Future of sport in the Borders

by Janice Gillie

janicegillie@tweeddalepress.co.uk

nine community sport and leisure hubs across the Borders; better use of school facilities; retention of all the region’s swimming pools; and development of all-weather pitches appear to be what Borderers want.

Back in September consultants Kit Campbell put forward their vision for future sports provisions in the region - three sports hubs at Duns, Peebles and Galashiels for football and rugby, a regional sports centre at either Netherdale of Tweedbank and reducing the number of the swimming pools in the area.

However, public consultation revealed little appetite in the region for a number of their proprosals and the agencies involved in developing a future sports strategy have come up with a new set of proposals based on the public’s wishes combined with what is most likely to be financially viable.

Scottish Borders Council, NHS Borders, SportBorders, Volunteer Centre Borders, Borders Sport and Leisure Trust, Borders College and Sportscotland joined forces to form the Borders Physical Activity, Sport and Physical Education group (PASPE) to lead the project to develop a coherent plan of sports facilities across the region.

Chairman of the group Councillor Graham Garvie explained: “The process has been in-depth and exhaustive, as it was important for all the partners involved, and most importantly the Borders public, that we left no stone unturned in striving to create a new sports facilities strategy that truly reflects what the Borders needs and wants.

“We have had to look at the need to balance the desire for aspiration and ambition with the harsh reality of financial cutbacks which will affect us all for the foreseeable future.

“This is not something that we expect to get 100% right immediately. It will take time working with Borders people, partners, clubs and organisations to improve the strategy year on year going forward.

“Sports facilities in the Borders need investment. Our current and future generations deserve better and the way to achieve that is through careful strategic thinking and active cooperative working together across the Borders.”

Stewart Harris, chief executive of Sportscotland, has pledged his support for the new strategy which will go before Scottish Borders councillors in August.

He said “There are a lot of good, positive thinkers involved in Borders sport and leisure and that is encouraging. What is important is that these debates and workshops are now built on and the delegates, clubs and bodies they work with, take it forward with Scottish Borders Council, the Borders Sport and Leisure Trust, the other trusts and ourselves at sportscotland. We want to support the Borders.”

Borders Sport and Leisure Trust chairman Tony Taylor said: “We welcome the feedback and changes that have been made to the facilities strategy and the understanding that swimming pools remain at the core of our communities.

“A facilities strategy underpins growth and development across sport and leisure in the Borders and without it our region will suffer in terms of funding and fall behind other areas in Scotland.

“At the trust we are committed to working with the community, SBC, the Jedburgh Leisure Facilities Trust, BREST and other partners to create a clearly defined template for the next ten years and beyond which allows us to maximise our existing facilities and further develop them for current and new generations across the Borders.

“It has taken longer than we would have hoped for to get to this stage, but we believe that we now have a clearer way forward and would hope that councillors will approve the new strategy without further delay and allow us all across the Borders to move on and develop sports and leisure facilities through the next decade.”

Delighted that all the existing swimming pools look set to be part of the brave new world of sport in the region, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said: “This is welcome news for communities across the Borders.

“Having attended a number of the public meetings that took place in response to the original proposals it was clear just how strongly local residents felt about keeping their local pool.

“Speaking as someone who uses Kelso Swimming Pool several times a week, I know the value that these facilities add to local communities. I am very pleased that the threat of closure has now been lifted.

“The previous plans proposed replacing some of these local pools with an Olympic sized pool in Galashiels to serve the whole of the Borders. However it has become clear that people strongly support the idea of local services serving local residents, particularly as the chances of people from Berwickshire or Hawick using a pool in Galashiels would be slim, given the travelling involved.”

The new sports facilities strategy was recently endorsed by PASPE following a thorough examination of sports and leisure facilities across the Scottish Borders over the past year culminating in a major 20/20 conference, attended by over 70 delegates from across the region.

All the feedback from the conference, meetings, and responses to the consultation over the past year have been pulled together to form the new draft plan which also has the endorsement of some of the region’s top sportsmen.

Former Scotland football captain John Collins, who comes from Galashiels, added his weight to the drive for a new strategy, adding: “This is and always has been a fantastic area for producing sportspeople and the ethos of sport in the Borders is special, but times have changed since the days I grew up in Galashiels outside every night, kicking a ball in the dark and the facilities have to reflect that.

“That’s why I’m behind Scottish Borders Council and the Trusts in their desire to create a better facilities strategy, but it needs the people across the Borders to make the strategy work and drive it on.

“Having a strategy for the next ten years and beyond will hopefully bring some clarity to everyone involved in sport and leisure and make it easer for everyone to work together to give the Borders the sports facilities it needs and deserves.”

Gregor Townsend, another Borderer, who is now coaching the Scotland national rugby squad, said: “I saw and heard some great ideas for sports facilities at the conference and there is some hard work going on around the region, but a lot of it is in little pockets, so my hope is that this strategy will be the start of a more supportive, cohesive way forward that will allow us to secure more funding over the next ten years and beyond.”