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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Does anyone have a Daily Telegraph subscription so I could read this: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2022/06/26/how-leisure-charity...

The lovely Park Road centre is falling into a disgraceful state of repair: Indoor swimming pool has been shut, outdoor one heating and chlorine levels up and down, indoor gym facilities broken and major leaks that one of freelance teachers had to catch with buckets while running a class, freelancers have been told they can’t work, one of long-standing staff members has disappeared, management noticeable by its absence, indoor showers shut last week as “steam setting off fire alarm”, flooring in a shoddy state….  Feels like we need to ask questions but can’t bring self to subscribe to Daily Telegraph and deal with unsubscribe hassle to find out more.  

Of course if someone is already on the case, please say!

Thanks, Siân 

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I cannot help you but I ask is the major funding source Haringey council. Or is it in private hands?

I could read article via your link without subscription?

How a leisure charity 'ripped off' taxpayers with 'decaying' sites likened to Chernobyl

Fusion Lifestyle pocketed £28m in aid but its facilities are unusable

Fusion Lifestyle leisure facilities
Fusion Lifestyle is accused of leaving community leisure spaces in unsanitary, even dangerous conditions CREDIT: Jenny Codd, Alice Hepple

Outside the Fusion Lifestyle pool in Tottenham, north London, locals protested against unclean and sometimes dangerous facilities.

The Tottenham Parents Facebook group wanted to send “a clear message” on Saturday that they are “fed up with the mismanagement and neglect of our local pool”.

Their outrage is not isolated as residents across the country complain about Fusion’s shoddy management.

Fusion describes itself as an experienced leisure centre provider that has handed “generations of local residents” fond memories of learning how to swim. It says it takes a “genuine interest” in the health and wellbeing of its customers. Local reports, however, detail problems ranging from gas leaks to dangerous appliances and dirty facilities.

As centres closed amid Covid, top management have been accused of short-changing taxpayers while firing swathes of staff and handing themselves chunky pay rises. It has left communities struggling to rebuild their active lives post-pandemic.

A leisure operator ‘on the take’

Fusion has more than 60 sites across Britain, including gyms and outdoor pools, and provides swimming lessons to millions every year.

The registered charity was hit hard as restrictions curtailed business – but managed to stay afloat by claiming a total £28m in taxpayer aid in 2020 and 2021. That was made up of grants from the Government’s National Leisure Recovery Fund, individual payouts from local councils and payments under the furlough scheme. It also negotiated a taxpayer-guaranteed loan from NatWest worth £13m. 

It was designed to make sure Fusion could emerge from lockdown on a stable footing. Yet openings were delayed after managers pushed ahead with significant job cuts.

Staffing levels were slashed by around 60pc to 1,331 in 2021, from around 3,500 pre-pandemic, according to Fusion’s latest accounts.

Local councillors argue staff cuts prevented the organisation from opening sites when restrictions eased, while residents say they are still unable to get anyone on the phone to handle queries and complaints.

Perhaps more worryingly, Fusion has itself admitted its centres are unclean due to a lack of staff.

A Fusion spokesman said: “We acknowledge that there have been issues in relation to cleaning standards, due to staff resourcing issues. We’ve been continuously recruiting to fulfil our cleaning needs and improve these standards.”

Tony Cox, a Tory Councillor in Southend, says some centres in his area took almost a year to reopen, pointing to staff cuts. “When the restrictions ended they didn’t open their leisure centre straight away, which was causing problems. It took a good three or four months,” he says.

“Then they only opened one and didn’t open the two satellite centres. It was nearly a full year before they all reopened. We were not happy at all.”

Graeme Coombes, Tory councillor in Bedford, says getting facilities to reopen was “like pulling teeth”.

“We paid Fusion for services that weren’t open,” he says. “They got lots of taxpayer money but they were slow to open the facilities. And when they did, it was like pulling teeth. They opened one facility at a time over a long period.”

Oasis Beach pool in Bedford has closed again due to maintenance issues
The outdoor pool in Bedford has closed again due to maintenance issues CREDIT: Ian Miles-Flashpoint Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo

Fusion says it “strategically” reopened centres based on how many visitors it expected at each site.

Even since reopening, Jayne Sharratt, a local resident in Tunbridge Wells, says it is almost impossible to speak to staff: “They don’t really answer their phone, so you have to go to them in person, which isn’t always easy.”

Fusion’s customers are often told to use the charity’s website or its app to make bookings – yet this too has caused issues.

“There are difficulties on the phone and there’s no one at reception,” says Luke Cawley-Harrison, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group in Haringey council. 

“You can almost never get a response from someone on the phone and if you do manage to get through to someone you are told to use the app to make a booking, or if it’s for a complaint they will make a note of it and pass it to a manager.”

