you will forgive the delay. This letter is the first stage of our response and it is right that it should be to our members first.
Our club has operated on the athletics track, continuously and without issue for 25 years. We have been working hard on the replacement of the track for the last three years. Throughout this process, our aim has been to come to an operating agreement with the school that continues in that vein and protects the status of our club for future generations of athletes of all types, ages and abilities. The school have always maintained that they are not prepared to contribute financially to the track, neither to the funding of the replacement, nor the maintenance. This is a situation the club has always been aware of and had to accept in our planning for the future.
The track was due to be replaced in 2017. We believe we have a viable plan for the club and the track which achieves this objective. We have shared all our information with the school on numerous occasions. The school have not yet accepted our plan and were not prepared to draw the Sport England Funding until the financial plan and contracts had been agreed. This was the stage of the negotiations until recently.
It is our view that the club has always been an outsider to the discussions between the school and the council. After securing the funding, the two parties refused to allow us to be involved for almost a year while they negotiated the handover of the track to the school. In recent times, we have been summoned to meetings arranged between the school and the council at short notice, with no agenda and no minutes. At one of these meetings a few weeks ago we were informed that Wiltshire Council would hand over the running of the track to the school on 01 November. We believed until that point that this would only occur once the track refurbishment, and the contract with the club, was completed.
At a subsequent meeting, ten days ago, this was confirmed and we were then told that the rates for hiring the track would change. Although this was a difficult meeting, it seemed like a reasonable agreement had been reached for the interim operation of the track, until the new one was laid. The club agreed with the interim Heads of Terms which would form an operating agreement and we also agreed to pay 100% of the available income from the track funds to the school, which amounted to £200 per month.
Unfortunately, late last Friday evening, we received the formal version of that agreement and several clauses had been added with respect to equipment and particularly the club house that we could and would not sign up to. We attempted to negotiate this with the school but we were left with an ultimatum: sign the contract or pay £20 per hour. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to pay what amounted to £300 per week, considering the school already knew our limit. We can’t pay more than 100% of what we earn. We continued to try and resolve this, but in the end this led to the school informing us that we would not be able to use the track without one of those two agreements. This was 32 minutes before Thursday’s Quad Kids session was due to start.
This is the situation in which we now find ourselves. Our Club Officers are working with our legal representative to find a way to resolve this in a way that allows the continued survival of our club. While there is bound to be some short-term pain, I hope you all understand that we can’t in any conscience follow a path that would lead to our destruction.
The school has made a statement and of course this is from their perspective, where the above is from ours. However, there is some misinformation in their statement that I am duty bound to correct for our members.
The business plan developed by the club was created on instruction by the Sports Development officer for Wiltshire Council to show how we would be able to offset the running costs. The club were never, despite numerous requests, provided with details of those running costs, nor did we believe them to be realistic. Our business plan was only intended to offset costs so that the school had no financial contribution. We have since shown that the costs were incorrect and our updated plan covers the correct costs. Additionally, the original agreed plan was that the club had full control of the track and its income outside of school hours. This was changed by the school without consultation and led to a further review of our business plan.
The delay in the interim agreement for which the schools claims no responsibility before has been described above. The school changed the terms after the meeting with no consultation and without any notice. We could not agree to the new terms. The school has made no concession on this.
The date of handover between Wiltshire Council and the School was not communicated to the club until the end of September, despite what the school claims.
As a club we will continue to work hard to assure our continued survival. If you have any questions going forward, please submit them via email to me, or via the club Facebook page.
On behalf of the committee of
City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club