When this idea was first muted back in 2008/2009 I was a councillor for Wigan Central Ward. This area covered the centre of Wigan and residents around the area of the club, Swinley and other surrounding areas had serious concerns about the proposal. I agreed with them. The land was first of all given to the people of Wigan to play sports, especially cricket. Therefore it wasn't right that Wigan Council let this land go, as it was theirs to give away. That's the first point.
Secondly there was the argument, is the idea right and in the right location. After speaking with Martin Ainscough I was behind the idea of the club but I wasn't behind the location. I even went to the trouble of trying to secure other sites for the club. None of these where considered as the sponsors said Wigan Council had agreed the land at Mesnes playing fields.
Next is the size. I felt that the idea is right but I did worry that it is a large building and therefore needs a lot of children to go through. All the other youth zones around the country are a lot smaller, so I am told.
The Council are contributing £400 000 to this venture per year. Some may think that is a good thing and good value and some will say it is not, given the cuts that are being faced. This issue is subjective and it depends on your view point. For example some other cuts have had to be made from other youth facilities to make this £400 000, so if your club is one that is not getting funding now or reduced funding then you will probably disagree with this £400 000. For me it's about value for money. If previously the £400 000 benefited say 100 children and now this money will benefit 3000 children at the youth zone it is clear that we are getting more value for money/But we need to find out what the figures are to be able to truly judge. I doubt we would get the true figures for the past, as I don't trust the Council.
The next issue is, is this club sustainably? In the original plan the cost was £1 per visit and to only cost the Council £400 000 it needed 3000 visits per week. Now that the entry figure has been reduced to 50p that would mean that more children need to go through. Originally it need 3000 visits per week now it will need more. I believe that the entry fee is only a small part of the income stream so therefore will not need to have 6000 visits to keep the figure at £400 000 from the Council. What this figure is I would expect it needs to be around 4000 - 45000 visits per week at a quick estimate to keep the cost at £400 000.
If the club makes a loss then the Council would be the ones that would need to pick the bill up, which is a concern to me as it could cost the rate payers more than first envisaged. Seeing as there is no cap from the Council then this could be a lot more than the £400 000.
So my visit
So one of the volunteers got into a discussion with me on twitter about it which lead me to be invited. I met the manager there and he kindly showed me round and talked through their visions and what they offer and I thank him for his time.
The facility is well stocked with activities to do for youngsters and also offer a lot for them to do as well. I was there for just over an hour and saw the start of their day, i.e 4pm. When I arrived there was a queue to get into the centre which is a good sign that the club is popular. When I left at around 5.15pm there was an increased number of children there too. The numbers of visits was impressive for last week too. One of the things that I was impressed with was the fact they have a gym and this is for girls only between 4 and 5pm each nigh during the week and all girls of different abilities were attending that area and apparently it is very popular. This is uncommon in the other youth zones, so I am lead to be believed. Hopefully this trend will continue.
The centre is new and it is evident that it is popular but the test is always will it test time? I am unsure either way. I do feel that it is a big club and to try and keep the momentum will be a challenge, but not impossible. Although it is evident that is popular at the moment but can the visits that the club is experiencing at the moment be sustained? I personally would think that there will be a fall off but it is to what extent that fall off would go at. A good friend of mine tells me that his children go every night but he think it will get to much travelling into Wigan every night, so it might get less frequent. If these children are the typical and if that happens then the visits could fall to about 2500 per week but then it will be up to the club to try and get more children interested, so as some absorb some of the fall off rate.
I remain sceptical to whether it will last but I could be proved wrong. One thing I will fight for is that the taxpayers only pay the agreed amount of £400 000 and no more.