A spokesman for Fusion said: “We acknowledge that getting through to our centres can be challenging at times. We are constantly and actively recruiting for additional customer service advisers.”

Southend’s Cox says he is suspicious of an organisation that took so much taxpayer money yet failed to provide proper services when the economy re-opened. "They were given serious money. I just think they're on the take."

Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP and member of the Treasury select committee, adds: “They have clearly ripped off the taxpayers who gave them the money they needed to get through the pandemic, and sacked the staff they now need to provide the services.”

Swimming facilities ‘like Chernobyl’

Customers keen to get fit post-pandemic have faced a string of issues including cancelled sessions – and serious safety concerns.

Fusion’s Twitter page lists a series of complaints from customers who have turned up for lessons only to be told on the spot about cancellations. The company has blamed a nationwide shortage of swimming teachers.

Some of those able to use the facilities have faced health hazards.

In Haringey, Cawley-Harrison says: “I’ve seen photos of things around pools that have obviously not been cleaned in days or perhaps even longer given the state it’s in. There’s broken equipment, and broken lockers.”

Tottenham Green leisure centre was at the centre of a severe safety incident in 2019, when four people were taken to hospital after being exposed to a chlorine gas leak. Fusion says it has since undertaken “extensive work” to ensure the plant room equipment that caused the gas release could be fixed.

Cawley-Harrison says: “Nothing like that has happened again but it only takes one time for something really tragic to happen, doesn’t it?

“We’ve had no real impression that beyond the centre managers there’s anyone with a real grip on the centres.”

Problems in Bedford, meanwhile, have led some to compare the organisation’s facilities to the Chernobyl nuclear site.

Jenny Codd, a local resident, posted pictures on Facebook of rubbish accumulated in the outdoor swimming area of the Oasis Beach Pool during lockdowns. She complained the pool did not look like it would open “anytime soon [if] it ever does”.

Bedford Leisure Centre
Bedford Leisure Centre's outdoor Oasis pool has been compared to Chernobyl CREDIT: Alice Hepple/Jenny Codd

One social media user said the scene “wouldn’t look out of place in Chernobyl”. Fusion says the whole facility was closed due to structural damage and was reopened “swiftly”.

The outdoor area is now closed, however, because it is in negotiations with the council over further investment to make it usable for customers.

“They’ve suddenly decided just as things are getting back to normal to shut the Oasis pool again for repairs. It’s unbelievable how incompetent they are,” argues Coombes.

“People say the facilities are dirty and that has been a constant theme. They say the toilets aren’t clean, and the changing rooms are all dirty. People just don’t feel the facilities are being looked after properly.”

In London’s Muswell Hill, social media users have complained about unsafe hairdryers in the changing room at the Park Road Pool.

Park Road Pool & Fitness, Park Road, N15
The state of Park Road Pool's leisure facility CREDIT: Pictures by Rosie Lindley

One warned the hairdryer had a “threadbare cord and was sparking” while another said an appliance gave her daughter a mild electric shock. Fusion said it has not received formal notification of the issues but investigates incidents it is aware of.

Concerned with safety issues, Southend Council has committed to ending Fusion’s contract when it comes up for renewal in 2025. Fusion says it has fixed the vast majority of problems raised during an inspection of the contract in November 2021.

In other local sites, the issues come down to dirt. Cox says sites in Southend are “just very scruffy, our flagship leisure centre even before the pandemic seemed to be decaying. You noticed dirty marks on all of the walls and toilet doors without any locks. It was just generally run down and it’s been getting worse. It’s really embarrassing that the place is falling apart.”

The management

As problems mount and staff are fired, Fusion’s top managers can expect to earn six-figures. Four people received between £120,001 and £180,000 in 2021, with the highest-paid employee getting £242,000.

“It’s an ongoing, endless catalogue of mishandling of these facilities. They are out of their depth, they don’t know what they’re doing and frankly, whoever is running it should get the chop,” says Coombes.

“How someone can sit there and preside over this and happily trouser almost a quarter of a million each year just beggars belief. In the commercial world, failure would be punished.”

He argues ministers should step in to call Fusion to account. “The senior management of Fusion always hide, and you never see the same people twice. Council officers tell me they are a very difficult organisation to deal with. They won’t answer calls.”

Coombes adds: “Councils are having their own battles with Fusion but they are all working independently.

“Central government or the local government need to get involved here because it is a scandal. Someone needs to step in here and call Fusion in, and ask them: what on earth are you doing?”

Anthony Cawley, chief executive of Fusion Lifestyle, said: "The Covid years have had a pretty devastating effect on the leisure industry as a whole. Like all our colleagues in the leisure industry, Fusion is working hard to catch up and we acknowledge there is still some way to go, but the passion and energy are there and there's a real willingness to provide the kind of gold standard health and wellness service our local communities deserve." 

Thanks Xavier for posting.  So not just us! And thanks to others for contacts . It’s extraordinary that no one seems able to hold Fusion to account. Surely the combined power of the local authorities and Charity Commission must count for something?   I’ve heard that there’s an outstanding debt on the Park Road refit that is presumably Fusion’s leverage?  Plus several people I’ve spoken to have expressed fear that if they speak up the centre will be closed, which would be a terrible back-firing consequence.  You can see how the lido has been critical to so many people’s mental health before, during and after lockdown   

Where to begin..Fusion Lifestyle are not fit for purpose and never have been. I’ve been a member since the beginning (and before they took it over). I started using the New River when they took over, it was a shambles from start to when we all left after it completely disintegrated. Always filthy, no toilet paper or soap, heating always breaking down. No management and nobody to talk too. Tottenham was and is exactly the same, except with the addition of the problem with the pools. I then started to use Park Road as this was cleaner had good management ( someone you could actually talk to) and looked after some of the fantastic teachers. Gradually over the last few years and good members of staff leaving this is now awful. Filthy everywhere, some lovely staff but all leave because they can’t cope with the workload and constant complaints from members, with absolutely no support from management. The booking system is often not working and we lost classes over the last two weeks. The classes that were on were over subscribed, a joke. Teachers are treated appallingly and often have to chase their wages, they want to pay them less which is unacceptable and many haven’t got their classes back, even though members have been asking. Covid is a fabulous excuse for Fusion to not do anything. Now the pool situation has got out of hand both outside and in. Children having swimming lessons cancelled with no notification! I would suggest people contact their local councillors to complain and directly to Julie Davies Cabinet member for Sport and Leisure. The council took back The New River now is the time to look at the others! 

I'm so glad to read this expose of Fusion's shameful mismanagement. You only have to look at Park Road pool to see how bad it is. The changing rooms are disgusting and the indoor pool is often closed due to a lack of staff. Fusion also shot themselves in the foot by insisting on sticking to the booking system introduced during the pandemic which means you can't just rock up and go for a swim. And because the bookings are mostly for lane swimming, there are limited sessions available for family swims so our children barely get to go any more. We go to Clissold now, or the pool up at North Finchey next to the cinema.

Do you mean the complex is in fact council-owned and Fusion have been awarded the contract to run it? If so, they need to kick them out and give it to another provider pronto. I also agree about the customer service. I turned up mid-morning for a swim only to be told they'd had to close the indoor pool because of a lack of staff. When I asked why they hadn't used the online booking system that contains customers' details to let them know, they got really huffy. But it was a sensible question, because it would've saved me and the others who turned up for our session a wasted journey.

The new local councillor in Crouch End and Catherine West MP who is a big campaigner on swimming pools generally have been battling on behalf of Park Road users but to little avail. Fusion seem to be comprehensively useless and the pools should be handed over to Better who actually can run leisure pools asap. It's a real shame that a fantastic club like Haringey Aquatics has to train in such terrible facilities and Park Road also has one of the few diving/ water polo pools in north London which has been totally out of use for weeks now. 

We must remember this is not just about the pools but the whole building. Many people use the centre to go to classes and the gym. During the week many pensioners go to classes especially yoga, Pilates and Zumba. This helps them keep healthy and keeps them away from hospitals. Mental health is also helped by classes and meeting other people. Many friendships are formed which helps stop loneliness which is endemic in todays society. 
The whole centre needs to be taken on by someone who cares. I believe in their contract with the council certain standards are supposed to be met. They are not, even the disabled toilet hasn’t worked for months. The ceiling leaks during wet weather and the heating/air con is always breaking down!

Don't disagree that it's not all about pools but there are plenty of other extremely good value gyms/ classes in other local venues but no other good value pools save for Council ones. Swimming iOS a life saving skill which too many kids are missing out on with often disastrous consequences.

This is the only gym where you get special rates for all sort of issues. 65 plus are free for certain times which is essential for many pensioners who really don’t have much money. Many of them also use the pool which is great for their health. I mentioned the awful problems with the pools and especially the cancellation of the children’s lessons in my earlier post. The situation is appalling for everyone.

Totally agree. It was a shambles when I swam there a few years ago, shockingly managed back then, and couldn’t wait until London fields reopened. So many times, I would set my alarm to get there early for a swim in limited opening hours, only to find the pool(outdoor)  wasn’t open due to life guards not at work. Even though it was three times the distance, but run by better who don’t look after the staff that well, but do run amazing facilities, I would never plan to venture back to the park rd 



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